3 Research-Based Reasons to Start Meditating

Studies demonstrate why meditation is good for us.

Posted May 23, 2016

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Source: Pixabay

It seems like mindfulness is the new cultural buzzword. In our fast-paced, iPhone-obsessed society, being busy is often seen as a badge of honor. Therefore, it makes sense that people are turning to time-tested practices in an effort to become more present in their everyday lives.

As a psychotherapist, I have heard about the benefits of meditation over the years, but I wrote it off as something that was best left to new-age spiritual people. I occasionally practiced yoga, but my dabble into meditation had felt “unsuccessful.” I believed that in order to meditate, I needed to clear my mind and escape my constant thoughts-a feat that seemed near impossible. As I sat cross-legged on the floor of the yoga studio trying to focus on my breath, I couldn’t help but run over my grocery list for later. Since, I disliked “failing” at things, I decided that meditation simply was not for me.

However, recently I was listening to a podcast where a successful entrepreneur talked about how starting a meditation practice had transformed his life. I posted on Facebook asking for meditation app recommendations and a bunch of people suggested Headspace.

I developed the habit of doing a 10-minute meditation in the mornings after I eat breakfast. One of the great things about Headspace is that they really break down the concept of meditation for you. They also have a free 10-day series that teaches you the basics of meditation. After that, you pay a small monthly fee to get access to their other meditations.

I’ve noticed that on the days where I meditate, I feel calmer and more equipped to handle challenges that come my way. I have also learned how to be more compassionate with myself. Headspace teaches you that it’s perfectly ok to get lost in your thoughts sometimes. The aim is to learn how to simply bring your awareness back to your body or breath when this happens.

I’m early into my meditation journey, but already I can feel amazing benefits. However, don’t just take my word for it! The following are some of the research-based reasons to consider starting a regular meditation practice.

1. Reduces anxiety and depression.

Many people are turning to meditation to better manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. A review of 47 studies analyzes in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that meditation was beneficial for people who are struggling with depression and anxiety. This may help to explain why we have seen an increase in evidence-based therapies, which incorporate aspects of mindfulness.

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC, the Primary Therapist for Green Mountain at Fox Run’s Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating, explains,

"We tend to be time travelers in our mind, often off in the future, worrying, ‘what if-ing’, planning, anticipating, etc.  Or stuck in the past, regretting, resenting, wallowing, etc.  This is the stuff of anxious and depressive tendencies. When we ground into the present moment through mindfulness we’re no longer time traveling, but instead right here, right now. And the more we practice being here and now, the less anxious or depressed we feel."

2. Decreases binge and emotional overeating.

Some people turn to food in an attempt to ease their feelings of depression or anxiety. For people who are struggling with binge or emotional overeating, meditation can be a particularly helpful self-soothing tool. A systematic review, which examined 14 studies on mindfulness meditation on binge and emotional overeating, found that mindfulness meditation effectively decreased binge and emotional overeating.  

Judith Matz, LCSW, psychotherapist, and co-author of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, explains,

“For clients who struggle with binge or compulsive eating, their reach for food is often an attempt to calm the anxiety they're experiencing, which means they're in their sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), on the other hand, produces a feeling of relaxation and calm. Meditation and mindfulness practices help people move from the SNS to the PNS - you can't be anxious and calm at the same time!”

3.Increases positive emotions.

Meditation and mindfulness can also help you to feel happier. One study found that the individuals who practiced meditation, “Enjoyed payoffs both immediately, in terms of self-generated positive emotions, and over time, in terms of increased resources and overall well-being. Meditators even experienced enhanced positive emotions in ordinary life situations.”

Kevin Gilliand, a clinical psychologist and the director of Innovation 360, explains,

"Meditation helps to increase positive emotions because for many, the practice of meditation includes an emphasis on gratitude and thankfulness.  Recognizing and remembering things that we’re grateful for causes our minds to focus on positive, affirming, encouraging things."

Putting it Into Practice

So if you’ve been dragging your feet about practicing meditation, I’d recommend that you give it a try. Like any new habit, this one may take some time to stick. Start by doing just 10 minutes a day. Look for places in your daily routine where you can add in some time to meditate. It's important to practice this skill when you are calm, so that you can use it during situations that cause distress. Also know that you cannot “fail” at meditation. It is a new skill that takes some practice and it is as much about the journey, as it is the result.

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a mental health therapist, intuitive eating counselor, and blogger on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She specializes in treating adolescents, survivors of trauma, and individuals with eating disorders and mood disorders. Connect with her at www.jenniferrollin.com

For more information about the app check out Headspace.com