Meditation and mindfulness for stronger mental health
by Manuel Stoilov
Mental health – a strong level of psychological well-being and absence of mental illness – is an indispensable factor of living a joyful and purposeful life. When we are mentally healthy, we are able to perform better in our personal and professional lives. We are able to cope with the stresses that come with living and pursue a life that maximizes our potential. And as we thrive, we are able to give back to our families and communities.
Many people, however, experience mental illness in their lives. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 adults in the United States – a whopping 43.8 million people – experience mental illness in a given year.
About 10 million of these people experience serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits major life activities. Like adults, children also experience mental illness. According to source, 1 in 5 youth aged 13-18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
It is important to recognize that mental illness differs from the normal ups and downs that everyone experiences in life. As human beings, we experience the full spectrum of emotions: sadness, happiness, tiredness, restlessness, and so on. Our emotions and moods change throughout the days, weeks, months, and years. And at times, it is “normal” and accepted to feel overbearing emotions – such as an immense sadness in the face of a broken relationship or a blissful euphoria when achieving a long-pursued goal.
For those who experience a mental illness, however, the emotional responses are more decimating: a depression which lasts for months or years; an anxiety so pervasive that it prevents the person from partaking in everyday life. In fact, the DSM-5, the bible of mental disorders, lists 297 mental health disorders!
Fortunately, mental health, like physical health, can be improved through healthy habits. Some of these strong habits include daily exercise, healthy eating, having a strong social network, and engaging in contemplative practices such as meditation.
Meditation, mindfulness, and mental health: What does the research say?
Meditation can help us to cultivate emotional intelligence and stronger mental health. Although comprehensive research in the field is relatively new, evidence supports the fact that meditation can promote mental health and might aid in preventing certain mental disorders.
Grossman and colleagues found that found that mindfulness interventions contributed to improvements in people’s perception of their quality of life and physical health and is effective in treating anxiety and depression. The authors also found that mindfulness training can help us to cope with distress and disability in everyday life and under intense stress.
Jha, a University of Miami professor, found that mindfulness training led to lower levels of stress and burnout for teachers.
Other research has shown that meditation and mindfulness can help with chronic pain
All in all, the research shows that meditation can be effective in reducing anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. In addition to this, meditators also report that meditation can be a method of acquiring wisdom and a profound peace in life. Through sitting still, becoming aware of our minds, and remaining nonjudgmental, we begin to unravel the neurotic and insatiable nature of the human mind. The result? A stronger and calmer mind.
Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, and Walach. (2004). Retreived from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399903005737
Roeser, R. W., Cullen, M.M ., Schonert-Reichl, K., Jha, A. P., Wilensky, R., Baynard, K. L.,
Taylor, C. & Crain, A. (April 2011). Promoting stress reduction, rest and resilience through a mindfulness-based intervention for public school teachers. Biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, Canada.
Creamer, Singh, Hochberg, and Berman. Sustained Improvement Produced by Nonpharmacologic Intervention in Fibromyalgia: Results of a Pilot Study
Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
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