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8 Benefits of Meditation to Mental Health and Well-Being

Meditation is not a substitute for medicine that has been prescribed by a doctor. It can, however, improve one's physical and mental health.

Meditation is not about changing or even becoming a better person, nor is it an attempt to disassociate oneself from one’s own ideas and emotions. It’s about developing an awareness of one’s surroundings and acquiring a healthy viewpoint. It is also the ability to view things objectively and understand them better.

What is meditation?

Meditation is a kind of mental activity that develops focus and awareness. Meditation is used to promote quiet and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to aid in illness recovery, and to improve overall health and well-being.

According to a study, the use of meditation among American adults has tripled between 2012 and 2017, rising from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent. Also, meditation use among children aged 4 to 17 years has increased dramatically, from 0.6 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent in 2017.[1]

How to meditate?

Establish a time limit. Locate a peaceful and quiet spot to sit. Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor, or sit on the floor with crossed legs, or kneel. Select a stable position. Follow the sensation of your breathing. When the mind wanders, just bring it back to the breathing feeling. When the time is up, end gently.

Benefits of Meditation to Mental Health and Well-Being

Meditation offers numerous benefits for one’s mental health and overall well-being. Here are 10 benefits of meditation for mental health and well-being.

1. Stress Reduction

Stress may be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. It increases anxiety levels, blood pressure, and other physical and mental illnesses. Fortunately, meditation offers a way to better respond to these physical and mental health-related issues. People who meditate, for example, may be able to relax their muscles, blood pressure, and even their heart rate, respiration, and brain waves, which makes them less stressed.

In a study, MRI scans, following an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, the amygdala, the primitive area of the brain that is related to fear and emotion and is responsible for initiating the body’s stress reaction, decreased.[2]

2. Enhanced Memory Retention and Delay Brain Ageing

Aging does not just affect the body and its appearance; it also affects the brain. According to a study, meditation and brain aging are connected.[3] This implies that meditation may assist in slowing brain ageing. It helps to preserve the mind from cognitive decline by improving mental concentration and flexibility. Food and physical activities may not be enough to enhance memory retention; the brain needs to be trained as well.

3. Increased Focus and Determination

A study concluded that people who meditate for a long time have better sustained attention, which suggests that the cognitive benefits of dedicated mental training may last for a long time if they keep on practicing.[4] Continued meditation may help people keep the gains they made during periods of formal training and may decrease age-related cognitive decline. Meditation practice that goes on for a long time may have a big impact on the attentional abilities of people who do it.

4. Better Sleep Quality

In a study participated in by 49 middle-aged and older people who had trouble sleeping, half of them finished a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises, while the other half took a class that taught them how to improve their sleep. Both groups met six times a week for two hours. Participants who are meditating had fewer sleep problems and lesser depression tendencies at the end of the six sessions than the participants, who learned how to sleep better. This study shows that meditation helps people achieve better sleep quality.[5]

5. Enhanced Pain Tolerance

Meditation is used to help patients experiencing chronic pain manage and deal with their physical pain. In a study, participants who meditated for four days said they were less sensitive to pain. As shown in their fMRI scans, the part of their brain that deals with pain has more activity. Furthermore, participants who meditated reported fewer occurrences of chronic pain. This is because meditation makes the brain produce endorphins, which connect to opioid receptors. When they connect to these receptors, it helps the body feel less pain.[6]

6. Normalized Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is often associated with stress. Lowering stress may also lower blood pressure. In a study involving more than 200 people who were 55 or older and who had been taking anti-hypertensive drugs for an average of 8 years, it was concluded that meditation may lower the risk of dying from stroke or heart attack by 30 % and may also lower the risk of dying from cancer by 49%.[7]

7. Anxiety Reduction

Meditation helps people relax. Firstly, when one pays attention to only one thing at a time, there will be less activity in the brain’s neural network, also known as the Default Mode Network. The Default Mode Network is the one used to think about the past or worry about the future. Second, the act of breathing in a slow, focused way reduces activity in the fight or flight branch of our autonomic nervous system, also known as the sympathetic nervous system. It also stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which helps one rest and digest, increases one’s heart rate variability, and assures the brain that the body is safe. More information about heart rate variability can be found in our article The Connection Between Mental Health and Heart Rate Variability.

8. Reduced Depression Tendencies

Stress and anxiety are two of the main causes of depression. Meditation, on the other hand, can help one deal with anxiety and depression. Meditation helps the brain learn to stay focused for a long time and return to that focus when negative thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations come into play. Negative thoughts and emotions usually happen when one is stressed and anxious. There are more facts about depression in our 5 Most Common FAQs About Depression article.

Meditation changes parts of the brain that are linked to depression. These parts of the brain are the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the amygdala, or “fear center.” The mPFC is more active in people who are depressed. Usually, the mPFC is referred to as the “me center” because this is where one processes information about herself or himself. When people are stressed about their lives, their mPFC goes into overdrive, which makes them more stressed. Further, when someone is afraid or thinks there is a threat, the amygdala, or “fear center,” sends a signal to the adrenal glands to make the stress hormone cortisol.[8]

These two parts of the brain work together to make people feel down. There is a lot of stress and anxiety, and the “me center” gets excited. The fear center responds, and this causes a spike in cortisol levels to fight a threat that’s only in one’s head.[9] Meditation helps to break the connection between these parts of the brain. Once the connection is broken, depression and anxiety are unlikely to occur.

Takeaway

Meditation is not a substitute for medicine that has been prescribed by a doctor. It can, however, improve one’s physical and mental health. Meditation is an exercise that anyone can do to improve their mental health and well-being. Meditation is not a substitute for clinical treatments. Recent advancements in remote patient monitoring can allow your doctor to review physiologic data in real-time and use that data to craft a plan to treat mental health conditions. Details about how this technology works can be found in our Remote Patient Monitoring for Patients with Mental Health Conditions article.

References:

  1. National Health Interview Survey 2017. (n.d.). NCCIH. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2017
  2. Taren, A. A., Creswell, J. D., & Gianaros, P. J. (2013). Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e64574. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064574
  3. Kurth, F., Cherbuin, N., & Luders, E. (2017). Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860
  4. Zanesco, A. P., King, B. G., MacLean, K. A., & Saron, C. D. (2018). Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2(3), 259–275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-018-0068-1
  5. Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2018). The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Sleep quality: a Systematic Review and meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1445(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13996
  6. Zeidan, F., Emerson, N. M., Farris, S. R., Ray, J. N., Jung, Y., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(46), 15307–15325. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.2542-15.2015
  7. Krittanawong, C., Kumar, A., Wang, Z., Narasimhan, B., Jneid, H., Virani, S. S., & Levine, G. N. (2020). Meditation and Cardiovascular Health in the US. The American Journal of Cardiology, 131, 23–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2020.06.043
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, August 1). How meditation helps with depression – Harvard Health. Harvard Health; Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression

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