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Meditation isn't inherently a religious practice. Meditation is a way of using mindfulness techniques to focus your mind and body -- to redirect your thoughts.
Meditation can help you increase awareness of yourself and your immediate surroundings rather than focusing on the past and future. It also filters your chaotic thoughts (monkey mind) so that you focus on what truly matters. Consequently, meditation is significantly helpful in reducing stress and maintaining concentration.
The unique practice also has physical health benefits as it can improve pain tolerance and curb addiction.
Now, let's discuss these mental health benefits of meditation in detail.
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.
One study shows that mindfulness meditation reduces all of these stress symptoms within eight weeks.
Since stress is often a precursor of anxiety, meditating can 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.
Meditation can act as an antidepressant. About 3,500 participants involved in one study experienced reduced depressive symptoms after practicing mindfulness meditation.
Indeed, focusing your mind on the present can help you avoid negative thoughts.
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, aims at helping you focus on the present. This leads to better concentration in whatever task you have at hand without the distraction of different disconnected thoughts.
According to research by Harvard, 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.
Meditation helps 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 you tend to have elevated self-esteem only when you acknowledge your positives.
According to a study conducted by Stanford University researchers, 14 participants battling social anxiety reported improved self-esteem after meditating for two months.
Several studies show 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 your cravings, you're better able to resist without getting overpowered by them.
Furthermore, research also shows that meditation can help people avoid falling into a relapse when getting clean.
Some doctors now recommend mindfulness meditation as a part of pain management for patients dealing with post-surgical, acute, or chronic pain.
The mental health benefits of meditation include stress and anxiety management, improving mood and self-esteem, and reducing pain, among others. 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 or pain, 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.