Dan Harris, from ABC News, called me a few years ago to discuss the benefits of meditation and mindfulness as part of his research for an upcoming book. Since then, his book, 10% Happier, has gone on to become a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
Last week, I wrote a Psychology Today blog post, Mindfulness: The Power of “Thinking About Your Thinking”, that was inspired by Harris’ book. Dan Harris believes that mindfulness and meditation will be the next big public health revolution. I agree, and consider his prediction a call to action.
For this blog post, I’ve compiled a “top ten” list, or “meta-analysis,” of some recent scientific research that supports various ways that mindfulness and meditation promote well-being during different stages and circumstances of someone’s life.
Ten Ways Mindfulness and Meditation Promote Well-Being by Bergland
- Enhance Brain Performance
- Promote Creative Thinking
- Alleviate Stress
- Curtail Anxiety
- Increase Compassion
- Decrease Likelihood of Depression
- Minimize Chronic Pain
- Lower Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
- Help Cancer Recovery
- Relieve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
1. Enhance Brain Performance
A coalition of researchers from Norway and Australia recently found that nondirective meditation activates the default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval which enhances brain performance. The 2014 study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
2. Promote Creative Thinking
A 2014 study from Leiden University in the Netherlands found that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking as marked by convergent vs. divergent thinking, even if someone has never meditated before. The findings were published in the journal Mindfulness.
3. Alleviate Stress
A 2012 study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston University (BU) found that participating in an 8-week meditation training program had positive effects on how the amygdala responded to stress—even when someone is not actively meditating. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
4. Curtail Anxiety
A 2014 study from Johns Hopkins Medicine found that 30 minutes of meditation daily could improve symptoms of anxiety, as well as, depression. The findings were published in the online journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
5. Increase Compassion
A 2013 study from Northeastern University College of Science and Harvard University examined the impact of meditation on interpersonal harmony and compassion. The researchers found that meditation made people more willing to act compassionately and to help another person in need who was suffering—even when doing so went against peer pressure.
6. Decrease Likelihood of Depression
A 2013 study in Belgium schools found that mindfulness had the ability to reduce the likelihood of depression-related symptoms in adolescents. The results showed that mindfulness can lead to a decrease in symptoms associated with depression and may also protect against the future development of depression-like symptoms.
7. Minimize Chronic Pain
A February 2015 study by the American Pain Society found that meditation can be an effective treatment for reducing chronic neck pain. The authors concluded that meditation has unique benefits for producing pain relief and for pain coping.
8. Lower Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
In 2012 the American Heart Association reported that a group of people who practiced Transcendental Meditation regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or to die from either of these causes.
Participants who practiced meditation also lowered their blood pressure and reported less anger and stress. The more regularly someone meditated, the greater their outcomes. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Meditation could dramatically reduce the number of people who die from heart attacks and stroke each year.
9. Help Cancer Recovery
A 2011 study from University of Missouri-Columbia found that breast cancer survivors’ health improved after they learned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a type of mindfulness training that incorporates meditation, yoga, and physical awareness.
A 2014 study from the University of Montreal found that mindfulness-based meditation could lessen some symptoms associated with cancer in teens. The researchers found that teenagers that participated in the mindfulness group were less depressed and that mindfulness was helpful in improving mood and sleep in teenagers with cancer.
10. Relieve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A 2013 study by the University of Michigan Health System found that mindfulness exercises that included: meditation, stretching, and acceptance of thoughts and emotions helped veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relieve their symptoms.
More specifically, the researchers found that veterans with PTSD who completed an 8-week mindfulness-based group treatment plan showed a significant reduction in symptoms when compared to patients who underwent traditional treatments. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines cognitive therapy with a meditative approach of mindfulness that emphasizes an increased awareness of all your thoughts and emotions.
Conclusion: Specific Types of Mindfulness-Meditation Have Specific Benefits
There are an endless variety of ways to meditate and practice mindfulness. This compilation of studies illustrates that specific types of mindfulness-meditation seem to have specific benefits.
Fine-tuning which type of mindfulness or meditation someone uses as a prescriptive to treat a specific need will most likely be the next big advance in the public health revolution of mindfulness and meditation. Stay tuned!