Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try to meditate.
One study of more than 3,500 adults found that it lived up to its reputation for reducing stress.
Generally, mental and physical stress causes elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This leads to many harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.
These effects can disrupt sleep, cause depression and anxiety, raise blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an eight-week study, a meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" reduced the inflammatory response caused by stress.
Another study of nearly 1,300 adults found that meditation could reduce stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in those with the highest levels of stress.
Studies have shown that meditation can also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
SUMMARY: Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress. Meditation can also reduce symptoms in people with stress-related health conditions
Less stress means less anxiety.
For example, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety.
It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behavior and panic attacks.
Another study involved 18 volunteers three years after completing an eight-week meditation program. Most of the volunteers continued to practice regular meditation and maintained lower levels of anxiety over time.
A larger study involving 2,466 participants also showed that different meditation strategies can reduce anxiety levels.
For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is probably due to the benefits of both meditative practice and physical activity.
Meditation can also help control work-related anxiety in high-pressure work environments. One study found that a meditation program reduced anxiety in a group of nurses.
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SUMMARY: Habitual meditation helps reduce anxiety and related mental health problems such as social anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Promotes emotional health.
Some forms of meditation can also lead to improved self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life.
Two studies of mindfulness meditation found a reduction in depression in more than 4,600 adults.
One study involved 18 volunteers who practiced meditation for three years. The study found that the participants experienced lasting reductions in depression.
Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies shows that meditation can reduce depression by reducing these inflammatory chemicals.
Another controlled study compared electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and the brains of others who did not.
Those who meditated showed measurable changes in activity in areas associated with positive thinking and optimism.
SUMMARY: Certain forms of meditation can improve depression and create a more positive outlook on life. Research shows that maintaining ongoing meditation can help you maintain these benefits in the long term.
Some forms of meditation can help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself, helping you grow into yourself.
For example, self-awareness meditation is clearly intended to help you better understand yourself and how you relate to those around you.
Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-destructive. The idea is that as you become more aware of your thinking habits, you can direct them toward more constructive patterns.
A study of 21 women battling breast cancer found that when they took part in a tai chi program, their self-esteem improved more than those who received social support sessions.
In another study, 40 older men and women who took a mindfulness meditation program experienced reduced feelings of loneliness compared to a control group that was placed on a waiting list for the program.
In addition, the meditation experience may promote more creative problem-solving.