Mind your Mindfulness I: The Benefits of Meditation

Mind your Mindfulness I: The Benefits of Meditation

Welcome to our post on the benefits of meditation. You are at the right place if you have been hearing yourself say (or think):

“I am so stressed out, I really should try meditating…someday”

“I am too stressed out to try learning how to meditate now”

“Yea, but how is meditation going to solve my problems?”

We hear these lines all too often. We have even heard ourselves say them (once or twice!). The notion of starting to master a new skill can feel overwhelming, even though some part of us may recognize that this skill can help us in the long run. And the reality is that if we are going to try something new (this applies to so many aspects of life, not just mindfulness and meditation), we want to be sure it will work. But you have also probably heard about the many benefits of meditation. Well, you did hear correctly, and here, we will talk about the most common benefits of meditation and what you can expect one you start meditating.

So what, exactly, does that mean, that our mindfulness practice is working?

How will we know if it is? Upon beginning to meditate or practice mindfulness exercises, it is important to be clear on your goals for doing so. Your meditation cannot, say, directly make someone else around you change, it cannot directly make you lose weight, or resolve the problems you may have at work. However, there are many benefits of meditation. It can, for example, help you gain new insights into how you may go about helping yourself in dealing with the above situations. Meditation helps you change your environment through changing yourself and your reactions to it first. It can help you manage your anxiety, panic, depression, or posttraumatic stress symptoms through calming your nervous system and allowing you to more effectively regulate your emotions.

Much of what we focus our attention on throughout the day is external stimuli. Therefore, our minds tend to remain stuck on those stimuli that most glaringly need our attention, cause us to feel anxious, frustrated, sad, or embarrassed. Our bodies register them as threats (hence the activation in our nervous systems), and react to them as such. We badly and immediately want to stop feeling this way, and search for all the ways in which we can alter those stimuli, either by extinguishing them, or by avoiding them. All too often, however, changing our environment is not an option, or not an immediate one anyway, and that is when practicing mindfulness comes especially handy.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the different types of mindfulness and meditation exercises

CLICK HERE to start meditating with our free audio recordings

Benefits of Meditation

In the long run, practicing mindfulness and meditation has been linked to both psychological and physical benefits. In a recent article, the American Psychological Association[i] listed a number of empirically-supported positive effects of practicing mindfulness, including:

  • Learning to better control mental processes—in other words, meditation helps us
    • obsess less (and thus, can indirectly help us think less about that second slice of cake, push that drink we know we should not have out of our minds, or avoid a confrontation we know might hurt us)
    • focus more easily on things we want to focus on, including improving our memory and concentration, while blocking distractions
    • ruminate less on negative events, and thus, indirectly reduce symptoms of depression
    • So yes, if you want to learn mind control…start with yourself!

  • Reducing stress and emotional reactivity—of course, we already knew this, but here is what it means practically: There is a difference between external and internal stress. Ever wonder why you may find a particular situation stressful and someone else may not? That is because what happens in the environment and how it affects us internally are two different things. Of course, we are not saying here that objective stressors, such as natural disasters, financial struggles, any number of traumatic experiences, or chronic and systemic oppression, to name a few, are not objective stressors that will cause most of us to feel overwhelmed. What we do firmly believe, however, and what the research demonstrates, is that we have more say in how our minds and bodies react, and how we behaviorally respond, to these stressors. For instance, one of the benefits of meditation is that it can help us selectively disengage from intense negative emotions, which may otherwise lead to depressed mood, panic, or any number of negative psychological sequelae. This does not mean we are avoiding dealing with our problems, it means we can cope with them with more clarity and see more routes towards resolution.

  • Feeling more satisfied in our relationships—indeed cultivating a higher level of internal peacefulness can help us better express ourselves in relationships, better handle relationship stress, and experience much more satisfaction in our intimate relationships. Here is a simple example: if your level of frustration umps from 0 to 100 every time your partner forgets to take out the garbage (insert any behavior that signals to you that he or she doesn’t care), you may experience very frequent conflict at home, which may over time gradually corrode the relationship. However, with more mindfulness, you may be able to slow down your emotional response, find the right words to express to your partner that his or her behavior hurts you because you interpret it as him or her not caring, and find out that, in fact, he or she was blissfully unaware how important this is to you (and also perhaps forgot about the garbage because he or she was busy walking the dogs so you can rest after your busy day).

[i] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

Author: Valentina Stoycheva

Dr. Stoycheva is the Co-Founder and Director of STEPS: Stress & Trauma Evaluation and Psychological Services, Long Island, NY (www.traumaprofessionals.com). STEPS is a group practice staffed with expert and dedicated clinicians, who strive to provide the highest quality trauma-informed and evidence-based treatment for all affected by stressful events and traumatic experiences. STEPS offers individual, as well as group and family therapy for adults and children of all ages who have been exposed to traumatic events, or love someone who is struggling to recover from a traumatic event.
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