Life in the United States and around the world these days has many stressors: the Coronavirus pandemic; police brutality; the resulting protests; stress of unemployment and the immense financial burdens accompanying limited income; relationship challenges in lock-down, or challenge of lack of relationships; being more on one’s own with increased risks of mental health collapse and drug abuse that may accompany home confinement. In the political arena, reflected in the media, a yawning division is seen between the parties vying for control of the nation.
With the horrible death of George Floyd on May 25 from the brutal action by four policemen in Minneapolis, groups have protested across the nation, even while CoVid-19 ravages the land. We all see the problem, but do we see the solution?
There are many possible effective approaches to finding a solution. In this article, we will look at one unique stress-reduction tool, Transcendental Meditation, about which has over 350 peer reviewed studies (TM.org) have been published, showing a broad range of support for both the prevention and the reduction of stress.
It is often stress that leads police to over-react to the challenges of their job. As with health care first responders, the stress can build up year after year in police, creating dangerously high levels of stress or even post-traumatic stress. Some policemen are simply in the wrong profession and should be removed. However, in many cases, a well-intentioned officer can become overwhelmed by daily pressures and stressful events and he or she may begin over-reacting.
So, to prevent build-up of stress and to reduce stress when it does build up too high, the most effective, rapid and side-effect free modalities should be made available to police across the nation. Common psychological tools include gold standard Prolonged Exposure and cognitive behavior therapy. Pharmaceuticals, less effective than psychotherapy, may also be used.
There is also a wide range of complementary and alternative protocols that have been shown in scientific studies to be highly effective and have minimal or no negative side effects. In the light of the need for treatments to help the 66% of US Veterans not coming out of PTSD with psychotherapy (Jama, Aug. 4, 2015), many groups are investigating alternatives, including use of horses and dogs to provide companionship, diet and exercise routines, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and different types of meditation. The US Government has gone so far as to spend 25 million dollars to test the implantation of a chip in the head, which would aim at desensitizing an area of the brain that may be associated with PTSD.
One well-documented protocol for reducing stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the Transcendental Meditation technique. According to a 2018 research study in Lancet Psychiatry, TM is at least as effective as Prolonged Exposure (PE) without risking re-exposure to the traumatic events. The study showed that whereas 40% of veterans showed significant reduction in PTSD with PE, at least 60% of veterans who were TM practitioners showed significant reduction in this chronic and debilitating mental condition.
In addition, regular TM practice has been shown to structure resilience, thereby helping to maintain lower levels of stress in daily life.
One police officer, a woman who asked to remain anonymous, faced many murders, deaths, many types of violence for years and ended up with trouble sleeping, horrible dreams, anger, a drinking problem, hypertension, feeling numb, always worried and fearful. After years of service and stress, she was diagnosed with PTSD by a mental health professional.
She tried many drugs but they made her feel numb and some of them had negative side effects, such as hair loss.
Then, she heard about Transcendental Meditation, read a book about it, and decided to learn it.
With TM she was able to sleep better.
“I had fewer dreams about the incident and policing and I felt I was able to talk about it without getting too upset. I just felt more myself.”
“When I was meditating I felt at peace.”
“I felt as if I had fewer flashbacks. That feeling of being on high alert and waking up at 3 in the morning and checking out the entire house, or feeling jumpy any time I heard a loud bang: that went away.”
“I was drinking less alcohol. I felt a lot calmer around my kids and husband.”
The Transcendental Meditation technique is a natural, easily learned practice that provides deep rest to body and mind and thereby begins to reverse the accumulation of stress within the practitioner. Studies show TM can alleviate high blood pressure and insomnia.
A police officer who is calmer, able to think more clearly, and less on edge will be better equipped to spontaneously implement techniques to defuse a potentially explosive situation, rather than to escalate it. The manifold health benefits of TM practice can reduce work hours lost and increase overall effectiveness among law enforcement officers. If veterans of foreign wars with PTSD can find rapid relief from stress through TM practice, how much easier will it be for police to find inner peace and become models of community support?
By choosing to practice TM daily, not only can police take control of their lives and no longer over-react to challenging situations, but anyone who practices TM regularly chooses to grow more settled in mind, less reactive to the many external stressors, and more able to enjoy the progressive possibilities that arise for progress for themselves and society.
The police officer who implements TM not only reduces the likelihood of getting PTSD or reduces the PTSD if he or she has become highly stressed, but he experiences Post-Traumatic Growth if he has been in traumatic situations. Not only do anger and violence diminish and sleeplessness and disturbing memories of past traumas fall away, but he or she begins to appreciate the nourishing qualities of him or herself and others. The officer becomes happier and more creative. Over 350 peer reviewed studies show a very wide range of improvements through Transcendental Meditation. All these are measures of Post-Traumatic Growth. (TM.org). Now the pressures of the job and of life stimulate the police officer or anyone to make even greater progress without accumulating stress.
All of us need a tool to become less stressed: the policeman facing daily challenges under the stress and needing to stay calm and act appropriately, the store clerk helping customers every day but fearing that he or she is getting or giving others CoVid-19, and the family staying at home and unable to enjoy the company of so many of their friends. We need to be calmer in order to find the best in each day, even as the world vigorously changes in front of our eyes, like turbulent waves in an ocean storm. Here is a tool to help us re-unite ourselves and our nation.
About the authors:
Dr. Scott F. Terry, Ed.D., M.A., IL.-L.M.F.T., IL.-L.C.P.C., IA.-L.M.F.T., IA.-L.M.H.C., Ch.T., and AAMFT approved supervisor. With 25 years of practice as a doctoral level clinician, supervisor, professor, clinical and executive director of five large mental health organization practices, including the Ardent Counseling Center, and a radio show.
David Shapiro, B.A. cum laude chemistry, M.A., the founding President of PTSD Relief Now and its African PTSD Relief projects and Alliance for PTSD Recovery (both are 501C3 charities)