Anxiety and stress are at an all time high for many people these days. So we asked CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and WAM Advisor, Bob Roth, about how meditation can help. The benefits can be amazing, not just in our everyday lives, but also for healthcare works and veterans. 

WAM: What is it about uncertainty that makes us so anxious?

Roth: Anxiety is a natural physiological response to the heightened stress of uncertainty we all feel today. So much seems to be out of our control—our way of life, our very existence is threatened. These threats hijack the amygdala, which is the part of the brain’s limbic system that triggers the “fight or flight” response. They also trigger the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, which fuels anxiety. It’s a perfect storm of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety, with no immediate end in sight. No wonder we feel this way!

WAM: Today is Election Day, and the entire country has been primed to expect procedures we once considered routine to be considered anything but normal. Between the unknown political situation facing the country and the genuine concerns about the pandemic, Americans are experiencing an intense amount of stress. What are some things people can do to try to combat the stress and reduce their anxiety?

Roth: Truthfully, what we need to do today to combat stress and reduce anxiety is the same thing we need to have been doing every day before: the basics to strengthen the immune system, promote resilience, and maintain balance in the emotional centers of the brain. And to do this is nothing new, nothing magical. We need to (1) make sleep a sacred period in our 24-hour cycle, (2) make eating healthy food the norm and not the exception (and not self-medicate with junk), (3) do an exercise program that you look forward to, and (4) make meditation a regular part of your daily routine.

WAM: What suggestions do you have for people on how to incorporate meditation into their everyday lives and start get into a meditation routine?

Roth: If you are having trouble making meditation a part of your routine, I seriously suggest that you sit down and have a “heart-to-heart” with yourself to set or reset your priorities. No one has the time to meditate, or so they say. But millions of very busy people do. Remember, there are 1,440 minutes in each day and if we can’t find a few minutes twice a day for some substantive, meditation-based self-care then maybe we need to really consider our priorities. One more thing I find that helps people who are struggling: Make sure the meditation technique you practice is simple, enjoyable, relaxing, energizing, even enlightening. You should look forward to your meditation time, not dread it!

WAM: Earlier this year the David Lynch Foundation announced the Heal the Healers Now Initiative to bring Transcendental Meditation to the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. What type of response have you gotten from this program and why is it so important for these healthcare workers?

Roth: So many frontline healthcare workers are risking their lives every day saving other’s lives, dealing with the grimness of trauma and death, keeping the rest of us healthy. They suffer from escalating rates of PTSD, suicidality, depression, and substance use disorder. They want to meditate—and we have found the demand is huge. We are offering TM as part of a four-month, trauma-informed course to doctors, nurses, and other providers through hospitals in 25 states, including large-scale studies now underway on the effects of TM on resilience, burnout, and sleep among workers. Based on the data coming out of these clinical trials I believe the meditation will soon be covered as part of hospital employee assistance programs for all workers. This will save lives and transform the healthcare profession.

WAM: We’re also looking forward to Veterans Day on November 11th, and wanted to check in on your latest success working with veterans.

Roth: Before the pandemic hit, 21 or more veterans were taking their own lives every day in America. This is a national shame and travesty. And alarmingly, the numbers are only increasing now. We recently launched “21 TO NONE”—a national initiative in partnership with VA hospitals and veteran service organizations to bring TM to veterans with PTSD and their families. Published research has already shown TM to be highly effective for reducing symptoms of PTSD among vets. Now, a major Phase III clinical trial on TM and PTSD will begin in nine VA hospitals. Findings from the study will be used to help secure funding so that any veteran with PTSD who wants to learn to meditate can do so. The purpose? The more vets who meditate the lower the suicide rate.

Photo Credit: Alexander Berg