Meditation and mindfulness are increasingly popular. But they aren’t just buzzwords for yuppies with yoga mats—rigorous scientific studies have shown meditation has lasting health benefits. From helping you make better decisions at work to reducing the effects of depression, studies support the notion meditation can actually change your life.
What is meditation anyway?
The terms meditation and mindfulness get thrown around a lot. But what do they really mean?
Mindfulness is the practice of being psychologically aware of your surroundings, your feelings, and being awake in the present moment. It’s practiced through quiet reflection or guided by a teacher. Fundamentally, it’s about clearing distractions and worries from your mind.
Meditation is a broad term which includes many different techniques used around the world for well-being. Mindfulness is technically just a popular type of meditation, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll use the terms interchangeably.
Here are five benefits research suggests meditation can have on your health. Friendly reminder, though, before we jump in: Here at PolicyGenius, we can certainly help you find the best health insurance policy for your needs. However, you’ll want to consult a doctor about treatment alternatives.
1. Mindfulness makes you happier.
Perhaps the most widely publicized benefit of meditation is that it makes you happier. A Swedish study found that practicing mindfulness was "strongly related" to a positive state of mind and reduced stress. Even schoolchildren can benefit from mindfulness. In fact, Canadian fourth and fifth graders who participated in a mindfulness program were better at managing stress and were more liked by their classmates. Interestingly enough, they also performed better at math.
2. Mindfulness helps you avoid psychological traps.
We’ve already talked about the psychological traps that are harming your career. The good news is meditation can help. One study found mindfulness helps you focus on the present, instead of worrying about the past or future. This allows you to make decisions more rationally and avoid traps like the sunk cost fallacy.
Quick primer for people unfamiliar with the concept: The sunk cost fallacy occurs when you make a choice based solely on the resources you’ve already invested. So, for instance, standing on a long line instead of jumping to a shorter one because you’ve already waited quite some time, even though making the move will get you out of the store faster in the end.
"We found that even a 15-minute mindfulness meditation helped to mitigate against the sunk cost bias by leading to a less past- or future-oriented focus, that is, having a more present focus," study co-author and Wharton School professor Sigal Barsade noted.
Sunk cost bias "can ultimately lead to poor decision-making and negative work outcomes, negatively impacting employee work performance and company outcomes," she said.
3. Meditation can change your brain.
Meditation doesn’t just make you subjectively feel better, it can actually change your brain. One study scanned the brains of 44 people and found those who practice meditation had significantly larger grey matter in parts of the brain linked to emotional control.
The upshot? The benefits of meditation aren’t just found during your practice or immediately thereafter. They actually cross over into your day-to-day life, helping you stay calmer and in better control of your feelings. Thus, the time you spend meditating can reap dividends throughout the rest of your life.
4. Meditation is therapeutic.
Mindfulness leads to improved happiness and can change the structure of your brain, so it’s no wonder it is useful for those suffering from emotional pain. One study found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was more effective than antidepressants in preventing relapses into depression.
A review of studies published by the New York Academy of Sciences noted mindfulness meditation "has been found to significantly reduce pain in experimental and clinical settings."
The authors of that review suggest mindfulness may even be a way to prevent physical pain and deal with the opioid epidemic. (Again: It’s important to consult with your physician, psychiatrist or healthcare provider about your best course of treatment for any physical or mental ailment.)
5. Meditation decreases stresses.
Mindfulness is not just able to give you greater peace in your daily life, but also can help you deal with some of life’s most difficult moments. A study found cancer patients who underwent a mindfulness program saw an average of 31% reduction in stress. Another study found an increased quality of life for healthcare professionals who took an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
How to get started
If you’re interested in taking up mindfulness, you can get started by going to a guided meditation class or reading a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Remember, the time you spend meditating isn’t just good way to relax, it can also pay dividends in your professional life.