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Waking up to catch sunrise with the early morning yoga routine.
Photo by Jared Rice

How Does Meditation Affect Mental Health?

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Meditation is known to have various benefits for your physical and mental health. It improves sleep, memory, and focus while reducing blood pressure, depression, and anxiety [1]. Consistent meditation practice can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving symptoms of depression. Metta, a buddhist meditation has been proven to increase compassion for others [2]. All these benefits make a strong case for working meditation into your life, especially if you’re interested in maintaining your overall health.

How do we know meditation is beneficial?

It’s important to remember that all treatments are subject to scientific scrutiny. We should be able to observe how behaviors occur in a well controlled, reproducible environment. When academics and scientists observe meditation, they have to carefully design their studies to consider the specific style of meditation, how it is studied, and how often it is practiced. Most importantly, they have to prevent participant bias — for instance, people who love meditation can join meditation studies and possibly skew the results.

Luckily, doctors at JAMA Internal Medicine conducted a meta-analysis, weeding out studies that didn’t meet these criteria, “to determine the efficacy of meditation programs in improving stress-related outcomes”[3]. They found:

After reviewing 18,753 citations, we included 47 trials with 3,515 participants. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life.

How should I work meditation into my routine?

Recently, I started meditating to help reduce my anxiety and create a bedrock habit that would help me build better habits in the future. For me, I started small so I never had an excuse to not do it.

I have an Apple Watch. It comes with an app named “Breathe”. I just tell it how long I want to breathe for (1 to 5 minutes) and it will vibrate with a pleasant animation indicating when to inhale or exhale.

You should always start small. Start with 1 minute every day. Once you’ve proven you can be consistent with the habit, start to make it a little more challenging. I try to increase by a minute if I’ve been consistent for a week. I’ll decrease by a minute if I find myself slacking. Like all habits, its important to track it so you can see your consistency.

Conclusion

Meditation has been very beneficial for me and its benefits are thoroughly studied and well documented. While there’s still a lot to learn about how meditation improves mental and physical health, we know that the current body of evidence suggests it is a very healthy habit with various benefits.

Footnotes


  1. 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation healthline.com ↩︎

  2. Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis ncbi.nlm.nih.gov ↩︎

  3. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis jamanetwork.com ↩︎