goodencenter Meditation and Mental Health photo of a woman meditatingToday’s mental health treatment involves a broad range of therapies, treatments, and practices intended to increase whole-body or holistic health. For many of us, that means adopting meditation – often in the form of mindfulness – as a mental health treatment. Yet, while western medicine has adopted and used mindfulness treatments for over a decade, with usage in therapy as early as the 1990s, the general public is still little aware of what meditation or mindfulness actually is.  

Meditation, which is largely the practice of sitting still for set periods of time and training the attention on specific objects or goals, can be measurably beneficial to mental health. This is especially true in the context of meditation practices like mindfulness, which work to train the attention to improve wellbeing and happiness in everyday life. This article covers what meditation is, how it works, and how it might be part of your mental health treatment.  

How Meditation Affects Mental Health  

Mental health problems are typically a negative cycle combining physical symptoms with behavior. Here, a physical problem, such as rapid serotonin uptake or poor serotonin production can result in feeling bad. Feeling depressed, down, anxious, out of energy, or upset results in changes in behavior. Over time, those behavior patterns, which are often negative, contribute to worsening serotonin production, worsening the mental health disorder. This combination of physical problem contributing to behavioral problems which then feed back into more physical problems are why most mental health treatment includes a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy first and medication second.  

While meditation should never be used to replace behavioral therapy or medication, it can contribute to positive outcomes in mental health treatment.  

Stress Relief – Most of us spend a significant percentage of our time thinking and worrying about the future or the past. In fact, one study from Cambridge and Harvard University showed that the average person spends 46.9% of time with their mind wandering towards stressful information. That’s worse for someone with depression or anxiety. Meditation programs, especially mindfulness, which involve focusing the attention, living in the present, and clearing your mind of worry can greatly improve that. In fact, studies actually show that regular meditation actively reduces cortisol levels in the body, physically relieving feelings of stress. Long-term practitioners see other benefits, including lowered blood pressure, a reduction in body temperature, and reduction in brain activity following sessions.  

Training Attention – People with anxiety and depression show significant attention bias towards negative, stressful, and worrying events. However, studies show that regular meditation or an ongoing mindfulness course can greatly reduce that. Meditation helps individuals to train the attention away from the thoughts during the meditation. Over time, this spills over into everyday life and people find themselves focusing and dwelling less on negative experiences.  

Improving Discipline – Sitting down for 60-90 minutes and focusing on the thoughts helps to improve discipline. This is true whether it’s undertaken in a structured therapeutic environment or at home. Building the discipline to meditate properly improves skills which apply to other aspects of life, such as keeping the home clean, exercising, and engaging in activities that improve mental health. This eventually has far-reaching effects although they depend on how much you practice and why.  

goodencenter Meditation and Mental Health photo of a woman doing yogaImproving Emotional Regulation – Good emotional regulation is often key to coping with many mental health disorders. While it is a focus of many behavioral therapies, mindfulness can also help. Meditation and specific therapies like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) actively improve emotional regulation. Here, a person who spends a significant amount of time regulating thoughts and attention, paying attention to thoughts without judgment, and being aware of their emotional and mental state is more likely to recognize stress, irritability, and causes of feeling bad. This makes them less likely to respond badly, to overreact, or to escalate a situation. Training this kind of measured response to emotions can be especially beneficial in mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, and dual or split personality. Eventually, long-term meditation reduces impulsive and strong reactions to emotions by allowing the individual to better evaluate the emotion, its cause, and its effects.  

Boosting Sleep – Taking time to meditate before bed gives you time to relax, reduce worry and thoughts on your mind, and focus. This creates a sense of calm, and, in the practiced meditator, reduces body temperature, heart rate, and cortisol production. Each of these improves sleep by allowing you to relax, to sleep more deeply, and to rest without staying up worrying. Setting aside an hour before bed to meditate also removes you from distractions, screens, and other external stimuli that could reduce quality of sleep. Because quality of sleep has a large impact on  

These benefits apply when individuals meditate as a regular or daily practice. Most studies started collecting results after as little as 6 weeks. However, some extended as long as several years. In each of them, seeing results relied on consistent practice over the long-term. When individuals stopped practicing meditation, the benefits quickly vanished.  

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Meditation-Based Therapies for Mental Health  

goodencenter Meditation and Mental Health photo of group of people are sitting embracing in circle In some cases, meditation is delivered as part of primary or complementary mental health therapy. Here, mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are the most common options. However, you may also see meditation-based therapies that have nothing to do with mindfulness.  

MBSR – Mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR is the most well-studied meditation-based therapy in the U.S. This program is intended to reduce stress by changing how individuals react to stressful stimuli such as environment, emotions, or disorders. MBSR is often tweaked to tackle specific problems such as anxiety, depression, panic disorders, or even addiction. This therapy is common, proven effective, and helps practitioners to reduce total stress, which improves quality of life while reducing symptoms of many mental health disorders 

MBCT – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is a newer meditation-based treatment. This therapy combines MBSR with cognitive behavioral therapy to deliver a compressive treatment to reduce and prevent stress, while tackling the underlying behaviors behind emotional reactions and stress. This is highly effective in helping individuals with mental health disorders to simultaneously cope with and reduce symptoms. It’s also one of the most common relapse-prevention strategies in modern major depression treatment.  

Meditation is increasingly common in western medicine, where it’s used to help people manage stress, build emotional regulation, and build discipline. However, unlike many therapies, meditation is intended as an ongoing therapy. Like exercise, most practitioners have to keep up the habit in order to continue to see benefits. Therefore, a meditation course to improve mental health can help you in the short term, which can reduce symptoms enough to help you get back on your feet. In the long-term, a maintained meditation practice might give you the balance you need to reduce or prevent instances of relapse for the long-term.  

Mental health disorders are treatable. While millions of Americans live with symptoms of mental health disorders, treatment including cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and medication can reduce or eliminate symptoms. For those of us without chronic disorders, treatment paired with long-term coping techniques like meditation can possibly prevent a relapse. For those of us with chronic disorders, those same tactics offers symptom relief and reduction, improving quality of life. 

If you or a loved one is struggling, you’re not alone. Contact the Gooden Center today at 626-356-0078 for a consultation.  

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