10 Oct Evidence Based Mental Health Benefits of Meditation
Today we are celebrating WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY 2018
Over the past 70 years there has been a drastic perceptual shift as to how individuals think about the practice of meditation in the western world. What was once thought of as a quasi psychedelic practice used by hippies to alter states of consciousness, is now recognized as a scientifically-backed tool prescribed by doctors to improve their patients’ levels of well being.
Psychical Benefits of Meditation
The practice of meditation has been shown to have a huge impact on a variety of psychical health issues. Scientsis have discovered that meditative practices reduce symptoms of physical pain, slow the production of stress hormones, and helps with the management of a variety of diseases.
Helps Combat Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the west, and in the eyes of world renowned doctors, the fear and nervousness that is commonly associated with anxiety is caused by an overreactive response to the stressors of life. While feeling stressed when faced with difficult situations or circumstances is a normal biological response, prolonged and persistently revisited feelings of anxiety are not. A host of scientific research has shown how meditation combats anxiety by helping individuals separate themselves from fearful thoughts and feelings, by developing a witness consciousness. Instead of being swept away by anxiety, individuals are able to live more fully in the present moment.
Earlier last year, in 2017, a team of researchers at Georgetown University led by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge released their findings from an eight-week study in which the affects of mindfulness were measured in participants with generalized anxiety disorders. In total, 89 patients were separated into two groups, one taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction course and a control group taking a stress management education course, and had their blood tested for an anxiety-related stress hormone called ACTH. Based upon the research, the team discovered that the meditation group not only experienced greater reductions in ACHT levels but also significantly lower levels of anxiety.
Helps Treat Depression
As evidence based research has continued to back up the benefits of meditation, new therapies have emerged for mental illness, such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which have become popular in psychiatric circles around the globe. Undeniably, one of the mental health disorders most profoundly affected by the transformative benefits of meditation is depression, and because statistics show how prevalent depression is, the positive correlation between depression and treatment using meditative techniques can not be understated. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, estimates that over 300 million people around the globe suffer from depression, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimated that the lifetime risk for a major depressive episode is around 17%.
Medications for depression can be prohibitively costly, meditation however has been shown to treat depression just as effectively. As a result, mindfulness based interventions are quickly becoming more popular for treating this pernicious mental health disorder. Recent research has shown how meditative practices can not only treat depression by increasing the DOSE chemicals (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) associated with happiness, but also prevent depressive relapse which traditionally affects up to 80% of individuals.
One meta-analysis published by the University of Oxford in 2016 looked at nine randomized trial studies where some depressive patients were taught MBCT and other received standard forms of treatment. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that those taught MBCT were 31% less likely to relapse during the 60-week follow up timeframe.
The practice of meditation has been scientifically shown to promote beneficial changes to brain chemistry, mental functions, and cognitive capabilities. Whether an individual is hampered by mental deficiencies or just wants to enjoy more professional and personal success, meditation offers a wide range of evidence-based cognitive benefits. By regularly resting in a calm meditative state, individuals gain an enhanced ability to change problematic thought problems. Additionally, the transformative power of meditation is so profound that the physical structure of the brain actually changes with practice. This is called neuroplasticity.
Giving Yourself the Gift of Meditation
Scientific research has shown that the vast benefits that individuals attain from meditative practices at the physical, psychological and cognitive levels. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, each and everyone of us has the opportunity to use the practice of meditation to promote higher levels of subjective well-being and life-satisfaction. Hopefully it is now clear to see how the immense health benefits of meditation make it imperative for each of us to give ourselves the gift of meditation. Hopefully the words of celebrated Buddhist monk Sogyal Rinpoche now ringer truer then ever before. He tells us:
“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”
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