Exercise, healthy eating, regular preventive check-ups – there are a lot of things people do to protect their physical health. When it comes to mental health, though, taking preventive measures is a lot less common. Since mental health has a huge impact on your quality of life, this can be a problem.
One kind of preventive care for mental health is meditation, which can be helpful whether you’re going through a rough patch or cruising steadily. In recent years, mindfulness meditation has gained credibility as a healthy, valid part of mental health treatment and maintenance.
Getting the most out of meditation
Mindfulness as achieved through meditation has been shown to have physical health benefits, but it’s the mental health benefits that many people turn to mindful meditation for. Mental health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation include:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Increased concentration
- Better emotional control and stability
Mindfulness meditation can be used as part of a treatment plan for a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and ADHD.
Cycling thoughts and emotions can pose a challenge to anyone beginning a meditation practice. This can be especially challenging for people with histories of depression or trauma. This doesn’t mean that people with histories of depression or trauma can’t benefit from meditation, it just means that, early on, they may benefit from guided meditation specifically, rather than jumping in on their own.
How to meditate
Very rarely will life give you the ideal, secluded, quiet moment to meditate. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, take advantage of good enough moments whenever you can find them. Even just one minute of deep breathing can make a difference. Finding a meditation center, or a group associated with your local library, community center, or a religious group – either for your first few sessions to get a feel for it or regularly to help make sure you’re setting aside time to meditate – is also a great way to start to build strong meditation habits. And if you don’t have access to in-person meditation groups, or there are none that are convenient for you, meditation apps, online meditation videos, and meditation podcasts can all be helpful for establishing this habit.
When you’ve got ten minutes or so (starting with shorter meditation sessions, and eventually working up to longer stretches can help you set yourself up for success), find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, and get started.
- Take a moment to notice any feelings or thoughts you’re having about starting to meditate – whether that’s nervousness, excitement, or skepticism. Acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, then refocus on meditation.
- Choose whether to close your eyes, or to focus your gaze on a neutral space in front of you.
- Breathe, maybe starting with a few deep breaths, but mostly just as you normally breathe – the difference is that, during meditation, you’ll make a point to notice the physical sensations and process of breathing, all the parts of your body that are involved in breathing, the way they feel as you breathe in, and the way they feel as you breathe out.
- Keep focusing on your breath for the next ten minutes or so, but don’t worry if you find yourself more focused on your thoughts than on your breath the first few times you try. Instead, just gently turn your thoughts back to your breathing. Notice the distraction, acknowledge it, and let it go.
Meditating regularly shouldn’t be something that adds extra stress to your life, but if you can find a little space for it on a somewhat regular basis, it can be a great addition to a strong physical and mental health routine.
- Julie Corliss. “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard University, January 8 2014. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967.
- Michael McGee. “Meditation and psychiatry.” Psychiatry MMC. v.1(5): January 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/.
- Experimental Biology 2018. “Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety: People with anxiety show reduced stress on the arteries after 1-hour introductory session.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2018. Retrieved July 9 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423135048.htm.
- “Meditation: in depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 7 2017. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.
- “Mindfulness mental health practices may help treat many mental health conditions.” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, June 1 2016. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/06/mindfulness-practices-may-help-treat-many-mental-health-conditions.