Regular doses of meditation might prevent work-related stress and burnout, a small U.S. study suggests.
Teachers and support staff working at a school for children with behavior problems felt less stressed after practicing 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice a day for four months.
But participants “reported feeling less stressed and more energetic within a few days,” said the study’s senior author Sanford Nidich, of Maharishi University’s Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa.
Starting stress levels among the participants had averaged 39 on a 40-point scale and fell 5 points by the end of the study period. In comparison, 20 school staffers who did not meditate started with stress levels around 37 on the same scale and those rose 2 points during the same period.
Meditating participants also felt less depressed and less emotionally exhausted, according to Nidich and his coauthors. But meditation seemed to have the strongest effect on stress levels, they note in their report, published in the Permanente Journal.
The researchers don’t describe the techniques taught to participants in the study in detail, but TM, a trademarked method of meditation, generally involves sitting with one’s eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day and thinking about a particular sound or mantra.
“Automatic self-transcending techniques, such as TM, involve the effortless use of a sound without meaning (mantra), which allows the mind to settle to quieter levels of thought,” Nidich’s team writes.
Certified instructors teach the practice nationwide at a cost of $960 for the full course , according to the TM.org website.
“The devil’s advocate might claim that the effect is non-specific, and has nothing directly to do with TM,” said alternative medicine researcher Dr. Ezard Ernst in an email to Reuters Health.
Ernst, of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, was not involved in the new study.
He said the results do not show a causal link between TM and reduced stress levels among the school staffers. “We would need a much more rigorous trial and several independent replications” before drawing any conclusions, Ernst said.
Plenty of past research points to apparent benefits from various forms of meditation, such as TM or the popular “mindfulness meditation” approach, for conditions ranging from anxiety to pain (see Reuters Health article of January 6, 2014 here: reut.rs/1iL0Ew8).
Workplace stress can have costly side effects in the form of employee turnover. A 2012 study by the Center for American Progress puts the cost of replacing an employee at 10 to 30 percent of that worker’s annual salary.
Some meditation can be done without leaving your desk, said Janice Marturano, founder and director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership in Oakland, New Jersey.
“Mindfulness meditation is retraining our mind’s ability to direct our attention,” said Marturano, who was not connected to the new study.
“Simply putting your feet on the floor, and paying attention to the weightiness of your legs or the breath in your body can bring your mind back to the present,” she said.
Meditation is a way to avoid working on “auto-pilot,” Marturano said, explaining that today’s 24/7 workplace connectivity requires employees to be mentally present at most times - something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
The workplaces of the future could benefit by having a quiet room for workers to visit for 10 minutes or less, Marturano said.
“Employees who come out of a stressful meeting or situation can then go inside and reset their minds so they do not have to carry that stress with them for the rest of the day,” she said.
SOURCE: The Permanente Journal, online February 2, 2014
Effect of Transcendental Meditation on Employee Stress, Depression, and Burnout: A Randomized Controlled Study
Workplace stress and burnout are pervasive problems, potentially affecting employee performance and personal health. The issue is thus of prominent importance not only to employers but also to health care professionals. Schoolteachers are among the professionals who may experience a tremendous amount of stress in their work environment. Research indicates that approximately 70% of teachers are under frequent stress, with student discipline problems contributing the most to teacher stress and burnout. Burnout, a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, negative attitudes toward others, and dissatisfaction with one’s job performance, is associated with increased absenteeism and job turnover, alcohol and drug abuse, and lower job performance. Burnout, especially exhaustion, and other psychological distress factors affect not only job performance but also mental and physical health.
Training in mind-body techniques may have the potential to counter the effects of employee stress and burnout. Such techniques could, in theory, provide employees with a pragmatic tool for mitigating or reducing the impact of ongoing stimulation of the “fight-or-flight” response in the face of chronic psychosocial stressors. In this way, training in such a mind-body program could aid the employee in adapting to and in functioning in a high-pressure work environment, and in combating the potential long-term health sequelae of chronic stress. One previously published study, carried out in educational settings, showed meditation instruction to reduce teachers’ perceived stress and burnout. Although these results were promising, the study deployed a meditation protocol that is not otherwise established in the biomedical literature, and the results have not been replicated.
Results: Analysis of the 4-month intervention data indicated a significant improvement in the main outcomes of the study resulting from practice of the Transcendental Meditation program compared with controls (Wilks L [3,28] = 0.695; p = 0.019). Results of univariate F tests indicated a significant reduction of all main outcome measures: perceived stress (F[1,32] = 13.42; p =
< 0.001); depression (F[1,32] = 6.92; p = 0.013); and overall teacher burnout (F[1,32] = 6.18; p = 0.018). Effect sizes ranged from 0.40 to 0.94.
Conclusions: The Transcendental Meditation program was effective in reducing psychological distress in teachers and support staff working in a therapeutic school for students with behavioral problems. These findings have important implications for employees’ job performance as well as their mental and physical health.
Charles Elder, MD, MPH, FACP; Sanford Nidich, EdD; Francis Moriarty, EdD; Randi Nidich, EdD
Perm J 2014 Winter; 18(1):19-23