Holistic practices are wonderful for balancing daily life. One method in particular, meditation, consistently performs well in various scientific studies—and in most instances, it’s free. So how does a meditation practice help your mood?
What the Science Says
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and is practiced in cultures around the world. But it’s really only been in the last few decades that scientists wanted to know how it affects the brain, as well as mood and overall well-being. While more research needs to be done, here are just a few of their findings:
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health outlines studies that highlight various benefits, including moderate evidence supporting the improvement of anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as a greater reduction of insomnia and inflammation, and lessened symptoms of menstrual and menopausal issues.
- The American Psychological Association cites more than 200 studies that point to the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, especially for people with anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and identified PTSD.
- The Harvard Gazette reports how a mindfulness meditation practice greatly helps some people with depression, but not others. Researchers continue to explore how it can be integrated into treatment programs in more effective ways.
Various studies indicate how vital meditation practices can be to help manage stress and stress-triggered conditions. This is also key to maintaining better mood balance, along with other healthy habits.
How Does Meditation Work?
Here are some of the noted meditation effects on the mind and body:
- Long-term meditators seem to retain more volume of gray matter in their brains, which helps process emotions and information more effectively.
- Additionally, meditation reduces the hypersensitivity of the amygdala, responsible for our anxiety, fear, and stress responses.
- Meditation may help people with depression to retrain their brain and better manage symptoms.
- Meditation reduces activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering. This helps improve attention and concentration while lessening the impact of “monkey mind,” which is beneficial for individuals with anxiety and depression.
- A consistent practice calms the sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” response, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
Choosing a Meditation Practice That’s Right For You
As you’ve learned while working with professionals to treat your mental and emotional health, there’s not a “one size fits all” approach—and nor should there be. The same applies to meditation. For every person who can sit in silence for an hour on a comfy cushion, there’s another who simply prefers the 3-minute guided pause from an app. Both methods are fine, but neither may be right for you.
Here are some of our articles about meditation that may help you find the best practice:
- Styles of Meditation
- Just Say Om: Resources for Meditation
- Mindfulness for Better Meditation
- Keeping a Meditation Journal
How Does Trauma Affect a Meditation Practice?
For all the good this practice provides, some people find it difficult to meditate if they have severe trauma—especially if it’s unconscious. During a session, they might experience uncomfortable physical sensations, memory intrusion, or negative thoughts. This has nothing to do with “doing meditation right” and everything to do with how trauma impacts the brain.
These individuals would benefit more from working one-on-one with a board-certified therapist with meditation certification. This professional will guide them through an experience and help them self-regulate with techniques such as breathing exercises, mind and space awareness, and “reverse-warrior” methods of care. This Tricycle magazine article explains more.
They might also introduce other progressive methods to help address the trauma first, such as:
- Art and music therapy, which allows someone to experience emotions through a safe, non-judgemental approach and resolve conflict
- Brainspotting, a technique that enables a person to stop reliving trauma on an endless loop by sending new signals to the nervous system
- EMDR, which helps the brain develop new patterns to move through and beyond traumatic memories and thoughts
- Neurofeedback, also known as biofeedback, which changes the brain to develop healthier responses
- Somatic experiencing, a process that helps release the hyperstate of the body from deep-rooted trauma
Many people find they can once again meditate and find relief and joy in it after other issues are addressed. You also always have complete agency to choose not to meditate. You and your therapist can develop other methods of mood management. But if you enjoy attending community meditation events with friends or the peaceful atmosphere of a meditation retreat, talk with the facilitator first about how you’ll use these other methods for your well-being.
Compassionate Care at Cottonwood
Holistic therapies provide numerous opportunities to design your best life, which is why there are so many at the core of Cottonwood’s individual treatment approach. If you’re ready for a new level of healing for mood disorders, feel free to contact a member of our admissions team in Tucson, AZ, to learn more about how Cottonwood can help you.