U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), in partnership with Helius Medical Technologies, Inc., is studying the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) among soldiers and veterans. They are seeking new interventions for improving soldier readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
ARL’s Dr. Valerie Rice said early research demonstrates that active duty service members and military veterans who complete MBSR training achieve results that positively affect a soldier’s readiness – a top priority of the Army. “Our results have shown practical and clinically relevant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as measured by the PTSD Checklist – Military Version,” she says.
The studies also show that those who complete mindfulness training, whether taught in person or online, achieve significant decreases in stress, anxiety, daytime sleepiness, pain, and inattention, as well as increased energy. Those who score higher in mindfulness show quicker decision making speed and fewer errors on sustained visual and auditory performance tasks, than those with lower mindfulness scores.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an estimated 300 to 400 physicians commit suicide each year– about one physician per day. Training for medical students presently involves multiple risk factors for mental illness, including decreased sleep, relocation resulting in fewer available support systems, and feelings of isolation. An article for JAMA Psychiatry, calls for a national response to this issue and offers guidelines on appropriate education, screening, and treatment. The first steps would be to educate the academic community concerning these issues, and to foster help-seeking behaviors and access to care for all trainees. Next, a national commitment is recommended to support residents and fellows during their training. This can help ensure the well-being of future generations of physicians and their patients, the article concludes.
Do travel and stress have to go together? Yoga and meditation can be used to reduce stress at home, in the workplace and at school. Now, thanks to Cathay Pacific airlines, meditation and yoga can be practiced while cruising at an altitude of 39,000 feet.
Air travel, especially long distances, can be a stressful and uncomfortable experience for many people. To alleviate these issues, Cathay Pacific has introduced a new health and wellness program for all of their passengers. They offer a six part mini-series designed to address relaxation techniques that can easily be practiced in a seat while flying. The series is available in four different languages and is easy enough to be performed by anyone.
Contrary to common belief, just 60 seconds a day is enough time to establish a rewarding meditation practice. “In our busy schedules, we all have one minute to meditate,” said Leonard Perlmutter in a March 2018 Family Circle Magazine article. Perlmutter goes on to dispel another meditation myth. “Meditation is not meant to eliminate thoughts,” he explains. “It simply teaches you to direct the mind’s mental traffic.” Read the full article to get more tips on where, when and how to meditate.
The American Heart Association acknowledges that meditation may be helpful in reducing risk factors for heart disease. The AHA states that seated meditation, added to a heart-healthy lifestyle, may also lower stress, anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure and help individuals stop smoking.
Meditation improves sleep according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Half of the participants completed a six-session mindfulness program that included meditation, while the other half followed a set of instructions to improve sleep habits. Those in the meditation group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the study.
The 2017 Stress in America survey revealed that millennials, (ages 18 to 35) are the most stressed out generation in history. The good news is that millennials are turning to meditation to resolve stress-related illness. According to a Pew study, 42% of millennials have meditated at least once in the past year and 27% at least once a week.
Meditation techniques are being used in schools across the country. A study by the University of California-Davis shows meditation practices actually triple students’ ability to focus and participate in class activities. Fourth graders meditating? Kindergartners practicing mindful breathing? It’s not a big deal at Harris Hill Elementary School in Pennfield, New York. Every class there has students doing both practices. As a consequence, “They’re less impulsive with one another, they think more deliberately about their words before they speak, so it definitely spills into the daily routines,” said 4th grade teacher Heidi Palmiero-Potter. “Mindfulness can be different things, like meditating or deep breathing,” say Adam Elbousty, a 4th grade student. “Like you breathe really slowly,” said Preston Payne, a 3rd grade student. School psychologist Michell Braun-Burget says that students are now acting in a variety of situations with more self-confidence. “They’re just more aware of themselves and what makes them upset, what makes them nervous, and they have better control of how to deal with their anxiety levels,” she said. “If one of the kids is having a hard time these practices provide them helpful strategies. I’ve heard students say, ‘do your breathing.’ The purpose behind the techniques that mindfulness and meditation bring to education is helping those children learn coping strategies—no matter what difficult circumstances they might be experiencing.”
According to ABC News, recent research shows meditation’s soothing effects can be detected in arterial walls and in the brain. Meditation was once considered outside the mainstream. Today more insurers, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Massachusetts and a number of other insurers in Oregon and California are paying for meditation training—both as a form of medication and as preventive medicine. Dr. Robert Thurman of Columbia University says “Meditation is the act of disidentifying from inner thought flow and concentrating on calming and healing. Through meditation, doctors help patients detach from their pain and anxieties and cultivate a real connection between the mind and the body.” Practices vary, but usually include sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, spine straight and attention focused on the breath or a mantra to maintain a detached, calm awareness of thoughts and sensations. Physicians are increasingly referring patients to meditation programs to treat many diseases, including heart disease, anxiety and panic, job or family stress, chronic pain, fatigue, AIDS, cancer, HIV infection, migraine and other types of headaches, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, skin disorders and type A behaviors.
Scripps Translational Science Institute and the Chopra Foundation have concluded a new study using wireless devices to measure vital signs in a more precise way to determine the effects of meditation on the heart and vascular system. Program director, Dr. Eric Topol expects the results to be released in 2015.
Research led by Rebecca Wells, MD at Wake Forest Medical Center indicates that meditation and yoga can be helpful in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Wells says, “If it can delay the symptoms of cognitive decline even a little, it can contribute to improved quality of life.”
Elderly, long-term meditators have lower blood levels of lipid peroxides, substances linked to heart disease, compared with elderly people who do not meditate. According to a recently published scientific study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, individuals may be able to reduce atherosclerosis and slow the aging process through meditation techniques.
Lipid peroxides are compounds resulting from the oxidation of blood-borne fats. These substances are thought to accumulate on the lining of arteries, contributing to arteriosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.” In the study, blood tests revealed “significantly lower (15 percent less) serum levels of lipid peroxides” in the group of meditators as compared to the non-meditators. The researchers theorize that meditation, in reducing psychological stress levels, may also trigger an increase in a hormone which enhances antioxidant levels in the human system, thereby retarding the aging process.
Meditation is helpful for relieving anxiety, pain, and depression, according to a systematic research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The review reported a small to moderate effect of mindfulness and mantra meditation techniques in reducing emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and stress, and improving physical symptoms, such as pain. For depression, meditation was about as effective as an antidepressant.
A 2017 AMA Medscape Lifestyle Report asked physicians from 27 medical specialties to grade the severity of their burnout on a scale of 1 to 7—one being that it does not interfere, and seven indicating thoughts of leaving medicine. All but one specialty chose a level four or higher. Emergency medicine was most affected—with nearly 60 percent saying they feel burned out (up from half in 2013). More than 14,000 physicians surveyed named the following four concerns as the top causes of burnout: too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work, feeling like just a cog in a wheel, increased computerization of practice.
A study carried out by the Mayo Clinic, of internal and external factors that keep physicians motivated and prevent burnout shows that having a personal sense of calling or a deep commitment to medicine is a key factor in physicians’ well-being. The study also found that extrinsic incentives, such as increased salary, are less meaningful. According to lead researcher, Audiey C. Kao, MD PhD, “If the practice of medicine is not seen as work that is personally rewarding and serving a greater good, physician performance may suffer and, more importantly, so too may the quality of care that patients receive.”
According to a November 2017 New York Times article, a growing body of research shows that physician burnout and depression are linked to medical errors and to the kind of depersonalized care that is often both less effective and less palatable.
Meditation can reverse physician burnout, according to a study published in the September/October 2013 Annals of Family Medicine. Dr. Mary Catherine Beach of Johns Hopkins states, “This study supports meditation as a way to improve the health of both doctors and their patients. Meditation helps doctors listen better, talk less, and see clearer what patients need.”