We have all heard about meditation - usually, the first image that comes to mind is some kind of zen setting, with a monk sitting cross-legged, maybe some leaves or some flower petals floating in the wind around them.
That does sound pretty great, but often feels unachievable in our day to day lives. The reality though, is that it is more accessible than you think, and has many benefits to your physical and mental health.
Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind for any length of time. There are many different types of meditative practices, but overall they all share the common effects of relaxation and feelings of inner peace. These feelings, for obvious reasons, can benefit your mental health. It's always better to feel calm and collected in your life, and being comfortable in yourself and at peace with the circumstances around you can only benefit your mental wellbeing.
In a review published by the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, researchers reviewed over 18,000 scientific studies in search of tangible evidence of the relationship between meditation and depression/anxiety. Forty-seven trials with data relating to over 3,500 patients were taken into account, and the results spoke pretty clearly. The results showed that mindful meditation programs in a short-term (8 week) period displayed moderate evidence in reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A different study published in Psychiatry Research found that folks who suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and participated in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program had a significantly lower count of stress markers than those found in a control group.
Meditation and My Mental Health
So how, really, is meditation going to help? Let's look into a comprehensive list of the long-lasting health benefits that can become a new positivity in your day-to-day.
Lowers stress: Utilizing meditation to balance stress levels is probably the most common reason people pursue the activity. Stress, whether it is natural, internal, external, can be extremely detrimental to the human body when left unchecked. The feeling of stress causes your body to release cytokines, which are the communication pathways between cells. Elevated stress, plus elevator communicators, means heightened levels of the emotion! This can, in turn, lead to high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, insomnia, inability to concentrate, and fatigue issues. Meditation helps center your brain and relieve the symptoms of stress and stress-related disorders.
Reduces anxiety: As I'm sure you've picked up from reading this blog, stress and anxiety are not the same thing. Meditation provides a new light in ways to cope with your anxiety, whether or not you have stressors associated with said anxiety. Normally, to achieve the anxiety-relief benefits, someone would have to practice meditation regularly.
Enhances mental health: Some varieties of meditation can lead to a more positive outlook on life, and a higher sense of self-esteem. Studies have shown that frequent meditation can lower the severity of symptoms from depression, held reduce the frequency of negative thoughts, and can help boost overall positivity.
Improve self-awareness: Meditation is one of the best means to improve your self-awareness. Centering yourself within your mind, focusing on the present, on your breathing, and all the things your body is feeling and experiencing can dramatically heighten you self-awareness, and can help you discern your emotions more clearly in the future.
Increases concentration and attention span: Regular meditation has been noted to increase concentration and the attention span of the person practicing. This is, in essence, because you are training your brain to slow down. Practicing mindfulness, and being intentional with your thoughts, your breathing, and your mental activity helps train you to be able to tap into that capability at all times, not just when you are meditating.
Reduces memory loss: For similar reasons to above, meditation can help with memory loss issues - in particular, age-related memory loss. In studies, research has shown that those in the older population who meditate have improved performance on neuropsychological testing. Furthermore, they are more lucid and functioning than other elderly population around them.
Improves sleep: Regular meditation can help influence your sleep, improving the sleep you experience. Meditation can help you when you are struggling to sleep, and provides peaceful mental state while keeping you away from runaway thoughts. You stay asleep longer, fall asleep faster, and induce a physically peaceful setting as well since meditation also relaxes the muscles and relieves tension within the body.
Lower pain: Pain receptors in your brain are very sensitive, and very similar, to your stress receptors - the more stress receptors, the more 'aware' the pain receptors are. Research has shown that meditation can reduce the perception of pain in your brain/increase your pain threshold. This skill will, in the long run, lead to a better life and an overall better mood.
Lower blood pressure: Meditation has been known to reduce blood pressure because it eases stress, and reduces strain placed on the heart. Many studies have shown that regular meditation can slightly lower blood pressure, or can reduce the need for blood pressure medication in minor diagnosis situations. No matter what, make sure you talk with your healthcare provider before stopping any medications.
Overall, meditation is an art practice that can be performed by many people. It has numerous variations in the realm of practice, but this does not change the long list of positive influences that it can have on your life. You do not need fancy equipment, money, or even clothes - a soft, comfortable mat and a quiet space to dive into yourself are all you really need.
Bennington-Castro, J., Marks, J. L., Alberts, N., Bennington-Castro, J., Alkon, C., Robertson, R., Pugle, M., & Métraux, J. (2022). Detecting depression in men, women, and teens. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/guide/symptoms/
Hoge, E., Bui, E., Palitz, S., Schwarz, N., Owens, M., Johnston, J., Pollack, M., & Simon, N. (2017). The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry research. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28131433/
Med, I. (2013). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being. Jama Network. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
Oliva, L. (2022, June 8). 10 benefits of meditation. Cano Health. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://canohealth.com/news/blog/10-benefits-of-meditation/
Welch, A., Erickson, E. P. G., Gleichmann, N., Bacon, S., Upham, B., Keller, A., Heid, M., Rapaport, L., & Lindberg, S. (2022). How meditation can improve your mental health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/meditation/how-meditation-can-improve-your-mental-health/