Few people are immune from the stresses of the modern world. Despite whether the stress is due to raising children, a pressure filled job or even supporting a sports team we can all come into contact with its effects. Many times these pressures can lead to depression, anxiety and other assorted mental health issues. There are many methods available to cope with these feelings such as medication or therapy, but what if there was a free alternative that anyone could utilise? A new study out of the USA has found such a method. The findings indicate that the ancient practise of meditation may be an excellent way to decrease the negative emotions that depression and anxiety feed from.
Meditation has been central to many religions for centuries. Millions of people world wide proclaim the beneficial aspects of regular meditation. Regular practitioners tell us that meditating allows a person to increase their own self-awareness and understanding while also crucially being a way to relax and clear the mind of stressful thoughts. Such claims are not simply the beliefs of the spiritual. Research has shown how meditation can bring about positive change a person’s physical well being. This includes improvements in blood pressure and pain management. This new study referenced above, due to be published in the April edition of the journal Emotion, is one of the first to shed light on the positive emotional changes that meditation can bring about.
The study itself focussed entirely on female school teachers; eighty-two of them to be exact. This profession was chosen for its inherent high levels of stress. The woman, aged between twenty-five and sixty were randomly placed into control and experimental groups. All the women were new to meditation and already involved in some form of intimate relationship.
The women who were instructed to meditate in the study displayed marked improvement in their emotional well-being. Not only did the subjects display increased compassion and empathy, but they also found that depressive mood levels had decreased. Furthermore, when the researchers followed up on the women five months later they found that the improvements had been maintained over that time period.
Lead author of the study, Margaret Kemeny PhD explained the intention of the study, “We wanted to test whether the intervention [meditation] affected both personal well being as well as behaviour that would affect the well being of their intimate partners. We know much less about longer term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off. It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important in the longer term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”
Margaret Kemeny sums up the conclusions of the study, “The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behaviour. The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to fading in our fast-paced, technology driven culture.”
As we all have to live with the stresses of a modern world the fact that a cheap and effective method for alleviating stress, mild depression and anxiety exists in the form of meditation is a positive development. Of course, it is always recommended that for more severe forms of depression and associated mental health issues a doctor or therapist should be the first port of call. But when a person is feeling slightly down, (as almost everyone does from time to time) perhaps taking a class or two on meditation could be just the ticket.