Since the 1950s, hundreds of studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation by measuring changes in the brain and body. Overall, these studies have shown that meditation can have a positive effect on health, particularly mental health.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the following positive outcomes associated with meditation:
- A literature review of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggested that mindfulness meditation programs improved anxiety and depression.
- A review of 36 trials that used meditative therapies for anxiety found that 25 of them reported better outcomes for anxiety symptoms in the meditation groups compared to control groups.
- A small study of adults with chronic insomnia found that meditation-based programs aided sleep, reducing the severity of insomnia.
- In a study of smokers who received two weeks of meditation training, there was a 60% reduction in smoking, with no such changes seen in the control group.
Why does meditation positively impact mental health? Dr. Andrew Vidich, an author and teacher who provides trainings on meditation, says that meditation practices help us to “deal with the cause of stress, which is how we respond to environmental stressful factors. Because it’s not a question of what’s out there, it’s a question of how we respond to what’s out there. This depends on your own inner state of well-being.”
“The shift of the meditation process is to redirect the focus from the outside to the inside, and to reconnect it to the source from which it has arisen,” Vidich says. “It’s not about thinking about thoughts, it’s about disconnecting from thoughts and putting your attention somewhere else.”
“We learn through the meditation process that you have thoughts but you are not your thoughts. You can choose to identify or not identify with every thought that goes through your brain,” Vidich says. “You can choose not to identify with thoughts that are negative. Our thoughts create our reality, whether happy or sad, patient or impatient, grateful or ungrateful, whether in the moment or out of the moment, whether regretting the past or fearing the future, that’s what this practice is all about.”
Through gaining greater control over our thoughts, we may actually change our brains, rewiring our neural pathways to function in ways that are more conducive to well-being. Meditation training can also positively affect brain function even outside of a meditative state.
Vidich recommends meditation “not just because the science tells us it is beneficial on so many different levels, but because individuals find it extremely useful on a variety of different levels.” In addition to its health benefits, meditation provides “a tremendous benefit for concentration, creativity, sense of inner stability, and resilience,” Vidich says. “Meditation is a deepening understanding of who we are.”
Additionally, meditation may even increase empathy, which has important implications for our social interactions.
“Meditation is a technique that anyone can practice, regardless of your religious or spiritual background,” Vidich says. Even better, it’s free and is available at all times.
Interested in beginning a meditation practice? You can find free guided meditations at the Real Caring website. A variety of guided meditations can also be found on YouTube.
For additional help managing stress and difficult thoughts:
- Psychotherapy can offer a lot of assistance with this and other mental health challenges. I’m a licensed associate marriage and family therapist, and am accepting new clients (Utah only), both in person and over telehealth. Find out more here.
- Energy work can also be of great value in managing thoughts, increasing mindfulness, and with other concerns, especially when combined with psychological perspectives. I offer energy healing and coaching to people worldwide. Book a session or find out more here.