You’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of meditation over the last year, or you might have even joined one of Jay Shetty’s live sessions during the first lockdown, but how can the practice help improve our mental health?
Meditation is the Buddhist practice of training your focus, to declutter the mind. The benefits of meditation are numerous and supported by a multitude of scientific studies. The practice is described as “exercise for the brain” by Headspace and the science shows that it offers many mental health benefits including increased concentration, stress and anxiety reduction and self awareness. Meditation may also help us sleep better: it can help promote calmness and a good night’s sleep.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 49.6 percent of UK adults described themselves as highly anxious when the first lockdown started, with the effect of coronavirus on work and loneliness being the lead factors. Now with the start of the third lockdown, we are looking for more techniques to calm our busy minds during these uncertain times. Read on for three ways meditation can help improve your mental health.
- It can help sharpen our focus and improve concentration
Meditation helps us to focus on the present, which can help improve concentration. A Harvard Medical School study (2011) looked at mindfulness meditation and the effects on the brain. They examined the brains of 17 people before and after an eight-week meditation program and found a direct link between mindfulness and processing new information. What did they find? There was a significant increase in learning, memory and emotional regulation.
In this digital, ‘always on’ world, sharpening our focus can be a challenge and meditation helps this. It can improve our attention and help sharpen our minds during times of change.
2.It can actually lower your cortisol levels – the stress hormone
There are various symptoms of stress and anxiety according to Mind – both mental and physical. The great news is mindfulness meditation can actually lower your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), helping you to feel more relaxed. Meditation helps us to untangle our mind and be in the moment, it can help regulate our breathing and increase our overall wellness. The practice can be really useful generally, as a 2020 study showed, it can reduce muscular tension, acute or chronic pain and lower blood pressure.
3.It can aid a better night’s sleep
Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. A recent article in The Guardian highlights sleeping patterns during the first lockdown in March 2019: “The number of Britons suffering sleep loss caused by worrying rose from one in six to one in four as a direct result of the huge disruption to people’s social and working lives after the restrictions began on 23 March.” The American Sleep Association says insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the US, affecting around 30% of adults.
So, how can meditation help? Stress, anxiety and an overactive mind are commonly linked with sleep issues. Meditation can help us to focus on the now instead of worrying about the future. It can give us more clarity, focus and give us more control over emotional responses. Once we have ‘exercised our mind’ – just like physical exercise – we can sleep well.