Ready for Some Self-Care? How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health
Most of us lead busy lives, and as we juggle the demands of work, family, and kids, we often forget to take care of ourselves. May is mental health month, and that makes it the perfect time to focus on taking care of yourself. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness, and during the pandemic, the tracking polls show about 4 in 10 adults reporting new symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, which is up from the 1 in 10 average reported pre-pandemic. From anxieties and fears to depression and stress, we’re all, in one way or another, feeling the effects brought on by the isolation and strain of the past two years, which gives this year’s theme, “Back to Basics,” a heightened sense of relevance.
As we shift our focus to restoring balance and inviting support and stability back into our lives, there’s no better time to embrace some much needed self-care. And, with World Meditation Day approaching, it’s the perfect opportunity to revisit one of the most basic, and powerful, tools in our mental health toolkit: Meditation.
What is Meditation?
Simply put, it’s the practice of inner peace. There’s a wide range of techniques and styles, but the goal remains the same: to achieve, through attention and awareness, a state of calm, and mental clarity. The practice of meditation has existed for thousands of years, and is deeply connected to a wide range of religious traditions. But it is also practiced independently of any religious or spiritual beliefs and has received a great deal of support from the medical community as a means to reduce and promote well-being.
Benefits of Meditation
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people choose to practice meditation, and a growing body of evidence supports a connection between mindfulness-based meditation and decreased incidence of the inflammatory response caused by stress.
Decreased anxiety is another significant benefit of meditative practice. A review of studies conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that mindfulness-based meditation programs showed evidence of improved symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain. Another study, in which researchers conducted a controlled study of mindfulness meditation, found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation resulted in a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms for people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability.
But those are only two of the many potential benefits of meditation. According the Mayo Clinic, research suggests that meditation can also help manage the symptoms of conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Sleep problems
- Tension headaches
How to Meditate
Depending on your preferences, there’s no limit to the number of ways you can engage in meditation. There are classes, groups, apps and guided one-on-one sessions. But one of the best things about meditation is you don’t need to go out of your way to do it. It can be formal or informal, you can be at work, at home, riding the bus, or sitting in the park, all that’s required is a willing set of lungs, and a few minutes of time-out from the hustle and bustle.
To start, you’ll want to choose your style of meditation. While these aren’t the only two, the most prevalent styles are:
- Focused-attention meditation, which concentrates attention on a single object, thought, sound, or visualization, with the goal of ridding your mind of distractions.
- Open-monitoring meditation, also called Zen Breathing, which encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought, and sense of self. Often this includes becoming aware of suppressed thoughts, feelings, or impulses.
Want some easy tips for mindfulness meditation? Check out our blog on Zen Breathing.