Meditation is becoming more and more popular to manage stress. It is one mental practice that has stood the test of time. Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. You can even practice meditation wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting. Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health.
Mindfulness meditation in particular has done a good job of proving itself effective in reducing stress and depression, improving attention and cognitive performance, and even increasing grey matter density in the brain. But the question would-be meditators always wonder is, “how much do I have to do?” According to a new study in Psychoneuroendocrinology, just a little mindfulness training goes a long way, at least when it comes to quieting the mind in stressful situations. And for most people beginning a meditation practice, that’s not a bad place to start.
Mindfulness is a mental practice used to focus attention on the present moment, rather than on the usual “chatter” that’s going on in our heads. It also helps a person learn to not get caught up in his or her thoughts, but instead simply to acknowledge them and let them go. Mindfulness is described as paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, curiously and non-judgmentally.
More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits. The people who’d gone through mindfulness training found the speech and math tests to be less stressful than those who had been trained in critical thinking. The cortisol reactivity was also higher in the meditators than in the control group.
What’s interesting is that while perceived stress levels were low, cortisol production was higher – this may be because practicing mindfulness takes some effort, at least at first. And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.
Some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems