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Meditation and Mental Health

Thousands of studies have looked at the relationship between meditation and depression/anxiety, and results overwhelmingly show that mindful meditation practices have moderate evidence showing reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms. Starting a daily meditation practice can help manage negative emotions, such as anger and fear. It can help you tune in with your body, focusing on your breath as you inhale and exhale. You may notice your heart rate decreases, or that your thoughts have a natural tendency to come and go.

Research has shown that meditation has been found to change certain brain regions that are specifically linked with depression and anxiety, including the prefrontal cortex. Often in depressed or anxious individuals, the prefrontal cortex becomes hyperactive. It is the center where you process information, including worrisome thoughts and rumination about past events. Another brain region associated with depression and anxiety is the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for fight-or-flight responses. These two brain regions work off of each other and increase depression and anxiety symptoms. Cortisol levels spike as the brain signals that danger is imminent. Meditation helps break up the connection between these two regions and cortisol levels eventually start to decrease.

Many people think of meditation as a distant goal, maybe entertaining the idea, but ultimately deciding against it. Perhaps thoughts such as “I can’t sit still for that long” or “My mind will never just shut off” enter your mind when you start thinking of developing a daily meditation practice. The good news is, meditation is not as difficult as it is widely perceived to be and there is a reason it is called a practice. It is something you get to practice every day, instead of trying to perfect it—just look at is as something you are willing to practice over time.

Here are some common meditation myths that you may have heard in the past:

1) Your mind must be completely quiet during meditation. Random thoughts are still going to pop up in your head, even while you are meditating—and this is normal! The point is to bring your attention back to your breath or point of focus no matter what sort of chatter is going on up there.

2) You need to sit still for a long period of time. Some people choose to sit quietly for hours. Others choose ten minutes a day. Some choose to sit in silence. Others choose to use a guided meditation. Research shows that no matter the length of time or whether you choose to sit in complete silence or have a guided meditation playing in the background, mornings are best for meditating because “as the day goes on, your willpower may start to wane”.

3) It takes years to develop a practice that would reap any benefits. Research shows benefits of meditating tend to kick in around 8-10 weeks. The important part is daily consistency, even if you only spend 5-20 minutes meditating. Studies have found individuals who create a daily practice benefit from lower blood pressure, better sleep, and tend to be less reactive to stress.

4) Meditation is a religious practice. Although many religions across the world use meditation in a spiritual sense, it can also be a psychological tool to help manage stress, reduce negative emotions, increase imagination and creativity, focus on the present moment, increase patience and tolerance, and much more!

If you are ready to start a meditation practice, we encourage you to start with a simple guided meditation. There are many free ones online, as well as different apps you can download on your phone. Some have peaceful music playing in the background, others a soothing voice guiding you as you check in with different parts of your body. Many focus on the breath as a center of focus, encouraging you to close your eyes, and to get into a comfortable position. You may also choose to keep your eyes open and focus on a spot in the room, such as a picture hanging on the wall. Whatever is most comfortable for you as you begin this practice. Eventually, you may find that you want to meditate without guidance and there are different timers you can use to keep track of time passing without feeling the need to continually glance over at the clock.

If meditation is one of your goals and you are struggling to get started, we encourage you to discuss with your therapist here at 253 Therapy and Consult. As always, we are here for you and are committed to helping you along your healing journey.

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