There’s no denying that meditation has officially gone mainstream. Gone are the days where people turned their noses up and wrote it off as a bit weird. Now, there are a growing number of meditation classes being offered as well as some brilliant apps to help us find calm anytime and anywhere.
Taking a few minutes to meditate every day with the goal of becoming more mindful, or focused on and accepting of the present, is a great way to relieve stress. But it’s even more powerful than you think. Mindfulness meditation helps ease mental health conditions like depression and anxiety—so much so, that some clinicians are trying it as a course of treatment before turning to medication.
Here’s how meditation can help put you in control of your mental health.
Meditating actually changes your brain, and with it, the way your body responds to stress. Which works wonders on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Studies have been suggesting for the past decade that meditation can bring big health benefits, but it wasn’t until recent years that research has looked into exactly how it can change the brain.
A recent study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, studied 35 unemployed men and women experiencing the major stress of searching for a job, and found significant changes to the brain on scans done after just three days of mindfulness meditation. Specifically, there was more activity in the portions dedicated to processing stress, focus, and calmness. In blood tests, the subjects also showed lower levels of an important marker of inflammation – even four months after the study!
It’s this impact on the body’s stress response that seems to make meditation so effective in treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD
Meditation can even take the place of medication for some people.
One study published in 2015 in The Lancet showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a treatment that combines mindfulness meditation with traditional cognitive behavioural therapy, was just as effective at preventing recurrence of depression as antidepressants—even for those with a larger risk of relapsing.
For the best results, meditate every day, first thing in the morning. And you can start with just five minutes.
Research has yet to pinpoint the magic time requirement to see these brain changes and improve mental health outcomes. But ideally you should try to do it every day for 10-12 minutes. Four to fives times per week is great too, if you really can’t get to seven. The key is to be consistent.
A lot of my clients are health conscious, so I equate meditation with going to the gym. Think of meditation as mental fitness, you’re not going to get fit working out one day a week; it needs to be several times a week. We’re changing mental muscles in your brain, and it takes repetition and consistency for those changes to occur. If you’ve never meditated before, start with just five minutes or even just noticing your breathe and being aware. For many people, that’s going to seem like an eternity! Get used to focusing on your breath and stopping your mind when it wanders, and once that five minutes is flying by, increase your time to ten minutes.
Please Note: if you are suffering from a mental health condition it is always best to speak to your GP, I have also included in this post links to the mental health charity Mind who can also offer help and advice.