Written by Matthew Thorpe, MD, PhD and Rachael Link, MS, RD — Medically reviewed by Marney A. White, PhD, MS — Updated on October 27, 2020
"Meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its many health benefits.
You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and even increased pain tolerance.
This article reviews 12 health benefits of meditation.
1. Reduces stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.
One review concluded that meditation lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.
These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
Furthermore, research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.
2. Controls anxiety
Meditation can reduce stress levels, which translates to less anxiety.
A meta-analysis including nearly 1,300 adults found that meditation may decrease anxiety. Notably, this effect was strongest in those with the highest levels of anxiety.
Also, one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, along with increasing positive self-statements and improving stress reactivity and coping.
Another study in 47 people with chronic pain found that completing an 8-week meditation program led to noticeable improvements in depression, anxiety, and pain over 1 year.
What’s more, some research suggests that a variety of mindfulness and meditation exercises may reduce anxiety levels.
For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and physical activity.
Meditation may also help control job-related anxiety. One study found that employees who used a mindfulness meditation app for 8 weeks experienced improved feelings of well-being and decreased distress and job strain, compared with those in a control group.
3. Promotes emotional health
Some forms of meditation can lead to improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life.
For example, one review of treatments given to more than 3,500 adults found that mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of depression.
Similarly, a review of 18 studies showed that people receiving meditation therapies experienced reduced symptoms of depression, compared with those in a control group.
Another study found that people who completed a meditation exercise experienced fewer negative thoughts in response to viewing negative images, compared with those in a control group.
Furthermore, inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies suggests meditation may also reduce depression by decreasing levels of these inflammatory chemicals."