How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health

With positive impacts on sleep, focus, and stress, meditation might be the key to improving your overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Last updated: Aug 23rd, 2022
How meditation can improve mental health

Mindfulness has become a trending buzzword in recent years. You may feel inundated with information on expensive retreats promoting meditation or holistic coaches blasting the benefits of deep breathing. But is mindfulness meditation really worth it?

Although meditation may seem like a mental health fad, its numerous benefits are undeniable. It can help you decrease stress, get better sleep, and even improve your physical health. Read our guide to find out more details about how this practice can support your overall wellbeing.

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Decreased stress

Everyone experiences stress. But chronic stress can impact all parts of your health and severely affect your quality of life. When you meditate, you focus your attention on mental calmness. This process can promote a heightened state of relaxation and tranquility.

Meditating doesn’t just feel good in the moment, either. Research shows that meditation changes neural pathways associated with attention and emotion regulation. Likewise, people who meditate are more likely to be able to focus on the present, thereby reducing the rumination often paired with stress.

Improved self-compassion

Meditation supports self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in mindfulness and self-esteem, identifies three essential components of self-compassion.

  1. Self-compassion entails practicing kindness to yourself during challenging times. Rather than ignoring or criticizing your feelings, it’s essential to be gentle.
  2. Self-compassion means engaging in a balanced approach to your emotions. This is where mindfulness comes in — observing various reactions without judgment is important.
  3. Self-compassion means understanding that all humans suffer and that you are not alone in your feelings. To be human is to experience pain.

Being present with your feelings — and allowing yourself to sit with them calmly during meditation — supports a healthier self-image and increases self-esteem.

Enhanced focus

We are “lost in thought” approximately 47% of the time during our waking hours. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional daydream, chronic inattentiveness can affect your daily functioning. It may be challenging to focus at school, at work, or even when talking to others.

Enhanced attention on a specific object or task (i.e., breathing) requires you to continuously disengage from distraction. Research shows that, over time, this process strengthens the parts of the brain associated with attention and focus.

Better sleep

Sleep problems impact 50-70 million Americans, and statistics on sleep deprivation keep rising. One in five adults has sleep apnea, and at least 10% of the population experiences chronic insomnia.

Studies show that engaging in mindfulness meditation may promote better sleep than other interventions, including sleep education classes. Just 10-20 minutes of meditation each day trains your body to bring itself to a state of relaxation. If you can’t sleep at night, you can imitate this state.

Decreased cravings

A craving refers to an intense urge for something specific. Within psychological contexts, people often use cravings to describe unhealthy temptations for items like drugs, alcohol, or sugar.

Cravings often represent the cornerstone of severe addictions. But research shows that meditation can prevent or interrupt cravings. Furthermore, regular mindfulness may reduce how people feel impacted by their cravings.

Decreased pain

Around 20% of Americans live with chronic pain, meaning they experience pain either most days or every day for at least three months. Chronic pain affects mental and physical health, as it often makes daily tasks feel challenging.

Research meta-analyses show that meditation helps decrease one’s perception of pain. Subsequently, meditation also helps reduce depression while increasing one’s physical, health-related quality of life. These secondary effects may cumulatively improve how one responds to pain.

More self-awareness

Self-awareness promotes emotional and social intelligence. Research shows that self-aware people tend to be more creative and confident. They are also generally happier in their relationships and careers.

Meditation naturally promotes a sense of internal insight. As you engage in this practice, you learn how to recognize different thought patterns, bodily sensations, and emotions. Over time, this helps you know yourself on a deeper, metaphysical level.

Increased gratitude

Cultivating intentional appreciation allows you to enjoy what you have. Furthermore, gratitude is associated with:

  • Higher life satisfaction
  • Lower levels of aggression
  • Decreased depression

The next time you meditate, consider reflecting on what you feel grateful for. Allow yourself to truly focus on these thoughts of abundance. If you can do this consistently, you’ll likely feel happier and calmer throughout the day.

Better physical health

Meditation generally supports your physical health, and research shows that regular mindfulness can:

  • Slow down cognitive decline (even in people with Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Improve your immune system response
  • Reduce cell aging
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce the likelihood of heart disease

Final thoughts

When it comes to coping skills, meditation is like a superfood. It’s packed with amazing benefits, and research suggests we may only be at the tip of the iceberg in understanding its true potential.

Best of all? It’s free, accessible, and customizable. So even if it feels strange or forced at first, try to stick with it. The more you practice meditation, the easier (and more enjoyable) it becomes.