Given the number of uses of meditation, this trend makes sense. People meditate for personal development, stress management, and relaxation. And more than ever, people are also meditating for their mental health.
Before we delve deeper into meditation, it is important to note that the Federal Drug Administration has not reviewed meditation as a psychiatric treatment. This is to say that it is better to view meditation as a complement to your mental healthcare, not a substitute.
That said, there is an emerging body of clinical evidence that shows that meditation is effective. For this article, we’ll talk about what meditation is and why we should consider meditating.
What is Meditation?
Meditation generally refers to a mental exercise that involves focus. However, there are many different types of meditation; we’ll be focusing on mindfulness meditation, which is backed by the best clinical evidence relative to other types.
Mindfulness is characterized by paying attention to the present. For example, one way to be mindful is by focusing on how you currently feel, instead of lingering on how you felt in the past.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is to build this attention. To practice a basic exercise, you can read this article published by Mindful, a non-profit organization. Mindful is advised in part by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, who was one of the first to incorporate mindfulness meditation into clinical practice.
Because mindfulness meditation has more clinical evidence compared to other types of meditation, we will focus only on mindfulness meditation. Just to make this article easier to read, we will simply refer to “mindfulness meditation” as “meditation”.
Why Should We Meditate?
A number of different studies have explored the benefits of meditation. Some potential benefits include improvements in memory, focus, and pain relief. Several clinical analyses have also shown that meditation is effective in improving mental health outcomes. Two separate analyses have validated meditation’s ability to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another analysis validated its ability to reduce stress. Meditation is also able to help prevent relapses in depression.
These benefits are moderate, which is to say that meditation is not the be-all end-all for mental healthcare. However, meditation is on par with other treatments like therapy, and could be a viable alternative for patients who do not want to see a therapist or take medications.
That being said, just like other treatments, meditation may not be for everyone. One study reported that some meditators had at least one unpleasant experience while meditating, such as increased anxiety.
Meditation has already influenced clinical practice. For example, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of talk therapy, incorporates practices related to meditation.
How Can We Start Meditating?
Ultimately, just like other mental health treatments, there is no “right” way to meditate. However, one easy way to start is by using apps, which frequently offer guided meditations. Two popular apps include Headspace and Calm. However, both require a subscription to have access to all of their services. For a free option, UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center recently released their content in an app.
Whatever you choose, we hope that you find a meditation practice that works for you.