Every few years, it seems there is a new therapy buzzword that drives the self-help industry. While it’s easy to dismiss meditation as the latest version of this trend, there’s no denying the scientific findings associated with mindfulness. Whether you’ve been meditating for years or are skeptical about the claims made by mindfulness evangelists, these scientific discoveries are worth a look.
Meditation Can Reduce Physical Pain
We’ve all heard the phrase “mind over matter.” But can meditation help reduce the impact of physical pain? Science says yes. Mental health professionals have long espoused the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to relieve symptoms of chronic pain. Now, therapists have an additional weapon in their arsenal: meditation.
New research shows a connection between mindfulness and the relief of chronic pain. Scientists at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Ontario found that meditation reduced the psychological stress associated with pain. It also improved the severity of pain and reduced pain interference. While psychotherapy is still the most prescribed treatment of chronic pain, meditation is a great complement to alleviate pain.
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Mindfulness: The Secret Weapon of Recovering Addicts
Research shows that those struggling with addiction can find relief through meditation. Whether addicted to tobacco, alcohol, drugs or food, people in recovery can use mindfulness techniques to mitigate the impact that certain substances have on their brains. A study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that heavy drinkers consumed less alcohol after brief meditation training.
Meditation helps train the brain to be more aware of automatic responses to external stimuli. For example, someone who cracks open a beer after work each night might not think twice about their habit – at least until they begin meditating. By becoming more aware of our thoughts, we can interrupt troublesome patterns surrounding addictive behaviors.
Meditation Can Offset the Impact of an Aging Brain and Body
As the world population grays, the research surrounding the aging process has become more and more thorough. While nothing can stop the ticking of time, studies show a link between the aging brain and meditation. A review of these studies found that meditation may be able to offset the natural mental decline of seniors. Cognitive decline is a very real fear of many baby boomers, so this research has the potential to inspire an entire generation of people to get mindful.
It’s not just the brain that benefits from meditation, either: mindfulness practice can actually decrease inflammation in the body. Though research into this area is still emerging, early results show that mindfulness is worth exploring, no matter your age.
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Mindfulness Promotes Better Sleep
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night, consider adding meditation to your bedtime routine. One study found that those who meditate experience less insomnia than those who do not. Meditators also reported less fatigue and better functioning during the day. Because meditation helps us reduce anxiety, we feel more relaxed and can fall asleep more easily.
Mindfulness Improves Mental Health
Anyone who has suffered from stress, anxiety, or depression has likely heard that meditation can combat these symptoms.
A 2014 meta-analysis of 47 different mindfulness studies found that meditation programs reduced depression and anxiety in small to moderate ways. The intervention improved symptoms as well as exercise, therapy, and prescription drugs.
The results speak to the versatility of meditation. For those who can’t exercise, for instance, daily meditation can be substituted with similar positive results on the stressed mind. Of course, those with mental health challenges shouldn’t rely solely on mindfulness practice to chase away their afflictions. Instead, meditation should be used as a tool alongside others like therapy and exercise.
We’re just beginning to understand the impact that mindfulness can have on a person. As science continues to unravel the power of meditation, it’s important to understand the benefits and limitations of the tool. While there’s no denying the boost that meditation can provide, it should be one of many techniques used to combat common mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.