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The Power of Meditation

Many people come to discover mindfulness and meditation when interested in decreasing distressing symptoms. Before getting into the science behind how mindfulness and meditation can be helpful, it is important to understand what is communicated by these terms. Specifically, mindfulness describes a “quality” while meditation describes a “practice.” One can practice mindfulness at any point in the day in order to remain more present and accepting; mindfulness can also assist in being more attentive to the self/environment (e.g., mindfully eating a raisin). Meditation involves more formalized practice in order to alter or enhance one’s state of mind (e.g., seated meditation pictured above). And an individual can also practice mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most commonly practiced types of meditation!

Meditation has been shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic pain, smoking cessation, depression, and anxiety. But how exactly does that work? Mindfulness meditation can help to lessen the body’s stress response by influencing two different stress pathways in the brain. Subsequent structural changes in areas of the brain affecting attention and stress regulation can reduce dysfunctional thoughts and distressing emotions (when one encounters stressful situations). While the body’s stress response is valuable and supportive (at times), chronic engagement can lead to exhaustion and an increase in physical illness (in addition to stress and countless other mental health issues). Regular practice of meditation helps rewire the way we respond to daily stressors, in order to minimize the impact on our mind and body. More recently, some clinical studies have been comparing mindfulness meditation to commonly proscribed psychotropic medications; when compared to Lexapro (often prescribed for anxiety), mindfulness meditation was found to be an effective alternative.

There are numerous apps that can help you in your practice of mindfulness and meditation. One that I and many of my clients use is Headspace. But, your own journey with mindfulness and meditation can start without the assistance of an app or website. To start, begin setting aside a regular amount of time in your day; the mornings tend to be best and you need not set aside more than 10 minutes, until you become more familiar with the practice. Some people may find guided meditations more beneficial, while others may prefer silence; there's no "wrong way" to get started. As the practice adds up, continue to monitor your thoughts, feelings, and stress levels throughout the day. As these behaviors become habits for you, you'll begin to notice new responses to stressful situations as well as subsequent changes in your emotions and stress levels.

Mindfulness, meditation, and concentrated efforts at behavioral change are regularly incorporated into my therapy. Of course, these are in addition to many other evidence-based skills including those of a more cognitive nature. If you’re interested in bettering your mental health or have questions about how you can best respond to stress in your life, reach out to Roswell Psychology today for a complimentary consultation.

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