It can be tough to return to work or school after your summer vacation or after any leave. Switching gears can be difficult, especially when it is necessary to make up for “lost time.” And getting up to speed, let alone getting ahead, is not just a matter of working hard. According to female chief executives, women on the verge of the C-suite, human resource professionals and headhunters, barriers against women professionals are deeply rooted, pervasive and persistent. Women, they report, are often considered less visionary, less dependable, and more easily discouraged; we find self-promotion and being competitive more uncomfortable than men do; we have less self-confidence.

Even for those women fortunate enough to love the challenges inherent in their career or their academic studies, it’s pretty common to get overwhelmed by stressful demands and anti-female bias, and more so after time away. How can we find the resilience, energy, optimism and focus to enjoy the challenges without becoming overwhelmed by the stressors that lead to dissatisfaction, disease, depression or anxiety?

Challenge vs. stress: A challenge can be an opportunity to enjoy how effective we can be. When challenged, we see more clearly, the brain actually processes experience more quickly, and we have lots of creative ideas and more mental and physical energy. So, when does a challenge become a problem?

Start with the Brain
 
When life’s challenges become too daunting and more than we can handle, the frontal part of the brain (the CEO) which directs decision making, goes offline. The prefrontal cortex is the functional center of brain activity. The rest of the brain sends various input to the CEO, which sends out a coordinated response. When the CEO is shut down, we are left with tunnel vision in a concrete sensory world with little capacity for planning or foresight—moving the brain from problem-solving mode into fight-or-flight mode. We react dynamically, but without broad vision—so we react in an inappropriate and ineffective way.
 
The CEO of the brain is our greatest resource, allowing for intuition, broad planning, and creative problem solving. To enliven its function is the best preparation for achievement, high performance and success. Transcendental Meditation has been shown repeatedly in peer reviewed published research studies to strengthen the prefrontal circuits (keeping our CEO online). This makes us more resilient, allowing us to withstand the high stress and fatigue that many of us encounter, meet challenges successfully and improve our health and happiness.(1) Stress isn’t pathological or destructive in the presence of a resilient response when the CEO of the brain is fully awake.
 
Stress and a Rested Physiology
 
Stress is inevitable, creating deleterious effects on our mental, physical and emotional health… and our career. The physiological response during the Transcendental Meditation practice has been found to be the opposite of the body’s stress response. During TM, our mind experiences quieter, subtler levels of the thinking process, and then transcends thought altogether; this spontaneously triggers a state of profound physiological rest, much deeper than ordinary relaxation.(2) This deep, healing rest allows for fatigue and accumulated knots of stress to be dissolved so we are increasingly more resilient: we can take on greater challenges without becoming overwhelmed.

Resilience to Stress

Research has found that the TM practice has a truly holistic effect on health, with normalization of hormone levels, blood pressure and measurable improvements in diabetes, cholesterol, cardiovascular health and brain functioning. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that the Transcendental Meditation technique is twice as effective as other self-help programs in reducing stress.(3) Over time, the body starts to maintain a more rested, calm and energetic style of functioning even outside of meditation. This resilience better prepares us to handle more challenge without it becoming stressful. Challenge keeps us alert and moving forward. With the addition of the TM technique into our routine, those challenges do not turn into stress.

Conclusion

Ready? Just learn the TM technique.
Set? Start enjoying the relief, then energy and the inspiration it brings.
Go! Return to school or work—or both? No problem, bring it on.

  1. Rheingans, Jennifer, PhD, RN-BC, AHN-BC The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) Program on Compassion Fatigue and Resiliency Among Nurses. A pilot study of 27 nurses who learned the TM technique showed statistical significance for reduced burnout, reduced secondary traumatic stress, reduced compassion fatigue and increased resilience. The conclusion of the study was that the TM technique improved compassion fatigue and resilience in nurses. Of particular interest is a question about whether TM may help to develop resilience earlier in a nurse’s career, thereby guarding against burnout and leaving their careers.
  2. Jevning R, Wilson AF, O’Halloran JP. Muscle and skin blood flow and metabolism during states of decreased activation. Physiology and Behavior 1982 29(2):343-348 Forearm oxygen consumption declined markedly during the Transcendental Meditation technique due to a decreased rate of tissue oxygen extraction. These findings indicate reduced metabolism in muscle tissue and reflect a unique state of deep rest.
  3. Lang R, Dehof K, Meurer KA, Kaufmann W. Sympathetic activity and Transcendental Meditation, .Journal of Neural Transmission 1979 44(1/2):117-135 The findings of this study indicate that the Transcendental Meditation technique gives rise to a unique physiological state which involves the activity of aspects of both sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, and that these effects become most clearly evident in more experienced meditators. The results contribute to an understanding of the coexistence of very deep rest with enhanced alertness during the Transcendental Meditation technique.
  4. In a meta-analysis of 146 independent studies, the TM technique was found to be twice as effective as other techniques for stress and anxiety. Journal of Clinical Psychology 45 (1989): 957-974.

Vanessa Vidal and Janet Hoffman are national board members of TM for Women in the USA

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