Cures have been found for some of the most harrowing diseases, and doctors can ease many of the most painful symptoms. However, for some conditions, all the modern advances are not enough, and medication is not proving to be the best approach to help the condition.
One alternative to medication is meditation. Far more than just a blissful escape, meditation can be extremely effective in treating mental health issues which can significantly damage well-being. For example, meditation has been used as a successful way to deal with stress, addiction, and insomnia. Because of the positive results being experienced, more people are turning to meditation as a mental health treatment option.
While few consider meditation to be a total replacement for medication and other common mental health therapies, there is certainly growing evidence that it can be extremely effective as a first-line defense for a wide variety of conditions. Let’s take a look at the facts about where meditation has proven beneficial and why it is becoming more accepted as an effective tool to improve mental health.
Whether it’s a result of a major life event or the grind of our daily lives, we all deal with stress. However, some of us experience it more intensely and more frequently, and chronic stress has been linked to a number of health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Finding a way to effectively manage stress is key to helping maintain mental health, and it turns out meditation can be extremely successful here. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge from the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital gives some insight as to why this is true. According to Hoge,
People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
Since meditation is about learning to passively observe thoughts and emotions, it can be very helpful in training us to determine what deserves our attention and what does not. This helps us learn to “let go” of that which we cannot control, manage expectations, and allows us to approach our problems calmly, in ways that actually produce solutions.
Despite what many of us believe, addiction is a profoundly complex mental (and physical) disorder. Repeated substance use can change circuits in the brain which subsequently reduces a person’s self-control, making them more vulnerable to engage in the abuse, furthering the damage in the brain and worsening the addiction.
Anyone who has dealt with addiction, whether in their own life or in that of a loved one, knows just how crippling it can be and just how difficult it is to find a way out. Even when someone has the desire to quit and recover, gaining control of these cravings and the emotions encouraging further abuse is a major obstacle to overcoming addiction.
While meditation alone cannot be considered an instant cure, it can be extremely effective in helping someone adhere to a path of recovery. In part, the changes in perspective brought about by meditation which are useful in treating chronic stress are also at play. Learning to passively observe thoughts and emotions helps to distinguish between cravings and needs, leading people to resist the urge to engage in substance abuse.
However, there is more to it than this. According to a study by Lazar et al, repeated mindfulness meditation can thicken the bilateral, prefrontal right-insular region of the brain, which is the part of the brain responsible for optimism, creativity, curiosity and the sense of well-being. By practicing meditation regularly, you can not only change your perspective towards addiction, but you also change your brain in a way that makes you more likely to make choices which are best for your overall health.
Most of us have at one time or another had trouble falling asleep due to a stochastic event or disruption in our routine. However without specific cause, millions of people suffer from chronic insomnia, which can lead to a variety of health disorders, ranging from depression and anxiety to heart disease hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, the typical response from the medical community to insomnia is sleep medication; some 60 million sleep medicine prescriptions are filled each year. But this approach needs to be questioned for two reasons: 1) sleeping pills are dangerously habit-forming, and 2) using medication only attacks the symptoms of insomnia, not its root cause.
Meditation is proving to be effective in treating insomnia. Previous research on insomnia has identified automatic arousal, dysfunctional cognitions and consequential distress as key drivers of sleep deprivation. Sustained mindful meditation practice allows individuals to regain control of their nervous system, reduce worry and relieve mood disturbances, all of which help mitigate the core causes of insomnia.
Meditation Not Medication
Anyone who has had a sustained meditation practice before will likely not be surprised by this information. When practiced regularly, meditation can be an incredibly relaxing experience and a very effective way to take control of your life. However, getting into a committed routine can be quite a challenge. It is normal for beginners to get frustrated by a lack of focus or results and to give up quickly.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help get over these initial hurdles and build meditation into your daily life. For example, there are loads of apps available, such as Headspace and Calm, which offer guided meditation sessions, reminders and other resources to help those new to meditation determine the best way for them to proceed. These mobile resources allow you to meditate virtually anywhere so that you can make it a priority in your life and fully reap the benefits of the practice.
While it is important to remember meditation isn’t a silver bullet solution, it is extremely effective in treating some of the conditions most damaging to mental health. So if you’re looking for a way to improve your mental well-being, consider giving meditation a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you meditate? If you do, what changes have you seen in your life as a result? And if you don’t, what do you consider to be the biggest obstacle to getting started? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
About the Author: Cassie is a freelance health blogger who focuses largely on spreading the benefits of meditation. As a long-term sufferer of anxiety and depression, she has found meditation has equipped her with the mental strength and perspective needed to overcome her demons and live a life full of positivity and free (almost) of stress.