The top three benefits of meditation
Every day, you balance work, family, life management, and more—we get it, life is stressful, and no matter how many times you tell yourself, “I just need to make it through this week!,” the reality is, it’s likely not going to suddenly let up anytime soon. There are plenty of ways to try to mitigate your stress levels, with varying degrees of success and healthfulness, but the method that seems to rise to the top in study after study is meditation. It seems that everywhere you turn, you’re reading something new about how meditation can serve you and improve your life—but of course, you’re too busy to read all those studies, so we’d like to help out and break down for you the top three benefits of meditation.
Remember that stress? Of course, you do!
How could you forget it? In our current society, it seems ever-present and always looming larger. But, the good news about stress is that the physical and mental manifestations you feel are both cause and effect—and that means that with practice, you can control them.
What does it mean that stress is both cause and effect? Well, it comes down to the fact that, when faced with something stressful, your body and mind react by producing cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, which can be helpful when you’re in a true fight-or-flight scenario, but is markedly less so when you’re just facing a tight schedule impacted by a traffic jam. But, your body might not be attuned to recognize that nuance, so it pumps out more of the hormone that’s going to increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and breaths per minute. Your body, in response, now feels even more attacked, and a vicious cycle begins. We’re seeing a major increase in what is essentially chronic stress—chronically high cortisol rates—and it’s having an unfortunate impact on our health as a nation. The side effects of chronic high cortisol are diseases such as hypertension, diabetes type II, Cushing’s Syndrome, and more.
Well, that’s….stressful. So how can meditation help?
Meditation can help minimize chronic stress and reduce the stress response overall by retraining your mind to redirect your thoughts, regulate your emotions, and focus your mind productively, rather than harmfully. One of the ways it does this is by promoting self-awareness. If you can recognize and become aware of thought patterns you hold that can be harmful or self-defeating, you can redirect those thought triggers in a more constructive direction.
As one becomes very skilled in recognizing and redirecting damaging thoughts, they may even see a surprising physical benefit of meditation—reduced blood pressure¹ and lower blood sugar levels. A review of multiple studies on meditation, totaling nearly 1,000 participants, revealed that many types of meditation reduce blood pressure. Results indicate that the effect on blood pressure are an effect of meditation’s ability to relax the nerves that send signals coordinating heart function, blood vessel function, and the hyper-alert effects of the fight-or-flight response.
I feel calmer already! But I still feel a touch anxious…
It’s great that you’re not in active fight or flight mode anymore! But anxiety isn’t quite the same as acute stress—it’s more of a constant feeling of worry, unease, or general tension that can either be overwhelming or just constantly running in the background of your mind. It can produce physical symptoms similar or adjacent to stress, such as sweating, dizziness, nausea, or a racing heart. It can also lead to anxiety or panic attacks, which can sometimes be so dramatic they’re mistaken for heart attacks and lead to emergency room visits.
Anxiety is stressing me out! Help, meditation!
Don’t worry! Studies have shown² that meditation also helps manage anxiety! In fact, in the study noted in the National Library of Medicine, it was found that the greatest effects of meditation were on those who suffered from the highest levels of anxiety. Again, by using a targeted practice of focus to slow racing thoughts and redirect intrusive thoughts, meditation has the ability to affect our physical response, slowing breathing, calming the heart rate, and increasing a sense of well-being. Over time, people who meditate regularly can permanently shift how they react emotionally to triggering situations. Increased mindfulness and a stronger control over your breathing and physical reactions can lead to less impulsive responses, such as anger or panic. Minimizing heightened reactions to stress can result in a more constant positive state of mind overall.
We’re all happier when we sleep better! Or is it the other way around?
A final major benefit of meditation is improved sleep quality. How often are you laying in bed at the end of a busy day, totally unable to shut off your brain? The racing, often irrational thoughts running through your head when you should be counting sheep are no different than those intrusive thought patterns that happen during an anxiety attack. And meditation mitigates them in the same way! When you’re able to redirect your mental focus through a practice of meditation, you can slow and organize your thoughts at bedtime. This allows your body to relax and transition into a peaceful, sleep-ready state. Early studies have shown a link between meditation and falling asleep faster, as well as improved sleep quality.
Ok, you’ve convinced me. But how do I meditate?
Read our How to Mediate post to learn!