Important Next Steps In Research
Future research holds tremendous potential for learning more about the neurophysiological processes of meditation and the benefits of long-term practice on the brain. Research on neuroplasticity may help explain the relationships among length and quality of meditation practice, developmental stages of meditators and psychotherapy outcomes. More research is needed to better understand how the benefits of meditation practice accumulate over time.
In addition, psychologists and others need to explore other ways to increase mindfulness in addition to meditation. Given that current research does not indicate that therapists’ self-reported mindfulness enhances client outcomes, better measures of mindfulness may need to be developed or different research designs that do not rely on self-report measures need to be used. Garland and Gaylord have proposed that the next generation of mindfulness research encompass four domains: 1. performance-based measures of mindfulness, as opposed to self-reports of mindfulness 2. scientific evaluation of notions espoused by Buddhist traditions 3. neuroimaging technology to verify self-report data and 4. changes in gene expression as a result of mindfulness. Research along these lines is likely to enhance our understanding of mindfulness and its potential benefits to psychotherapy.
Daphne M. Davis, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass.
How To Practice It
Mindfulness meditation is a fairly simple practice that anyone can try.
Anytime the feelings of anxiety descend, a person should take a few moments to practice mindfulness meditation and see whether it helps reduce the stress reaction.
A person can follow these steps:
- Focus attention on the present moment. Notice the emotions and physical sensations of the moment and simply hold them, without evaluating or passing judgment on them. Become a receptacle for these sensations and notice how they change as time passes.
- Center the attention on breathing. Notice the pattern of breathing and pay attention to the rhythm. Feel whether it is shallow or deep and whether the sensation is greater in the chest or the nose.
- Widen the attention out to encompass the entire body. Notice the feelings throughout the body as they change from moment to moment. Hold the feelings, observing them without judgment.
2017 study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, found that 10 minutes of daily mindful meditation helps prevent a wandering mind and repetitive, anxious thoughts.
In the study, researchers asked 82 participants to perform a computer exercise while experiencing interruptions. They then divided the participants into two groups. The control group listened to an audio story, and the other group performed mindful meditation.
Those who participated in meditation had better concentration and less off-task thinking.
How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health
Meditation is the practice of thinking deeply or focusing ones mind for a period of time. While there are many forms of meditation, the ultimate goal is a feeling of relaxation and inner peace, which can improve mental health. And theres a growing body of research to support that.
In a review published in March 2014 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed more than 18,000 scientific studies looking at the relationship between meditation and depression and anxiety. Forty-seven trials with data on 3,515 patients met their criteria for well-designed research. The results showed that mindful meditation programs over an eight-week period had moderate evidence in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Another study, published in April 2018 in the journal Psychiatry Review, found that individuals with generalized anxiety disorder who participated in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program had a greater reduction in stress markers than a control group.
If you are interested in mindful-based therapy, speak to your physician about incorporating it into your treatment plan. If you are on antidepressants, it is important not to go off them without speaking to your healthcare provider first.
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How Meditation Can Benefit Teenage Students
For adolescents, it is not just the educational stress that bothers them. The changing body, emotional ups and downs, identity issues, and often family discord everything impacts their mental health altogether. Battling teenage stress is not an easy task.
The science of meditation has proved that some daily practices can help youngsters get a better grip on their emotions and actions. Teenagers who practice mindful relaxation and meditation practices are less prone to substance abuse, depression, aggression, and self-harm.
We know how meditation impacts the brain, the hormones, and the whole body. Many youngsters who found it challenging to sit at one place or focus on a single task for a long time, improved a lot after practicing meditation daily, individually or within a group.
Besides the core benefits that we all derive from meditating, there are some additional advantages teenage students can get from it.
Is Meditationgood For Depression
Depression is triggered by stress andanxiety and how we react to them, so anything that can help reduce theseconditions should also help ward off depression.
Since even a short meditation can helpprepare you to face a stressful situation ,it can also be helpful for tamping down the anxiety and stress that can lead todepression.
In an article from Harvard Mens Health Watch, published byHarvard Medical School, Dr. John W. Denninger,director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine atHarvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital said, Meditation trainsthe brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negativethinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude which happens a lot whenyou feel stressed and anxious.
He added that, Whenyou meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stressand anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate.
As with anxiety, you wont get total relief from depression after just one meditation session. But with practice, meditation can help many people control how they react to the stress and anxiety that often leads to depression, Dr. Denninger noted.
In Getting to Know Anxiety Drs. Rosen and Gross offer readers an overview of todays challenging mental health issues and the most current treatment methods available, as well as practical strategies for mental and emotional self-care.
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The Physiology Of Anxiety And Meditation: Why It Helps
Psychreg on Clinical Psychology
Fear and anxiety are not always necessarily bad things. These evolutionary prompts, refined over millions of years of species adaptation and survival, can help us understand when we are in a dangerous or threatening situation. Listening to the signals our minds and bodies are sending us can be an important part of protecting ourselves as we navigate the various challenges of life, and in this way, anxiety serves an important purpose.
Things get a little bit more complicated, however, when we live with an anxiety disorder. We can no longer trust that a creeping sense of dread means that our senses have identified that something is wrong, or that the experience of full-blown panic means that we need to act immediately to save ourselves from danger. It is an unfortunate reality that the series of feedback loops key to the way our body works mean that anxiety begets anxiety, and we can quickly feel trapped in a cycle we simply cant imagine a way out of.
It is easily assumed that anxiety is simply a psychological problem. However, the biological processes that govern anxiety are something that many researchers within neuroscience are examining, and it has emerged that this response is something inbuilt in both our neurology and nervous system. This is why people with anxiety dont simply feel fear as an emotion, they feel it physically too often suffering from shaking hands, a pounding heart, intense headaches, and digestive issues.
How Meditation Smothers Anxiety: Endorphins
The tectonic plate shifter, however, was that meditation scored higher than exercise on just about every “great mood” test marker. In effect, the researchers found that meditation was in a cool, calm, and happy “league of its own.”
Joggers have coined the term “runners high” to describe how wonderful they feel after a nice, long run. This euphoric, happy, and zen-like state of bliss goes a long way to explain why so many of them look forward to hitting the pavement, day after day.
Maybe it’s time for meditators to invent a cool, catchy phrase for how amazing they feel after each of their sessions?
Luckily, meditation gives you access to these powerful anxiety melting, mood elevating endorphins whenever you wish.
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Does Meditation Help Anxiety Symptoms
Yes, meditation can help anxiety.
Buddhists have said for millennia that meditation can significantly benefit mental health. But it wasnt until the 1960s that scientists in the West started taking a keen interest in it.
Since then, numerous studies have revealed the unique benefits of meditation techniques, including their ability to reduce signs of stress and anxiety.
Even though there is limited evidence-based support for meditation as a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, research does suggest that this practice may be effective as a supplemental therapy.
A 2020 review showed that people who practice meditation for a long time start showing changes in the areas of their brain that modulate the stress and anxiety response.
Specifically, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus show increased activity. Also, the amygdala, which is involved in the fight, flight, or freeze response, shows decreased activity. All of this indicates improved emotional regulation, according to the review.
But research also shows that long-term practice is not needed to experience these brain changes and relieve anxiety.
For example, a 2016 systematic review also found that these functional and structural brain changes, which are consistent with improved emotional regulation, appeared after only 8 weeks of practice of mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches.
Mindfulness And Meditation Can Worsen Depression And Anxiety
Mindfulness involves paying close attention to your own thoughts
Mindfulness and other types of meditation are usually seen as simple stress-relievers but they can sometimes leave people worse off.
About one in 12 people who try meditation experience an unwanted negative effect, usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or even the onset of these conditions for the first time, according to the first systematic review of the evidence. For most people it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and its not universally benevolent, says Miguel Farias at Coventry University in the UK, one of the researchers behind the work.
There are many types of meditation, but one of the most popular is mindfulness, in which people pay attention to the present moment, focusing on either their own thoughts and feelings or external sensations. It is recommended by several National Health Service bodies in the UK as a way of reducing depression relapses in people who have experienced the condition several times.
Enthusiasm for meditation may partly stem from a growing awareness of the side effects of antidepressant medicines and the difficulties some people report in stopping taking them. There have been some reports of people experiencing worse mental health after starting meditation but it is unclear how often this happens.
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Other Meditation Practices That May Help With Anxiety
There are other types of meditation that can take a more spiritual path that are available to explore if you are interested. Transcendental Meditation, Qigong, Vipassana, mantra and chakra are just a few. Many incorporate similar themes of centering oneself with an object of focus, and some incorporate more specific breathing techniques or movements to channel this process.
How Meditation Gets Us Off The Anxiety Hamster Wheel
What’s the best way to quiet the overactive mind?
Meditation. By taking a permanent meditative breather from the “hamster wheel” of anxiety, you no longer burn through precious resources or waste valuable energy on unproductive fear-based thoughts.
What does this mean, exactly? No more negative “what-if” scenarios, no more “next-turn” catastrophes, no more “doom and gloom” waiting around every corner, the meditative mindset is a beautiful thing.
Instead of rehearsing yesterday’s tragedies and borrowing tomorrow’s troubles, meditation’s present moment focus puts an abrupt end to happiness-robbing, nerve-fraying mental time travel.
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How Meditation Is Such A Powerful Endorphin Booster
Manufactured mostly in your brain and spinal cord, endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter best known for improving brain function, reducing stress, elevating mood, relieving pain, and helping you sleep.
Endorphins’ wide spectrum of benefits, in essence, creates a worry-free and fear-free mental utopia where anxiety cannot, will not, and does not exist.
Is there a better natural endorphin booster than physical exercise? Yes!
A 1995 study published in the Biological Psychology Journal, tested the neuro-chemical release of two groups 11 elite runners and 12 highly trained meditators after running and meditation, respectively. What did they find?
As the scientists suspected, both groups had boosted their endorphin levels. No surprises there.
What Is The Monkey Mind
It has been said that the human mind is like a room full of drunk monkeys jumping around, chattering endlessly, carrying on all day and all night.
Of the dozens of monkeys clamoring for our attention, the loudest, most powerful voice is their highly influential troop leader fear.
The fear monkey pulls the alarm constantly, points out every single pothole in our path, makes up an infinite number of “what-if scenarios,” while ensuring anxious thoughts always stay at the forefront of our mind.
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How Our Brains Are Programmed To Worry
According toJohn Cacioppo, Director of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, you can blame it on the brain.
Even from an early age, when we watch bad news, our brain scans light up, suggesting a built-in “negativity bias.” What happens when we watch good news? The opposite, the brain’s electrical activity is quiet.
It is we, the readers and viewers, the owners of the eyeballs “glued to the screen,” who are biologically programmed for a steady diet of doom and gloom. We need it like vitamin D and calcium.
So, what’s the leading culprit behind this phenomena?
How Meditation Quiets The Mind
When you no longer buy into your fears and worries, when you no longer overthink the past, when you no longer worry endlessly about the future you get to experience the intoxicating silence between each thought.
Make every moment your best moment, discover meditation.
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Meditation And Regulating Negative Emotions
Theres some research to suggest practicing meditation can help with managing negative emotions, such as anger and fear.
A small study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggested that meditation may help people cope with anger. Furthermore, improvements were seen with just one session of meditation.
For the study, researchers examined 15 people who were new to meditation and 12 who were experienced practitioners. The participants were asked to relive experiences that made them angry. Those who had never practiced meditation before experienced an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, while those with experience in the practice did not have much of a physical reaction to the exercise.
As a second part of the experiment, those who had never meditated before did so for 20 minutes. When asked to relive the anger-inducing episode once more, they had much less of a physical response than they did during the first part of the experiment.
Finally, preliminary research suggests meditation can help lower cancer survivors fear of the disease returning. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 60 percent of one-year cancer survivors report moderate to severe concerns about their disease coming back. The fear can be so distressing that it negatively affects mood, relationships, work, medical follow-ups, and overall quality of life.
How Often Should I Use Meditation To Help With Anxiety
You should use meditation to help with anxiety as often as you need it. A good place to start is just once a day for only a few minutes. Try to choose the time of day when you have the fewest number of activities planned. Perhaps early in the morning or right before bed.
During the early days of your practice, it can be a good idea to vary how you meditate as well. This can help you find the practice that works best for you. Try different types of meditation. For example, you may start with individual guided practice, led by a teacher or your own recorded voice. From there, you can move on to small group or large group meditation. You might even find that the practice helps improve your life so much that you want to learn about becoming a meditation and wellness teacher yourself!
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Just Say No To Anxiety And Fear
Mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation are secular. You dont need to become a Buddhist to incorporate mindfulness training into your daily routine. The Dalai Lama has said that, In the twenty-first century, even in countries with no previous tradition of Buddhism, interest is growing among ordinary people and scientists. The ethics and discipline described in the Vinaya are the foundation for training both in concentration and insight . He clarifies that with the help of focused concentration our minds have the ability to remain still and by applying analysis we can achieve higher understanding.
How Technology Has Made Us A Stranger To Our Mind
After their morning shower, many folks shy away from the bathroom mirror because their reflection is not pleasant to behold.
Likewise, many people are uncomfortable with sitting alone in silence because they don’t like going face to face with their thoughts.
Anxiety is rooted in this fear, only made worse by our always on MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.
While our devices do have the benefit of connecting us in ways like never before, we need to pull back the reigns to avoid becoming a society full of neurotic, information obsessed basket cases. Technology is meant to be our servant, not our master.
Then, how does one solve this rubix cube? Becoming Amish or joining a Tibetan monastery would certainly solve the problem. But that would require leaving your friends, career, and family behind. Maybe not ideal.
Or you could find a way to master living in the real world, unshackling yourself from the emotional chains of technologically generated anxiety.
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