What Happens in the Brain During Transcendental Meditation: Nurse Meka Schurr on Alcoholism, Depression and ADHD
AMY: Thank you for speaking with us today. I know that, as a nurse, you are very busy and we appreciate your taking the time to answer a few important questions.
You’ve mentioned that you have suffered from symptoms of ADHD, alcohol over-consumption, and depression in the past. I’d like to start with a few minutes to discuss alcoholism. Alcohol dependence is a chronic disease based in the brain. It has long-term effects that change the way the brain reacts to alcohol, making the need to drink as compelling as the need to eat. A comparison of statistical meta-analyses indicates that the Transcendental Meditation technique produces significantly larger reductions in alcohol use than standard substance abuse treatments and standard prevention programs in which benefits typically decrease rapidly within three months, whereas benefits of the TM technique increase over time. Can you weigh in here with your personal experience and understanding?
MEKA: Amy! This is a big deal for me! I have been in recovery for almost four years now and I have to say that meditation has been one of my biggest supporters during this process! 4 years ago I was given an ultimatum, my husband had had enough…he said you need to quit drinking or I don’t know how much longer I will be able to stay in this marriage. I was a functioning alcoholic. I drank after work, I got up and worked the next day. I advanced in my career. I went on to get my bachelor’s degree. I had kids, took care of my duties around the house. But when things got tough, I drank more and when we would go out for weddings or special events I would get blackout drunk. You have to realize that drinking and alcoholism is soooo normalized in our society. I mean, even some doctors tell their patients that a glass of red wine is healthy for you…but is it really? And at what point does it become not healthy anymore?
After quitting it became pretty clear to me that I had been using alcohol to numb my pain. The pain of feeling alone and not loving myself. The pain from a family history that included abuse and abandonment. I was constantly abandoning myself instead of taking control of my life and showing my mind and body the respect they deserved.
Shortly after getting sober, I became addicted to work; I created a program throughout the hospital to help build rapport and mindfulness throughout all the departments. It was called the ECC Liaison! I worked tirelessly, picked up over time, SANE cases, precepted new nurses, and burned the candle at both ends until there was nothing left! It wasn’t long before I realized that I was just trading one addiction for the next. Still trying to numb my feelings and avoid the pain of dealing with real life.
I started using binaural beats and guided meditations to put myself to sleep at night. I tried during the day but oftentimes had anxiety about it because it was hard to stop my mind and concentrate on the breath, which was necessary in that type of meditation.I remember getting the email for the research study on Transcendental Meditation and nurses and I applied to be a part of it! I truly believe that the universe had a plan for me and learning TM was a huge part of my recovery journey!! One person had dropped out of the study leaving an open spot and I was able to step in and be a part of something that has been truly life-changing!
I met with my TM instructor and began practicing right away. I loved Transcendental Meditation! How did I not know about this!?! My ADD brain was content.This was wonderful! It created such a sense of peace in my life at the time I needed that so badly! I was learning self-compassion and learning to say “yes” to me.
After practicing the TM technique for several months I started to notice that I had so much more patience, not only with myself but with my children, my patients, my coworkers, and my husband. I noticed that my sleep was more restful. My overall sense of well-being and purpose was greater than it had ever been. I could tell that it was allowing me to be at peace and to feel joy in my life again.
AMY: That’s wonderful! Thank you for sharing your story. Now let’s talk about depression. About a tenth of American women is on antidepressants.One of the earlier studies on the TM technique, published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology, showed that university students who learned the TM technique experienced reduced depression after only three months. Experts agree that stress is the main cause of the psycho-physiological imbalances that give rise to depression. When a person experiences chronic stress and anxiety, some vital connections between nerve cells break apart. disturbing the communication between the affected cells. This disturbance is now believed to contribute to the biology of depression, so reducing stress may be key. What is your experience with depression before and after learning TM?
MEKA: Amy, I think it was just after six months of self-care including practicing TM that I started reducing my anti-depressants and within eight months I was completely off of them!!
With regular TM practice, I was able to fill my own cup, and take that time for myself to release and reset. This self-care routine changed my life. I started to notice that my work-life balance was getting better. I had more focus and clarity. That was when I decided to take a nurse coaching course so that I could become a Board-Certified Nurse Coach and also went on to take specialty training as a PEER Recovery Specialist—someone who works with clients with mental health and addiction. All of this has helped me feel like I am able to take my pain and struggles and turn them into something beautiful to help other people
AMY: Scientists attribute ADHD to a lag in the brain’s natural development. Transcendental Meditation works very differently from how ADHD drugs work. Practicing the TM technique over time seems to allow the brain to create the neural connections that correct the underlying problem.
In recent years certain brain wave patterns—specifically the ratio between theta and beta waves—have been consistently shown to be correlated with the severity of ADHD symptoms. A 2011 study published in Mind and Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry found that Transcendental Meditation practice decreases these theta/beta ratios in students with ADHD until they are in the normal range. What was your experience with ADHD and how did learning the Transcendental Meditation technique affect it?
MEKA My experience with ADD started at a young age. I really had trouble focusing in school, especially if the subject didn’t interest me…forget it! I was in another world, planet, another galaxy at that point. Trying to read was very difficult and I actually was held back in 2nd grade because I was so behind in reading. Every time I would pick up a book and or read a math problem, anything that took extended periods of concentration…I was lost. My mind would wander or I would start daydreaming mid-sentence and by the end of the page I had no idea what I had even read. Testing was also very difficult for me. I just had a hard time staying focused with all the distractions around me.
I was never treated for my ADD in childhood but in my teenage years I was actually put on medications for my ADD. I took Adderall and Ritalin and in the end I was taking Vyvanse, off and on for a little over a decade. I was to the point where I was nearly maxed out on the dosage and I still felt like I was off in space. It wasn’t until I started the TM technique and addressed my trauma that I was able to even consider what life would look like off of my ADD meds. Once I started to learn about neuropathways and rewiring the brain, the power of meditation and intention, I knew that it was possible to heal myself, retrain my brain and potentially get off those medications. Our minds and bodies are amazing things…we truly are divine beings and innately wired to heal ourselves.
I think TM has to be one of the best types of meditation for someone with ADD! It is built for the wandering mind, it is natural and effortless. This allowed me to give myself the space and the compassion I needed to meditate properly because as you could imagine that—with other techniques—trying to stay “focused on the breath” for someone with ADD could be extremely difficult. With TM, I noticed that my memory started to improve. My attention span was getting longer and my anxiety was significantly reduced. The practice of TM helps me get more grounded and gives me the ability to handle multitasking with more ease and less error. I mean I am an ER nurse! I have to be able to multitask but I also need to be able to be calm under pressure and what I noticed was that when I am practicing TM regularly, I know what to do and when I need to do it with clarity and ease.
I know that because of TM I was really able to reduce the anxiety and provide myself with compassion and the space to heal and rewire my brain. To slow down and allow my mind to work more effortlessly. I have been off my medications for over a year and a half now!! WhoooHooo! I know when it is time for my afternoon meditation because I can feel myself getting more frazzled and having a harder time prioritizing my thoughts and actions. The afternoon meditation helps me get back on track. I feel energized, focused, and much more clear—ready to take on the rest of the day. And TM has really helped me reduce my coffee intake and helped reduce my adrenal fatigue! Not only has it significantly turned down my fight or flight response, but Transcendental Meditation has also helped heal my body as well!
Amy: What advice, words of encouragement, or direction would you give to nurses who are suffering from ADHD, depression and/or alcohol overuse?
- SELF COMPASSION
- SELF-CARE ROUTINE
- REGULAR PRACTICE of the Transcendental Meditation technique!!!
It is never too late to change! We give soooo much of ourselves to others ALL DAY, EVERY DAY! If you could give yourself just an ounce of that care and compassion you give to others you can change your world and your reality dramatically! The Transcendental Meditation technique has helped me transform myself into the person I always knew I could be.
Every day brings new challenges but with all the tools in my toolbox, I feel ready to face any challenge that comes my way.
Meka Schurr BSN, RN, SANE, NC, is a PEER Recovery Specialist, Emergency Department
About the Author
Amy Ruff, RN BSN, is the national director of TM for Nurses in the United States.