When I recently blogged about some of the main physical benefits of meditation, I made the point that categorising benefits as ‘physical’ or ‘psychological’ is somewhat artificial. Reducing high blood pressure through meditation may seem a measurable and physiological benefit, but it only happens because of the psychological change that precedes it.
Every change in mental activity also shifts physiological activity. That said, what are some of the main psychological benefits of meditation as established by the rapidly growing body of research studies?
Highly effective stress management. Regular meditation makes us calmer, less reactive and better emotionally insulated from the inevitable upsets and irritations we all experience.
Enhances mental clarity. A glass of swirling storm water scooped from the drain is agitated and murky. Rest the glass for half an hour, allowing the sediment to settle, and you have clarity. The same happens when you rest your mind. You see events, people and opportunities with a clarity that eluded you before.
Enhances emotional resilience. The same negative event can strike us on two separate occasions and we’ll respond to it differently, depending on our psychological state at the time. When we meditate, we become more emotionally even, robust, less likely to flare up in anger and more capable of responding to events with wisdom rather than emotion.
Improves our working memory and academic performance. With improved attention comes less mind-wandering, improved memory and better grades – even among people who have only been meditating for a few weeks, according to researchers.
Less recurring depression. A number of recent studies attest to the benefits of meditation in helping prevent recurring depression. This can be accounted for in both neuroscientific terms, when describing brain activity, as well as in cognitive behaviour terms, in training people to become observers of thoughts, rather than their victims.
Managing and preventing anxiety. As with depression, clinical studies confirm the anecdotal feedback that regular meditation helps break the cycle of anxiety-creating thoughts.
Reduces feelings of loneliness. Of special importance in our ageing societies. Loneliness, unhealthy bereavement and depression are not only on the rise, but associated with physical degeneration. Meditation has been shown to help people live more in the present moment, and less in the painfully-remembered past, with enhanced physical effects.
Promotes good sleep. Lower mental activation at bedtime, higher melatonin levels and better sleep are another consequence of regular meditation.
Increased self-compassion. Many of us are our worst critics. Research shows that meditation helps us stop identifying personally and strongly with negativity, and take a more open, positive view.
Helps break tough habits. Achieving weight loss, coming off drugs and alcohol addictions are psychological challenges we can cope with better with meditation.
Rewires the brain for happiness. As established by Dr Richard Davidson, over time the neuroplasticity of our brains actually change, enhancing our capacity to experience positive mood states.
Makes music sound better. Don’t forget this important benefit! Research shows that meditation helps us get into a flow experience – even with a piece of music we know very well and might otherwise be bored by.
Collectively, these and other psychological benefits have an extremely positive impact on a personal level. Broadening our focus, what happens when a number of individuals in the same organisation start to meditate? Look out for a blog soon on the business case for meditation.
For much more detail on the subjects covered in this and previous blogs, please read Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate.
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