Meditation is a lot like getting exercise. It’s really good for you, and experts have been touting its benefits for years, but most of us don’t make time to do it. Who can blame us? Life is busy, whether we’re trying to stabilize a hectic work schedule, parent hectic children, or just trying to manage a hectic personal life. We all tend to get to the end of the day and think “I just don’t have the energy for anything else.”
Well, the thing is, meditation can actually help us in that regard. As I’ve struggled to maintain my own busy schedules (and who can’t relate?), meditation helped empower me to tackle life’s challenges without breaking down. It allowed me moments to gather strength and disconnect from the negative thought patterns that were causing me stress.
Obviously, meditation is more than just lounging around. It’s a method of achieving deep relaxation and inner peace by training the mind to be aware of itself while ignoring external stimuli. There are many different methods of meditation, but the goal is always the same: a calm, still mind. Personally, I like sitting in nature, either next to a running stream or out in my backyard. But even if you’re meditating at your desk or on your living room floor, you can still experience some pretty powerful benefits.
Beyond simply helping you de-stress and calm your mind, there are many other health benefits of meditation as well. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, you will be considering your current health state and have a clearer vision of how meditation can help improve where you are at.
1. Meditation purges stress chemicals.
Much of our mental anguish (including conditions like depression and anxiety) is caused, or at least influenced, by stress chemicals in the body, like adrenaline and cortisol. Every time we experience a change in our routine we deal with stress, and even positive changes can weigh on us. Relaxation through techniques like meditation helps us destress, naturally processing and removing these chemicals from our body, improving brain function, restoring the neurochemical balance, and helping to avoid mental health issues.
2. Meditation improves self-control.
Meditation also does wonders for self-control. Meditation allows us to practice manipulating our thoughts and our impulses (clearing your mind requires quieting all those intrusive worries and distractions), and with practice, we become capable of doing the same in our daily activities.
Honestly, meditating can be hard! It’s easy to let your mind wander, and it’s difficult, at first, to rein it in and quiet the distractions. My mind constantly goes back to thoughts about my schedule, what I need to get done today, etc. And that’s OK—with practice, meditation will help you be less likely to be ruled by intrusive thoughts and impulsive urges.
What’s more, meditation boosts brain function in areas related to self-control and regulation of emotions, so we become more capable of managing how we feel. That means we’re more likely to let stress and pressure roll off our backs.
3. Meditation improves focus.
Similar to self-control, meditation boosts our brain’s ability to concentrate and focus. Whether it’s the calming experience of relaxation or the practice of clearing the mind, our minds get better at dialling in the more we meditate. Our brain function related to memory and creativity is boosted as well, meaning we’re not just more productive, we’re more effective at the work we’re trying to do. The mental fog that so often sets in when we work our brains into the ground can be dealt with this way, allowing us to get back to what we need to be working on.
4. Meditation increases positive emotions.
Taking time to center ourselves also promotes positive emotions. Part of it is getting perspective on the stressful things in life. Part of it is taking an opportunity to count our blessings. And another part of it is purging all those stress chemicals, making it easier to feel happy. While the causes are varied and interlaced, the effect is easy to understand: we feel a little more pep in our step. You might laugh, but it’s true! Even after a short meditation session, I can feel a noticeable uptick in positive emotions.
5. Meditation helps you to connect.
In some ways the most important effect, meditation helps us connect with others. It increases our emotional intelligence and our feelings of social connection. It encourages us to seek out the company of others, while at the same time making us feel less lonely. And it increases our compassion, making us more capable of identifying with others in their times of distress and sadness.
It’s not even necessary to meditate in a group; your emotional responsiveness improves just by disconnecting briefly from the world on a regular basis. Like our mental capacity, meditation helps us to reset and refill our emotional well, meaning we have more to draw from going forward. Just as your phone’s battery needs to recharge periodically, so does your heart and your mind.