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The Mental Health Remedy 

In today’s world, it seems as if it is becoming more and more common for people to struggle with their mental health. With the busy lives that we all live, this is quite a common occurrence. According to Arlin Cuncic, an author for the website Very Well Mind, 6.9 Americans struggle with chronic daily anxiety. When faced with a problem,  it is expected for people to experience stress and to worry about things. While these things are normal and something that everyone deals with sometimes, anxiety disorders are much more extreme, and can have a huge impact on someone’s life. For someone with an anxiety disorder, these feelings of anxiety don’t go away once a problem has been solved. There are many different types of anxiety disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person with a generalized anxiety disorder experiences irritability, muscle tension, fatigue, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty controlling feelings of worry. 

A generalized anxiety disorder can cause significant issues in areas of life having to do with school, work, and even social interactions. People with anxiety disorders often struggle with unwanted thoughts, worries, negative thinking, and more stress than the average person. There are things you can do to help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety such as taking medication. However, meditation has proven to be just as helpful. A study was conducted at Johns Hopkins that analyzed the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Alice G. Walton states that  “Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good.” 

What will be helpful to each person varies because everyone is different. While meditation isn’t a replacement for traditional medical treatment, it can be a very useful addition to treatment for both physical and mental illnesses. Studies have proven that meditation has neurological benefits confirmed by fMRIs and EEG. Another study was conducted at Yale University that revealed mindfulness meditation “decreases activity in the default mode network or DMN, the brain network responsible for mind wandering and self-referential thoughts”, says Alice G Walton. Mind wandering can lead to unwanted thoughts or worrying. Many studies show that meditation quiets down the DMN, allowing you to become better at snapping back into reality when the mind wanders. There was another study done at Johns Hopkins where they discovered that mindfulness meditation has the ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. It can also help social anxiety and addiction, which are common struggles in society. 

Contrary to popular belief, anyone can practice meditation. It doesn’t require any special, expensive equipment or anything fancy. It can be practiced wherever, whenever, and however feels right to you. Meditations help produce a tranquil mind and a deep state of relaxation which make daily stressors easier to overcome. The benefits of meditation do not just come to a halt when you end your meditation. It allows you to go through your day with a clear mind. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques to give a try including guided, mantra, and mindfulness meditations. Each of these techniques shares the same goal of achieving inner peace. Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand because they are very similar. Mindfulness is the act of becoming aware of the present moment. It involves noticing what your senses are showing you. For example, noticing any sounds that you may hear, any smells that you can smell, and so on. Cuncic states that “the basic premise of mindfulness-based meditation is to learn to detach from anxious thoughts. This is achieved by practicing awareness, identifying tension in the body, understanding your thinking patterns, and learning how to deal with difficult emotions.” However, it is important to understand that this process takes time, and will not cure you immediately. Like anything, meditation requires practice in order to get good at it and experience its full benefits. 

Many people have misconceptions of what occurs during meditation. Meditation does not mean just “doing nothing” or having no thoughts. It is allowing your thoughts to happen and detaching yourself from them, so that there is no judgement placed on your thoughts. Mindfulness is the act of acknowledging your thoughts, sitting with them, and allowing them to pass. This allows you to understand why certain thoughts come up, and change your ways of thinking. You cannot just push your thoughts and feelings to the side, because they will come up at some point. Meditation allows you to face negative thinking without reactions. 

Sometimes, the act of sitting with your thoughts can be scary. People who struggle with mental illnesses often push away any negative thoughts and emotions because they are too hard to deal with. However, pushing these things away is not helpful, because it doesn’t make them go away, it only piles on. The idea of practicing meditation can seem difficult. That is why it is important to remember that peace is a practice. Results come in time, and it gets better with time and practice. According to Sandra Casabianca, a 2020 review shows that people who practice meditation for a long time start showing changes in the areas of their brain that modulate the stress and anxiety response. “Specifically, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus show increased activity. Also, the amygdala, which is involved in the fight, flight, or freeze response, shows decreased activity. All of this indicates improved emotional regulation, according to the review.” says Sandra. 

References 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858

https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-meditation-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder-4143127

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/?sh=7ce096e21465

https://www.verywellmind.com/mindfulness-meditation-for-panic-disorder-2584082

https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/meditation-for-anxiety

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders

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