Meditation – The Underrated Tool
23 March 2020 Health & Wellbeing
MEDITATION | THE UNDERRATED TOOL
Usually when someone says meditation, the first thing that comes to mind is sitting cross legged on the floor going ‘ommmmmmmmm’ with some incense burning. This is what I thought until I was introduced to it by a friend, and its honestly worked wonders for me in a number of ways! Meditation is essentially a combination of breathing and thinking techniques designed to clear your mind and help you relax, but can also help you to fall asleep, focus on work or motivate you to sort your shit out.
Why should I start?
- Reduces Stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction. Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. In an eight-week study, a meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
- Controls Anxiety
Less stress translates to less anxiety. For example, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviours and panic attacks.
- Promotes Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life. Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults. One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression. Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies suggests meditation may reduce depression by decreasing these inflammatory chemicals.
- Enhances Self-Awareness
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you. Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.
- Improves Sleep
Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn't. Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn't meditate. Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or "runaway" thoughts that often lead to insomnia. Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you're more likely to fall asleep.
How can I meditate?
There are many apps and self help guides available online that are super easy to use, however my personal favourite is the free app ‘Headspace’. It teaches you the basics of meditation and breathing exercises, and there’s a wide variety of different topics that it helps with. Its supposed to be £10 a month, however if you have a Spotify account you can get it for free! (I pay £4.99 a month for Spotify premium AND Headspace!)