It’s hard to deny that we’re leading increasingly busier lives – and that our busy lives are straining our mental and physical wellbeing.
We become stressed, tired, anxious. We’re unable to spend quality time with the people we love, leading to strained relationships with others – including ourselves.
Why is this?
Because we forget to put ourselves first.
Amidst the daily chaos, we also often forget to slow down, breathe and be present.
Enter mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation requires relaxed, natural breathing and full attention and awareness towards the present moment (no mind wandering here!). Whether you spend 60 seconds or an hour practicing mindfulness, there is a lot going on neurologically that can have a positive effect on your quality of life.
Here are 5 ways meditation can transform you and improve your quality of life:
1. Increase in sustained attention
Mindfulness meditation has been found to increase cortical thickness in parts of the brain responsible for attention processing. A research analysis by Chiesa, Calati, & Serretti (2010) concluded that the early stages of mindfulness meditation significantly improves selective and executive attention (attention relating to the filtering out certain stimuli, such as background noise).
When we’re busy, there will always be some kind of external stimuli that will instantly redirect our attention from the task we want to complete – it might be your colleagues chatting in the background, the kids or grandkids yelling at the back or the dog barking for your attention. The first step to entering a mindful meditative state is to gently close your eyes, take a breath and focus on filtering all that noise away.
2. Improved executive function
Have you got so much going on at once, so much so that you’re finding it difficult to organise all your tasks and get them done? Here’s where mindfulness meditation can help. Whilst you may feel as though you’re not doing much when meditating (even though you are!), you may notice an improvement in areas such as time management, focus, planning and organising and curbing your inhibitions – all of which are areas of executive functioning.
And there’s more good news! Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve the executive functioning in both younger and older adults, and decreases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases in the elderly.
3. Improved emotional regulation
Feeling blue, stressed or anxious? Practicing mindful meditation improves affect (mood) and your ability to emotionally regulate.
Research has shown that the brains of experienced meditators have increased cortical thickness in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is responsible for emotional regulation. Studies have also shown that people who have undergone mindfulness-based therapy are better able to identify their emotions and are less likely to initiate maladaptive emotional responses and respond less reactively, thus improving interpersonal relationships.
4. Improved physical health and wellbeing
You’ll be glad to know that mindfulness meditation reduces hypertension, which in turn decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy programme was found to lower stage 1 hypertension amongst non-medicated participants.
Research also shows that practicing mindfulness meditation reduces chronic pain such as rheumatoid arthritis, increases immune functioning and aids in reducing the physical symptoms of certain diseases such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome – as well playing a role in the reducing the number of work days missed due to respiratory infection-related illnesses.
5. Increased Prosocial behaviour
That’s right! Mindfulness meditation has the power to make us better human beings.
A study suggests that people show kinder behaviour towards others after undergoing mindfulness meditation training. The study showed that participants who took part in a mindfulness meditation course via a mobile app frequently gave up their seats for other people who were in obvious discomfort (Ie. Individuals who were clearly in pain), more so than a control group who did not undertake the meditation training.
So if you’re feeling as though you’re against the world, perhaps mindfulness meditation is the answer to feeling in sync with your fellow humans.
We know – it’s easier said than done. For every moment you let yourself sit and do what feels like basically nothing, you could be replying to your 50-something emails or finishing off that Powerpoint presentation by the deadline.
It often takes a stressful climactic event for us to shift our focus back to ourselves and step back a little. But remember – YOU have the power to create balance where you can.