How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health

Medically Reviewed
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Research shows that meditation can help you better handle negative feelings and emotions.Jimena Roquero/Stocksy; iStock

Meditation is the practice of focusing one’s mind for a period of time. While there are many forms of meditation, a common result is a feeling of relaxation and inner peace, which can improve mental health. And there’s a growing body of research to support the meditation–mental health connection.

In a review published in the journal?JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed more than 18,000 scientific studies looking at the relationship between meditation and depression and anxiety. (1)?Forty-seven trials with data on 3,515 patients met their criteria for well-designed research. The results showed that mindful meditation programs over an eight-week period had moderate evidence in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Another study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research,?found that individuals with generalized anxiety disorder?who participated in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program had a greater reduction in stress markers than a control group. (2)

If you are interested in mindful-based therapy, speak to your physician about incorporating it into your treatment plan. If you are on?antidepressants, it is important to speak with your prescribing physician before making any medication changes.

Meditation and Regulating Negative Emotions

There’s some research to suggest practicing meditation can help with managing negative emotions, such as anger and fear.

A small study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggested that meditation may help people cope with anger. (3) Furthermore, improvements were seen with just one session of meditation.

For the study, researchers examined 15 people who were new to meditation and 12 who were experienced practitioners. The participants were asked to relive experiences that made them angry. Those who had never practiced meditation before experienced an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, while those with experience in the practice did not have much of a physical reaction to the exercise.

As a second part of the experiment, those who had never meditated before did so for 20 minutes. When asked to relive the anger-inducing episode once more, they had much less of a physical response than they did during the first part of the experiment.

Another small study, published in the journal?Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that meditation helped people manage negative emotions.?(4)?For the experiment, one group of participants listened to guided meditation while another control group listened to a language-learning presentation. After these sessions, participants were shown photos of disturbing scenes, such as a bloody corpse. The researchers recorded their brain activity and found that those who participated in the meditation session had a quicker recovery in the emotional response in their brains after seeing the photos, suggesting meditation helped them manage their negative emotions.

Finally, preliminary research suggests meditation can help lower cancer survivors’ fear of the disease returning. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 60 percent of one-year cancer survivors report moderate to severe concerns about their disease coming back.?(5)?The fear can be so distressing that it negatively affects mood, relationships, work, medical follow-ups, and overall quality of life.

A review of 19 studies found that fear of cancer recurrence was reduced significantly in patients who had undergone mind-body training such as meditation. (6)

Even the Stars Get Lonely and Anxious

Are they just like us? Inde Navarette crochets when she gets lonely, Siedah Garrett calls her friends, Taryn Manning works on self-love, and David Faustino works out and meditates to deal with anxiety.
Even the Stars Get Lonely and Anxious

How Meditation Can Help You Handle Stress

In today’s modern world, stress seems to be a normal part of everyday life. But a number of adverse health effects have been associated with stress, including an increased risk of headaches, muscle pain or tension, fatigue, changes in sex drive, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, and sleep difficulty. Uncontrollable stress can also increase the risk of chronic health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. (7)

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 8 in 10 Americans report being frequently stressed or sometimes stressed in their daily lives. In contrast, 17 percent say they rarely feel stressed and 4 percent say they never do. (8)

Managing stress is important for overall health. One way to do this is to practice meditation.

A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found that patients with generalized anxiety disorder who took a course in mindfulness-based stress reduction, where they learned several different strategies to manage stress, had lower stress-related hormonal and inflammatory levels than people who did not practice mindfulness. (2)

Furthermore, research suggests even brief meditation sessions can make a difference in managing stress — and it can begin to help rather quickly. A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology studied a group of people divided into two groups: one that participated in three consecutive days of 25-minute mindful meditation training sessions, and another that was taught to analyze poetry as a method to improve critical thinking skills.?(10)

At the end of the training session, all the participants were faced with the stressful tasks of completing speech and math tests in front of “stern-faced evaluators.” Those who had undergone the mindfulness training sessions reported feeling less stress than the poetry group.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  1. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.?JAMA?Internal Medicine. March 2014.
  2. Hoge EA, Bui E, Palitz SA, et al. The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Biological Acute Stress Responses in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.?Psychiatry Research. April 2018.
  3. Fennell AB, Benau EM, Atchley RA. A Single Session of Meditation Reduces of Physiological?Indices?of Anger in Both Experienced and Novice?Meditators.?Consciousness and Cognition. February 2016.
  4. Lin Y, Fisher ME, Roberts SMM, et al. Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An?Electrophysiological?Investigation.?Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. September 7, 2016.
  5. Cancer Treatment &?Survivorship?Facts & Figures 2014–2015 [PDF].?American Cancer Society. 2014.
  6. Hall DL, Luberto CM, Philpotts LL, et al. Mind-Body Interventions for Fear of Cancer Recurrence: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psycho-Oncology. April 29, 2019.
  7. Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior.?Mayo Clinic. March 24, 2021.
  8. Eight in 10 Americans Afflicted by Stress.?Gallup. December 20, 2017.
  9. Deleted July 15, 2022
  10. Creswell JD, Pacilio LE, Lindsay EK, et al. Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Alters Psychological and?Neuroendocrine?Responses to Social Evaluative Stress.?Psychoneuroendocrinology. June 2014.
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