Transcendental Meditation

Trait anxiety and Transcendental Meditation

anxiety relief meditation - scientific research results

Trait anxiety is a measure of how anxious a person usually is, as opposed to state anxiety, which refers to how anxious we are at the moment.

A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found the Transcendental Meditation technique has a large effect on reducing trait anxiety. Research shows that the effect is greatest for people who have high anxiety levels.

The meta-analysis covered 16 randomized-controlled trials, the gold standard in medical research, and included 1295 subjects from various walks of life, age groups, and life situations.

Transcendental Meditation, ‘more effective than treatment as usual’

Transcendental Meditation was compared with various control groups, including treatment-as-usual, individual and group psychotherapy, and various relaxation techniques. Studies on high stress groups, such as veterans suffering from PTSD and prison inmates, showed dramatic reductions in anxiety from Transcendental Meditation practice, whereas studies of groups with only moderately elevated anxiety levels, such as normal adults and college students, showed more modest changes.

Lead author on the meta-analysis, Dr. David Orme-Johnson, an independent research consultant, commented: “It makes sense that if you are not anxious to begin with, that Transcendental Meditation practice is not going to reduce your anxiety that much. Groups with elevated anxiety received significant relief from TM, and that reduction occurred rapidly in the first few weeks of practice.”

Transcendental Meditation was also found to produce significant improvements in other areas worsened by anxiety, such as blood pressure, insomnia, emotional numbness, family problems, employment status, and drug and alcohol abuse.

trait anxiety relief and transcendental meditation - graph of results of scientific research
A chart shows that studies of individuals with anxiety levels in the 90th percentile (higher than 90% of the rest of the adult population) showed dramatic reductions in anxiety down to the 57th percentile from Transcendental Meditation practice. This is just a little higher than the average anxiety level, which is the 50th percentile. Study groups that started in the 60th percentile, a little above average, showed more modest reductions, to the 48th percentile, a little below average. Graph credit: tm.org

Is anxiety relief a mere placebo effect?

Dr. Orme-Johnson answered a commonly asked question about placebo effects. He said: “Since anxiety is a self-reported measure, one might wonder whether the effects of Transcendental Meditation practice or any other treatment program were a placebo effect. Placebos are great. If you give a person a sugar pill and tell them that it will reduce anxiety, it probably will, but only for a little while before the effect wears off. But the effects of TM were shown to be lasting and include objective benefits. For example a recent study showed that Transcendental Meditation reduces heart attacks, strokes, and death over a ten-year period. So we know its effects are real and are not just due to a placebo.”

Article written by:
Maharishi University of Management

Academic reference:
Orme-Johnson DW, Barnes VA. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Altern Complement Med 2013;19(10):1-12. Full article online