83 per cent of veterans and hospital staff surveyed after a five-week mantram course told researchers from the US Department of Veterans Affairs that they found the technique – which involves silently and continuously repeating calming words or phrases throughout the day - useful on a number of occasions.
Just under a quarter of these occasions (24 per cent) related to traffic and work-related stress, 13 per cent to insomnia and 12 per cent to unwanted thoughts. More than half (51 per cent) related to emotional situations.
"Repeating the mantram seemed to stop post-traumatic stress disorder-type dreams that had occurred for 10 to 11 years" said a former veteran and one of the 66 people taking part in the survey.
"I have racing thoughts. I think about a ton of things – what I'm going to do about this and what I'm going to do about that – and then I start the mantram and it helps" added another.
A third found that using a mantram had an unexpectedly healthy side effect, commenting: "I use it sometimes when I'm on the treadmill at the gym. When I'm wishing that the time would go a little faster. And I'll just start using my mantram and then I forget about it and it helps me exercise a little longer."
"The people taking part in the study found that silently repeating a specific word or phrase helped them to handle a number of difficult situations" explains lead researcher Jill E Bormann, Research Nurse Scientist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System in California.
Dr Bormann and her fellow researchers – from the Universities of California and North Carolina – deliberately chose two highly stressed groups to take part in the study.
"Veterans are well known to have many chronic physical and mental health symptoms that interfere with their quality of life and their ability to live normal everyday lives. Similarly, hospital employees have high levels of job stress, leading to decreased job satisfaction and subsequent increases in healthcare costs" she explains.
People taking part in the five-week course, which comprised a one-and-a-half hour session a week, were taught to choose and repeat a cue word or mantram frequently during the day, using guidelines drawn from The Mantram Handbook by Eknath Easwaran of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Tomales, California.
Easwaran describes mantrams as a "spiritual formula for transformation". Dr Bormann calls them a "jacuzzi for the mind", adding that "using a word that embodies spirituality helps to initiate the relaxation response and centeredness."
"People taking part in our study were encouraged to use the mantram during ordinary and relaxing times, so that they associated it with a calming effect when they needed to use it during times of turmoil" she explains. "Easwaran advises that people use it when they need it and use it when they don't!"
Most of the volunteers from southern California who took part chose words or phrases that reflected their religious beliefs. People without specific beliefs chose other soothing phrases.
29 of the 30 veterans were male, with an average age of 63. Seven had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and six suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
31 of the 36 hospital staff were female with an average age of 50 and two had a psychiatric diagnosis.
"Mantram repetition may be useful in diverse modern populations for managing a variety of internal emotional states that sometimes appear endemic to technological society, such as anger, frustration and impatience" says Dr Bormann.
Dr Bormann has just received research funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out further investigation into the benefits of mantram repetition for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She has also been working on a project to see if mantram repetition decreases anger and increases spiritual faith in adults with HIV.