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The Mental Health Remedy 

In today’s world, mental health struggles are becoming more apparent. When dealing with the stresses of daily life, anxiety is a common emotion to experience. When faced with a problem, feelings of stress or worry are expected. While these feelings are a normal part of life, anxiety disorders are much more extreme and can have a huge impact on someone’s life.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a generalized anxiety disorder causes irritability, muscle tension, fatigue, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty controlling feelings of worry. Anxiety disorders also cause unwanted thoughts, negative thinking, and stress. These symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage and according to Arlin Cuncic, 6.8 million Americans struggle with these symptoms of chronic anxiety daily. Anxiety can cause significant issues in areas of life having to do with school, work, and even social interactions. Research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reveals that  “Untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

There are ways to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety such as taking medication. However, meditation has proven to be just as helpful.  According to Susan Chow, “Meditation is an ancient practice that is believed to have originated in India several thousand years ago. Throughout early history, the practice was adopted by neighboring countries quickly and formed a part of many religions throughout the world”. Meditation teachings made their way into Western Cultures during the 18th century. Since then, it has become more popular and is now recognized as a great technique for managing one’s well being and mental health. According to Holly Berton, there are many different types of meditation including mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation, focused meditation, mantra meditation, visualization meditation, and more. Berton states that “mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular and researched form of meditation in the West”. Mindfulness is the act of acknowledging thoughts, sitting with them, and allowing them to pass. It involves noticing any sounds that you may hear, any smells that you can smell, or things that you can feel. During this type of meditation, it is common to focus on the breath, and notice the physical sensations that come from breathing. Cuncic states that “the basic premise of mindfulness-based meditation is  learning 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.”  One must allow thoughts to happen in order to detach from those thoughts. This allows one to remove judgement for their way of thinking, and to understand why certain thoughts come up, so that eventually one can correct their thought processes. Pushing thoughts and feelings to the side is not healthy because they will come up at some point. 

Meditation has neurological benefits that have been confirmed by fMRIs and EEG. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins took a look at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to help 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. 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. 

Meditation is not a replacement for medication, and it is true that in many cases medication is needed to treat anxiety. Medication can be very helpful, however, it can also cause unwanted side effects. Jayne Leonard states that some possible side effects of anxiety medication can be blurry vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, tremors, weight loss or gain, etc.. Patients can work with their doctors to find the right dosage of medication for them, which can help alleviate these side effects. But, this can be a long process and can take a while for the patient and doctor to decide what will work best. Luckily, meditation has proven itself to be equally as beneficial, but without the negative side effects. 

While it has been proven that meditation causes a number of neurological benefits, many think that the idea of sitting quietly seems daunting. In this day and age, the avoidance of thought has become very popular. For example, many use social media as a way to take up time, or to avoid having any negative thoughts or emotions. Those who struggle with mental illnesses often push away any negative thoughts and emotions because they are too hard to deal with. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Tik Tok to keep your mind off of things may seem like an easy solution. However, pushing these things away is not helpful, because it doesn’t make them go away, it only piles on. According to Ritu Ailani, it is said that the average person spends about three hours a day mindlessly scrolling through social media. Each time you scroll to another post, your brain receives a dopamine hit, and this cycle goes on and on until the decision is made to put down the phone. Psychologist Joshua Ehrlich explains “It really is an addiction and we’re wired for this. The same brain pathways get stimulated as they do in a chemical addiction.” Once you start this habit, like any addiction, it can be difficult to stop. According to Dr. Alber, “Too much time on any media or social media sites, whether the news is bad or not, has been linked with feelings of depression, burying your nose in a phone can exacerbate disconnection and loneliness. Being locked on a screen can zap your energy and leave you feeling drained.”

However, it is possible to replace bad habits by creating new and healthier ones such as practicing mindfulness meditation. The idea of practicing meditation can seem difficult. Some become frustrated at the fact that there is no immediate relief. But like all things, meditation requires time, patience, and most importantly practice. That is why it is important to remember that peace is a practice, and results will come in time. 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. 

While meditation has proven to be an extremely helpful and useful tool for gaining control of thoughts and emotions, some people are still resistant to it. It is understandable that some people are unwilling to try meditation. Some do not believe that it could be helpful despite the fact that studies have shown that meditation can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some do not like the idea of sitting with their thoughts or dealing with them at all, especially those who suffer from mental illnesses. People who experience negative emotions tend to try to push them away or ignore them rather than dealing with them. Others argue that they do not have the time. However, in reality meditation is not something that you need to spend hours doing. You can do it anywhere, anytime, for however long you want. A lot of people have this image of meditation in their heads of a person sitting on a yoga mat with their legs crossed with their hands resting on their knees. But in reality, you can practice mindfulness and meditation whenever, wherever, and however you want. 

The impacts of mindfulness meditation are very beneficial to one’s overall health. However, another reason some resist meditation is because of misconceptions that may come from Donna Lu’s article titled, “A quarter of people who meditate experience negative mental states.” In this article, she explains how Marco Schlosser surveyed 1232 people at the University College in London who had meditated at least once a week for two months. Donna Lu states that “The volunteers were asked if they had ever felt any particularly unpleasant experiences, including anxiety, fear or disturbed emotions, that they attributed to their meditation practice. Just over 25 percent reported that they had.” This could make someone hesitant to give it a try if they didn’t know anything about meditation and how beneficial it can truly be. However, Lu also states that the volunteers participating in the survey “were not asked about the severity of their experiences or whether they occurred specifically during a meditation session.” Everyone experiences negative emotions in their life, this is a normal and expected thing. Sometimes, when you are attempting to mindfully meditate, you are not trying to stop your thoughts completely. It is allowing thoughts to come, acknowledging them, accepting them for what they are, and finally letting them go. By accepting your thoughts, this allows you to have more compassion for yourself, understanding of your emotions, and therefore more control over them. 

Lu also states in her article that “The participants were also asked about the types of meditation they practiced. The survey found that those who only engaged in deconstructive types of meditation, such as Vipassanā and Zen Buddhist meditation, were more likely to report negative mental states than those who only practiced other types.” Many people do not know that there are many different types of meditation. According to Sayadaw U Pandita, “Vipassanā is insight meditation, the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence. It is believed to be the form of meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself, and although the specific form of the practice may vary, it is the basis of all traditions of Buddhist meditation.” These different types of meditation are not suitable for everyone. Vipassana is a type of meditation that can be a difficult practice, especially when done through a retreat. Psychologist Christopher D. Tori looks at changes in concept, ego defense mechanisms, and religiosity following seven day vipassana meditation retreats in his study. He states that “the sustained awareness of cognitive and sensory phenomena will lead to the realization that unnecessary suffering results when attempts are made to attach to anything within the impermanent flux of human experience.” This type of intense meditation is not what causes these negative emotions that one may experience through Vipassana. This can lead to misconceptions about mindfulness meditation because if someone read that without knowing anything about meditation, they may decide not to try it. However, it is important to understand that mindfulness meditation can be so helpful to one’s mental health. It is so much easier than people think, and can be done by anyone. 

References 

“A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Apr. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858. 

Cuncic, Arlin. “The Benefits of Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 10 Dec. 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-meditation-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder-4143127. 

Anxiety and Depression Medication List | Zen Anxiety Treatment. https://zenanxietytreatment.blogspot.com/2019/07/anxiety-and-depression-medication-list.html. 

Casabianca, Sandra Silva. “Meditation for Anxiety Symptoms: Does It Work?” Psych Central, Psych Central, 23 June 2021, https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/meditation-for-anxiety. 

“Anxiety Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders. 

Chow, Susan. “Meditation History.” News, 18 Mar. 2021, https://www.news-medical.net/health/Meditation-History.aspx. 

“Anxiety Medication: List, Types, and Side Effects.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323666. 

Ailani, Ritu. “7 Ways to Cease Mindless Scrolling on Social Media.” Askmen India, 19 Aug. 2020,

Changes in Self-Concept, Ego Defense Mechanisms … – JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1387552. Lu, Donna. “A Quarter of People Who Meditate Experience Negative Mental States.” New Scientist, New Scientist, 14 May 2019, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2202323-a-quarter-of-people-who-meditate-experience-negative-mental-states/.

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