Can Meditation be the answer to growing mental health problems?
As we embark on a new year in 2021 with collective energies of hope and happiness, it is also a time to reflect on the year that was 2020. The year 2020 would be remembered in coming years not only for the Covid pandemic but also for the growing distress, anxiety, and depression. Last year clearly proved that mankind is not prepared to handle any crisis of global scale. Covid-19 disrupted all essential health services including mental health.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. World Health Organization (WHO) states: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. In fact, there is no health without good mental health.
Few early signs of mental illness:
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Pulling away from people and usual activities
• Having low or no energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Feeling helpless or hopeless
• Frequent smoking, drinking, or drug use
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Yelling or fighting with family and friends
• Experiencing severe mood swings
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• Thinking of harming yourself or others
• Inability to perform daily tasks as usual or well
Lifestyle changes in Covid have aggravated the mental health issues for millions across the world. Some figures believe that around 1 in 4 people might experience a mental health problem this year because of COVID, which means someone you know may be struggling with mental illness.
Effects of Meditation on the Brain
Various studies have tried to examine the potential positive effects of regular meditation on the brain and the results are astounding. Researchers comparing the brain imaging scans of those who regularly meditate and those who don’t have found several key differences. The results showed that those who use meditation had a greater number of folds in their cerebral cortex due to gyrification. Which is also linked to the greater processing power of the mind. Other studies have also have found that regular meditation can help with the problems related to aging such as reversal, slowing, or stalling of the degenerative effects in the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor, author, cardiologist (1967) was one of the first researchers in the West who explore the impact of meditation on mental and physiological outcomes. Benson in his best-selling book, The Relaxation Response, described that regular practice of the Relaxation Response can be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders. He also founded Harvard’s Mind-Body Medical Institute in the year 1975. The different Relaxation Response includes visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, prayer, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, yoga, and many more.
Later, in the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher discovered more about meditation and the potential health benefits of meditative practice. In 1979, Jon introduced his Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) program and opened the first Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Interestingly, around this time, transcendental Meditation started becoming popular because of many celebrities turning to this practice to help them cope with fame, which included The Beatles. Since the 1990s, meditation was recommended as a proven technique to combat depression and anxiety.
There are many studies that support the positive effect of meditation on those suffering from a medical condition – this is particularly true if stress has been shown to worsen the condition. These conditions include anxiety, depression stress, and addictive behaviors. Even if many believe that results from such studies are preliminary and inconclusive, regular practitioners of meditation have felt significant differences in their ability to manage stress and stay calm.
How meditation helps
Meditation brings a person closer to a life of true happiness even if their external living conditions are not ideal. After training in meditation, the mind gradually becomes more and more peaceful and leads one to experience a purer form of happiness. Meditation ultimately develops the ability to remain happy at any time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
In the growing struggles for mental well-being, meditation is a silver lining. Meditation is known for its emotional benefits and of many such benefits is, understanding one’s own mind. Meditation allows one to transform their mental state at will from disturbed or negative to peaceful, positive, and constructive. Like meditation, Mental health is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive. Not where are you going?