The simple, easily-learned Transcendental Meditation technique reduced stress levels, trait anxiety, depression, and “perfectionistic thinking” among 43 college students participating in a two-semester study at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. The research was published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy (Vol 25, Issue 2, April through June 2011).
“College students are trying to deal with unprecedented levels of stress,” said lead researcher, Dr. Jaimie Burns, Assistant Director of the Trinity Counseling Center. “They are going through a transitional time in life and are trying to navigate through intense academic and personal growth challenges. The lack of sleep students get is astounding and alarming. More students are graduating without jobs or are getting jobs that they don’t really want, and they know that they are going to go out into a world of rapid change and upheaval.”
“We are always evaluating tools to find out what works and how well they work. Our question was, will a tool like Transcendental Meditation really work? Our goal was to carefully, objectively, assess how effective TM would be, and we were impressed with the results, especially in the areas of trait anxiety and perfectionistic thinking,” she said.
Anxiety can be either a short term “state” or a long term “trait.” Trait anxiety reflects a stable tendency to respond with state anxiety in the anticipation of threatening situations. It is closely related to the personality trait of neuroticism.
“Mental health professionals often have difficulty helping people with this kind of dispositional anxiety,” said Dr. Burns. “To find something that helps these people is a significant problem because it’s entrenched in them. Therapy generally does not help. This is why the effect of TM practice in this study was impressive.”
Another important variable studied by the researchers at Trinity was a specific anxiety-related disorder referred to by the term “perfectionistic thinking.”
“Perfectionistic thinking refers to the extreme end of the striving spectrum,” said Dr. Burns. “When people exhibit a high degree of perfectionistic thinking, it puts them at risk for a variety of problems. Striving toward achievement is obviously good and a motivator, but when people get into what we call perfectionistic thinking, they feel that they have to be perfect all the time and it puts them at risk for developing a variety of psychological problems.”
“Perfectionism,” as it is often referred to by modern psychology, makes people set unrealistically high standards for themselves. Such individuals can feel that their self-worth depends on a consistently spotless performance. Researchers are finding that perfectionism can be a factor in those suffering from depression, eating disorders, social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
“Seeing the significant, positive impact that TM practice had on this variable was also quite impressive,” Dr. Burns concluded. “What made the findings even more impressive was that our post-testing took place at the end of a semester around the time of the students’ final exams when one would expect stress levels to be heightened. Further research is needed, but we are clearly enthusiastic about the potential of this
tool for student health and well-being.”