There are countless demands vying for your attention at any given time. From family obligations to responsibilities both inside and outside of the home, sometimes it can be hard to find a moment to think, much less relax. But often this fast-paced, nonstop lifestyle can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health if not addressed properly.
Though there are many ways to treat stress, including medication, exercise and diet changes, there are other options including meditation. Starting or continuing this practice in your daily routine may offer a number of benefits to your overall health as you take the time to slow down and focus your mind.
What is meditation?
Meditation is defined by Psychology Today as the “practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference.” This typically involves measured, even breathing and focusing on the present moment. It may sometimes include chanting or focusing on a specific word or phrase, though that is left to personal preference. There are a number of types of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, tai chi, qi gong, transcendental meditation and concentration meditation.
To get started, all you need is a quiet space, free from distractions and a few spare minutes. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing – in and out, in and out. If any distracting thoughts enter your mind, gently push them away and bring yourself back to the present. Repeating a mantra in your head or out loud may help you to stay centered.
Meditation doesn’t need to be a big time commitment, especially at first. You can generally obtain results in less than half an hour a day.
“Start with 10 minutes, or even commit to five minutes twice a day,” registered nurse Burke Lennihan told Harvard Health Publications. “Preferably meditate at the same time every morning. That way you’ll establish the habit, and pretty soon you’ll always meditate in the morning, just like brushing your teeth.”
By making meditation a part of your daily routine, you may experience a number of physical, mental and emotional benefits.
When you’re stressed, you may find that it’s difficult to keep your emotions in check. Feelings of anxiety can quickly be joined by a number of other emotional reactions, such as frustration, sadness and even anger. Meditation can help reduce anxiety and other negative emotions by forcing you to focus on the present. Oftentimes stress is caused by worrying about hypothetical situations that may or may not happen. Centering yourself through meditation is a good reminder to focus on what is real.
Meditation can also give you a chance to develop a fresh perspective on the issues that are causing your stress. If you are able to put aside some of your anxiety, you may be able to look at the challenges more clearly and potentially identify new solutions.
In addition to the emotional benefits, meditation is often engaged in for its physical advantages. Stress can compromise your immune system, which means that you’re more likely to get sick when you’re anxious all the time. So when you use this practice to help your emotional wellbeing, you’re protecting your body’s physical health as well.
Because of this ability to relieve stress, meditation is often practiced by those living with diseases that are exacerbated by anxiety, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Meditation can also be helpful if you experience sleep problems. By clearing your mind before you go to bed, you may find that you drift off to sleep faster than usual.
This practice can have a positive impact on your mental health, which can be especially beneficial for older adults who are looking for ways to stay sharp. This is due in part to the fact that your mental well being – and even the structure of your brain – can be impacted by stress.
“Think of the end of a neuron as a hand, with thousands of ‘fingers,'” Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist who studies mindfulness meditation said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The number of fingers relates to the number of interconnections between neurons and that number can change – one reason it can change is due to stress.”
In addition to helping protect your brain, a 2012 study by professors at the University of Washington Information School showed that the practice can improve concentration, memory and the ability to multitask.
Ready to experience the emotional, physical and mental benefits of meditation for yourself? Consider signing up for a class to learn more and connect with others in your community who enjoy the practice.