Meditation involves a combination of mental and physical exercises to relax and clear the mind, or improve concentration. Meditation has been practiced in some form, for many purposes, by different cultures for thousands of years.
Meditation is now a topic of interest for health providers and anyone interested in improving their wellbeing. But does it work? Let’s look at what the research suggests.
- Meditation may improve sleep.
No one can argue that good sleep is important for both physical and mental health. For those who struggle to get the right amount of sleep, meditation may be beneficial. The right technique can help reduce stress and improve relaxation to better prepare both the mind and body for sleep.
However, meditation is most beneficial for individuals who struggle to fall or stay asleep due to anxiety or ongoing stress. If you struggle to sleep because of caffeine or drug consumption, or disruption to the hormones involved in sleep, meditation may not have the same benefit.
- Evidence suggests meditation may help improve attention.
Some meditation techniques involve deliberate focus on a particular object, image, or phrase. Practicing these types of meditation may help improve attention.
One study published in 2010 assigned participants to attend a mountain retreat in Colorado for 3 months and receive meditation instruction. Researchers then tested the participants on their visual attention. The findings suggested improvements that indicated increased attention.
However, other research has produced less certain findings about meditation’s effect on attention. A 2015 study published in PLOS ONE found that intensive mindfulness practice may somewhat reduce habituation, which occurs when we pay less attention to new stimuli in our environment. The same study, however, found that moderate mindfulness practice might increase habituation.
- Meditation can improve pain management.
Millions of Americans struggle to manage chronic pain while performing day-to-day activities, which can take a serious toll on mental health by contributing to depression and anxiety symptoms. Besides medication and physical therapy, meditation is a potential tool for managing or even reducing pain. It also may be helpful for less chronic conditions, such as recovery from surgery or injury.
Research led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., found that patients who used mindfulness for pain management showed less activation in the pain-messaging parts of their brains. Some study participants—though not all—were able to reduce or even eliminate the use pain medications with daily mindfulness practice.
Keep in mind that meditation may not work for everyone. For example, sometimes meditation makes it more tempting to focus on past traumatic events. It should also not be a replacement for other important habits, such as physical exercise or healthy eating. Behavioral health clients also should not use meditation to replace other types of therapies, such as individual counseling or medication, without discussing it with their providers.
Meditation can be an effective strategy for many people with certain mental health-related concerns. Individuals could consider meditation to help cope with particular challenges they may face. Therapists should examine the evidence for meditation to make the best recommendations to clients.
Whatever therapeutic and lifestyle techniques you and your behavioral health clients use, it is crucial to track their progress to improve outcomes and grow your practice’s value. OutcomeTools from BestNotes can help you track outcomes with standard and customized questionnaires. To learn more about how our solutions can help you and your clients, schedule a demo today!