How Meditation Is Linked to Better Mental Health

Meditation and practicing mindfulness have gained increasing momentum in the western world in the past several decades. By paying attention to what happens in each moment, people can practice being present and more aware of everyday life. 

Research shows that meditation not only relieves stress but has significant impacts on an individual’s sleep, coping mechanisms, and even chronic pain. In short, there is a proven link between meditation and improved mental health. 

Depression and Anxiety

A recent study on mindfulness meditation reported that even just one one-hour session can be beneficial for those suffering from anxiety. The study showed that a single meditation session can reduce anxiety in people and reduce stress on the arteries. Additionally, meditative therapies are generally easy to implement and have no known adverse effects, making them an ideal recommendation for doctors to give to patients suffering from anxiety and other related disorders. 

Other studies have attempted to test the impact of mindfulness meditation on depression and anxiety disorders. One looked at how mindfulness meditation affected the anxiety and depression levels among the 22 participants of the study, noting that they were significantly reduced. What’s more, the majority of the participants continued to practice these mindfulness meditation stress reduction techniques at three months after the study concluded. This alone seems to indicate that the practice is easy to maintain. 

Another study showed that regular transcendental meditation practice is associated with a 30% drop in cortisol, the stress hormone released by the body in moments of stress.

Sleep

Sleep is a critical component of maintaining mental health. Unfortunately, sleep disturbances are common, especially for people over the age of 55. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep has numerous adverse effects, including upset mood, fatigue, and reduced quality of life. 

One team of researchers conducted a trial with 42 adults for an entire calendar year, with half of the participants receiving training in mindful awareness practices (MAPS). The other half received sleep hygiene education (SHE), without any meditation training. The former practiced mindfulness exercises, including sitting meditation. 

At the conclusion of the trial, the findings noted that both systems were effective at improving sleep; however,  the MAPS program positively impacted sleep quality even after the study was completed as compared to the sleep hygiene program alone.  Other studies have shows that meditators report less fatigue and better functioning during the day.

Cognition

Other studies have reported that mindfulness meditation could potentially physically change parts of the brain. Some researchers have reported that mindfulness-based stress reduction was able to alter gray matter concentration within different parts of the brain, which were detectable after people participated in an 8-week mindfulness training program. 

Theoretically, this would mean that meditation could improve cognitive faculties like learning, memory, and emotion regulation. It could even affect the amygdala, which processes fear, stress, and anxiety. 

Conclusion

As the studies mentioned herein illustrate, meditation can improve mental health in many ways. No matter what additional trials and studies show, there currently appears to be no downside to practicing meditation. For those looking for simple ways to improve mental health, meditation may be key.

About the Author

Natalie Buchwald, LMHC Natalie Buchwald, LMHC is the founder and clinical director of Manhattan Mental Health Counseling. As a practitioner of holistic psychotherapy, Natalie’s treatment approach places an emphasis on the mind-body relationship and is both experiential and pragmatic.

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