What peace can we hope to find elsewhere…if we have none within us? – Saint Teresa of Avila
A hunter is outside tracking his prey when he hears a tiger roar behind him.
He can either run away or stand his ground and fight. His very survival depends upon his quick reactions. A complex cascade of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, is triggered. These hormones have a powerful and widespread effect on his body’s biochemistry, physiology and psychology, giving him the extra strength and speed he needs to deal with the threat.
The ‘flight or fight’ response is a 40,000-year-old physiological mechanism, creating changes that make us more alert, aggressive, fearful, angry, etc. This motivates us when we are physically threatened, but when the same flight/fight response arises because of a perceived threat in a business meeting, in school, or at home, it’s appropriate to suppress it.
When it’s your job to be aggressive (think NFL) or to deal with the aggression of others (as veterans or police do), how do you get the advantage of the fight or flight mechanism at work and then simply shut it off when you come home?
We ask our professional athletes to display aggression on the field, we ask our police men and women to face aggressive often violent offenders on the streets and we ask our military to fight wars for years at a time. But the side effect is that they are bringing the war and violence home with them resulting in an epidemic of domestic violence.
When the danger is over, stress hormones ideally should fall back to pre-stress levels, the biochemical and physiological responses should reverse; blood pressure should fall, heart rate slow down, and digestion be stimulated again. However if the stress becomes chronic the fight or flight response can become overactive and can leave us with heightened stress levels even though the original cause of stress may have passed.
In the light of headlines about the NFL and domestic violence it seems the ability to shut off the stress response and balance the biochemistry is a national imperative.
It’s not that we can expect people never to be anxious. What we would hope for is an optimal stress response, for real emergencies, so that we can deal with them effectively.(1) But then, the stress response, and our stress hormones should normalize, so that we aren’t chronically anxious, worried, obsessive or aggressive.
Scientific research indicates that the Transcendental Meditation Program acts through various synergistic mechanisms to reduce the stress hormone level and reduce “stress sensitivity”.
In a new meta-analysis published recently in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) was found to have a large effect on reducing trait anxiety for people with high anxiety.(2)
This study covered 16 randomized-controlled trials, and included 1295 subjects from various walks of life, age groups, and life situations. Studies on high stress groups, such as veterans suffering from PTSD and prison inmates, showed dramatic reductions in anxiety from TM practice. Lead author on the meta-analysis, Dr. David Orme-Johnson, commented: “Groups with elevated anxiety received significant relief from the TM technique, and that reduction occurred rapidly in the first few weeks of practice.”(3)
While we of course need to help the victims of domestic violence recover,(4) and the TM technique has been documented to be very effective in this regard, the goal should really be to prevent domestic violence altogether.
Transcendental Meditation can play an enormous role in inoculating our society against the many problems that grow out of chronic stress and anxiety.
About the Author
Vanessa Vidal is the national director of TM for Women in the USA