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."
By David Gelles, NY Times
"Anger is a natural, life-affirming emotion. It lets us know when a boundary has been crossed, when our needs are not being met, or when someone we care about is in danger. But when misdirected, anger can harm our physical health and our relationships. Being mindful of anger means not suppressing, denying or avoiding it and also not acting out in harmful ways. Instead, connect with the direct experience of the anger, and then decide what action you want to take.” — Jessica Morey, executive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education"
Here is a list of points that Ms. Morey suggests when processing anger:
Recognize and respect that anger is happening. It’s part of the human experience.
Stop fueling the anger: Cut off the stories about how you were wronged or why your anger is justified. Instead, shift your attention to the body.
What part of your body is not feeling angry? Your feet? Your back? The breath at the tip of your nose? Are there any sensations in your body that feel neutral, even pleasant? What else is happening around you? Are there any neutral or pleasant sounds you can attend to?
Rest your attention on these sensations for a few minutes, allowing yourself to find some calm. If your mind wanders back into thinking about the anger-producing situation, come back to these neutral sensations.
Investigate the anger more directly. Where do you feel it? Is it in your chest? Your hands? Your jaw? What does the anger feel like? How do the sensations of anger change as you pay attention to them? Do any other emotions show up underneath the anger?
Explore the information this anger has for you. What is its message? What does it need? Was a boundary crossed?
Reflect on how you could skillfully respond to what is making you angry. What would be the most helpful response right now?
Finally, commit to taking whatever skillful action is needed without doing any harm — whether it’s a walk, a nap or a direct, difficult conversation.
By: Florence Williams, National Geographic
"When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor.... Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too."
"A large study found less death and disease in people who lived near parks or other green space—even if they didn’t use them. Researchers suspect that nature works primarily by lowering stress. Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common. Such results jibe with experimental studies of the central nervous system. Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance."
By Norine Vander Hooven, LCSW
"Have you ever had your heart race, palms become sweaty, or have difficulty focusing because you’re so nervous? These are some of the signs of anxiety. Anxiety can be debilitating for some people, and for others it might just amount to a few minutes of feeling nervous.
Unfortunately, for some people when anxiety does hit, it can cause you to freeze and be unable to focus, respond, or engage in everyday tasks. For most people, anxiety is the result of thinking about something out of your control, or of something in the future.
Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.“
Click below to learn about how to: (1) Regulate Your Breathing; (2) Use Your Senses; and (3) Engage in an Activity that Requires Focus