Mental Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation isn't just for religious folks. It's a technique that uses mindfulness to help you concentrate and redirect your thoughts. It's about immersing yourself in the present rather than getting caught up in what's already happened or what's coming up in the future.
When you meditate, you can quiet down all those thoughts bouncing around in your head and focus on what's important. But here's the most amazing part. Meditation may help improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, and may even curb addiction.
And there are some physical benefits too, like being able to tolerate pain better and kicking bad habits. Meditation is a simple practice, yet potentially powerful when done right.
So, let's dive into all the ways meditation can help your mental health.
1. Meditation may help to reduce stress
One of the most common reasons people meditate is because of its stress-reducing benefits.
Stress typically induces the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes the release of inflammatory substances known as cytokines. This leads to trouble sleeping, anxiety, increased blood pressure, and inability to focus. Conversely, meditation reduces the production of cortisol and therefore prevents the stress symptoms that come with it.
In one study, mindfulness meditation reduced stress symptoms within eight weeks.
2. Managing anxiety
Since stress is often a precursor of anxiety, meditating may also help you reduce anxiety levels. After eight weeks of practicing meditation, participants in one study living with generalized anxiety disorder experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety symptoms.
Another study suggests that people with the highest levels of anxiety tend to benefit more from meditation.
3. May improve mood and suppress depression
Did you know that meditation can act as an antidepressant? About 3,500 participants in one study experienced reduced depressive symptoms after practicing mindfulness meditation.
Indeed, focusing your mind on the present can help you avoid negative thoughts than beget negative emotions.
4. It helps you focus and concentrate
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, aims to help you focus on the present. This may lead to better concentration in whatever task you have at hand without getting distracted by different thoughts and anxieties flooding your mind.
According to one Harvard research, mindfulness meditation affects how the brain processes new information. After eight weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, the gray matter involved in learning increased.
Another study with brain scans shows how mindfulness meditation increased connectivity in parts of the brain involved with attention.
From all indications, we can actually train our brain to focus and maintain attention better by meditating regularly.
5. Improves self-awareness
Meditation may help you improve self-awareness and, therefore, your self-esteem. This is how it works.
You see, by engaging in mindfulness meditation, everything happening in your world slows down for a moment. This allows for deeper self-reflection, encouraging you to look within and see the good things about yourself. And your self-esteem tends to go up a notch when you acknowledge your strengths rather than focusing on your weaknesses.
According to a study conducted by Stanford University researchers, 14 participants battling social anxiety reported improved self-esteem after meditating for two months.
6. Meditation may help curb addiction
Several studies suggest that meditation can fight alcohol and drug addiction by altering the brain receptors connected with such cravings.
Aside from that, the awareness that meditation offers makes you conscious of your cravings. And when you're aware of them, it becomes easier to resist without getting overpowered by them.
Furthermore, research also shows that meditation may help people avoid falling into a relapse when getting clean.
7. Meditation for pain management
Some doctors now recommend mindfulness meditation as a part of pain management for patients dealing with post-surgical, acute, or chronic pain. That's because research shows that meditation uses the neural pathway that makes the brain less sensitive to pain, and activates the brain's natural opioids.
The benefits of meditation transcends many mental health issues, and is definitely worth practicing. However, it's not a cure for all these health challenges. Meditation would be most effective as a part of a comprehensive intervention for stress, chronic pain, etc. as the case may be.
In all, finding time to actively focus on your present will go a long way in helping you appreciate what you have now rather than worry about your past or future events. And that's, of course, essential for your mental wellbeing.