Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed — and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.
A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.
The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.
The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.
“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”
Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.
Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama
The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?
From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:
In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.
“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Kemeny.
As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship. In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.
Some of the teachers’ key facial movements during the marital interaction task changed, particularly hostile looks which diminished. In addition, depressed mood levels dropped by more than half. In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.
“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” Kemeny said. “It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”
The study involved researchers from a number of institutions including UCSF, UC Davis, and Stanford University.
UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.
The long term and short term effects of stress on the body manifest itself irrespective of the age groups. When the trigger is repetitive, prolonged or unanticipated, then it becomes pathological. The effects of stress affect not only man, but also animals. This article throws light on:
* What are the functional adjustments which are responsible for the short term effects of stress?
* What are the symptoms of post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
* Will misunderstanding with the spouse result in stress?
Stress is a normal physiological response of the body to hostile environment. The effects of stress affect not only man, but also animals. Stress can affect children, adolescents and adults. Though the stress factor may be different in different age groups, the outcome is more or less the same. The effects of stress on the body can be categorized into short term and long term effects irrespective of the age groups. When the trigger is repetitive, prolonged or unanticipated, then it becomes pathological. The immediate, transient or the short term effects are the normal physiological responses whereas the delayed, persisting or the long term effects of stress are the pathological responses.
Short Term Effects of Stress
When a person encounters a threat, his body gets geared up to handle it by the ‘Fight or flight’ response. During this response certain functional adjustments occur in the body. These changes persist till the threat exists. When the threat no longer exists, the body returns to normal. These immediate, transient effects are the short term effects of stress. This is a physiological response seen in all persons exposed to stress.The few functional adjustments which are responsible for the short term effects are
* Diversion of the blood from less vital to more vital organs.
* Increase in the heart rate to supply more blood quickly.
* Increase in the blood pressure to supply blood efficiently.
* Increase in the respiratory rate to get more oxygen from the atmosphere.
* Breakdown of glycogen stores in liver and muscle to get more glucose.
* Formation of more glucose from non carbohydrate substances.
These functional adjustments responsible for the stress effects on the body, manifest themselves with an array of signs and symptoms which include
* Chest pain
* frozen shoulder
* Cold clammy skin with gooseflesh
* Flushing and feeling of warmth
* Dry mouth with difficulty in speaking and swallowing
* Abdominal discomfort
* Aggravation of Peptic Ulcer
* Loose stools
* Increased blood glucose levels.
* Headache, back ache and neck pain
* Depletion of energy stores
* Flare up of diseases like eczema, psoriasis, arthritis
* Difficulty in concentrating
* Memory disturbances
* Decreased sexual drive
* Loss of appetite
* Outbursts of anger
We can take the example of a guy appearing for a competitive exam for a job. When he has to study a lot, if he is not able to cover all the topics or if he finds the topics very tough, then preparation for the exams acts as a trigger for stress. The affected person undergoes either some or all of the above mentioned symptoms with their severity based on his susceptibility.
If he is able to complete all the topics and if he is able to understand what he studies, then the trigger is gone and he is relieved of the physical effects stress and his body returns to normal state.Another example is the stress caused by over-exercise. It is better to get some guidance before you do any exercise. For example, you can go through sites like http://howtogetasixpack.com/ to get info on six-pack exercises.
Long Term Effects of stress
When the stress factor is persistent or repetitive, the body keeps secreting the stress hormones and their blood levels remain continuously at a higher level and hence the associated functional adjustments. The body now experiences stress with extra burden due to the side effects of the persistently high stress hormones. Some irreversible physiological damages of the brain and related stress physical symptoms like organ damage are caused by these substances. The manifestations could be
* Chronic head ache
* Mood swings
* Anxiety disorder
* Substance abuse
* Memory disturbances
* Heart attack due increased blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol
* Stroke due to similar reasons
* Weight loss
* Exacerbation of allergies including asthma
* Irritable Bowel disease
* Ischemic Bowel disease like Crohn’s disease
* Decreased sexual drive
Even when the stress factor is absent some of these physical and physiological effects of stress persist unless steps are taken to treat them.
Let us take the same example. If the person fails in the exam, he loses the opportunity of getting a job and a financial security. The stress factor persists as he is jobless and has financial insecurity. He gets affected by the above mentioned symptoms. Even if he learns to live without a job some of the above mentioned conditions like substance abuse may persist.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder is a delayed reaction to an exceptionally stressful situation or a life threatening event where the person feels helpless. After a dormant period the person re-experiences the past traumatic events as ‘flash backs’, or dreams and tries to avoid any stimuli or situation which reminds of the past trauma. The symptoms include
* Psychological numbing
* Amnesia of certain aspects of the stressful event
* Inability to experience pleasure
* Reduced interest in activities