Mindfulness and meditation are buzzwords you’ve probably come across before. You’re likely to have heard of their benefits in treating anxiety, depression, and even inflammation linked to autoimmune conditions. Formerly known as a Buddhist practice and less accessible to the masses, mindfulness is now widely regarded as an effective tool to cope with stress.
This is great news because mindfulness – and meditation – have incredible physical, mental and emotional health effects. In this post, I’ll cover 3 mental health benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
But first… what’s the difference?
Lots of people get mindfulness and meditation mixed up – which is an easy mistake to make. Think of mindfulness like the toolkit and meditation as one of its tools. (Other mindful tools/activities include breathing exercises, journaling and practising present-moment awareness.)
You can engage in mindfulness at any time of day – working on your computer, talking with a friend, even driving your car! It simply involves recognising what you’re doing and any sensations/thoughts arising as a result.
Meditation is a mindfulness technique: a more formal practice that you can do sitting, standing, walking or lying down. So while you might schedule one or two meditation sessions into your day, this technique can help you stay mindful at every moment!
3 Mental Health Benefits
A daily meditation practice or starting your day with a “mindful moment” (like sipping your coffee without looking at any screens) can make a big difference to your mental health. As someone who’s suffered with depression in the past, and who uses meditation to cope with my own chronic condition (alopecia) and the anxiety surrounding that, I can honestly say that mindfulness and meditation have changed my life!
Here’s what they can do for you…
1. They stop you getting overwhelmed
It’s funny, I often don’t notice how valuable my meditation practice is until I stop doing it for a while. Then I realise how anxious I become, how irritable I can be and how even simple decisions or tasks can leave me feeling overwhelmed.
While meditation doesn’t stop me feeling this way immediately, it does make me mindful of what’s going on. I can recognise what has “triggered” these feelings and learn to respond to them, without judgement, rather than reacting or lashing out.
Often people with mental health issues can’t verbalise what’s going on, or they blame themselves for not “being normal”. Meditation and mindfulness help you recognise that you are NOT your thoughts or your emotions. They are just passing events and you’ll be ok again. Once you realise that, difficult and uncertain times become easier to manage.
2. They help you accept yourself – just as you are
I’ve found that practising mindfulness in my daily life has freed me from my more negative thought patterns. While regular meditation has worked with my brain’s neuroplasticity… widening those long-held beliefs and allowing me to see the bigger picture.
Notice how different YOU feel after just a week of meditating every day. Ok, so you mightn’t feel better immediately – but you’ll probably feel a lot more aware of how your brain works. And how its tendency of tricking you with certain thoughts, like: “I’ll always feel this way” or “Something’s wrong with me”. Mindfulness and meditation won’t stop you having these thoughts, well probably not! But they WILL help you see them as events in the mind that you can let go almost as soon as they arise.
You’ll learn to see that none of us are perfect. And that’s ok. A realisation which comes with boundless freedom and a lot more happiness!
3. They improve your relationships
Mindfulness and meditation help you to become less judgemental – towards others and crucially, towards yourself. And once you learn to be more comfortable with yourself, with how your mind works and with your emotions…when you can be ok with those…you’ll have a greater capacity to respond to others.
It doesn’t mean you’ll be best friends with everyone or that everyone will like you – but remember, it’s ok if they don’t! And you don’t have to love everyone, either. These practices help you to be tolerant of others – and their beliefs/behaviours – even when they’re opposite to yours.
This might be hard to believe at first – how can you love yourself, and others, when it feels like you can’t do anything right? When it’s like the whole world is out to get you?! I’m afraid it’s a case of “you’ll have to try it and see”. This is a very powerful practice. And it does work. And no, you can’t “do it wrong”. Just try a little, even five minutes every day, and be consistent. You’ll see the benefits for yourself.
Give it a try!
So if you’re suffering with mental health issues – or even if you’re feeling fine – it’s always a good idea to practice both meditation and mindfulness daily. If we all did, we’d be healthier, happier, calmer people…and what a wonderful world that would be!
In the meantime, look after your mental health…and take care of each other, too.