In a previous blog post, we looked at some of the positive effects that meditation can have on mental health. These mental and physical exercises can help improve sleep, manage pain, and strengthen attention.
However, there is evidence of even more benefits to meditation, depending on the technique you use. Here is what the science suggests.
- Meditation may be a helpful tool in substance abuse treatment.
Substance abuse and other types of addiction can have devastating effects on individuals and their loved ones. Growing research suggests that meditation techniques may help manage some of the dysregulation that can feed addictions.
A review of existing research found that mindfulness practices may help improve self-awareness and self-regulation to manage substance seeking. This may help reduce relapse, or prevent spiraling in the event of a relapse, which are ongoing challenges in addiction treatment. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of rigorous research on how specific meditation techniques can reduce substance misuse, and how long they remain effective.
- Your immune system could improve with meditation.
Recent research suggests that meditation practices could actually improve the body’s immune system. In a study published in PNAS, researchers analyzed the blood and gene expression of participants in an eight-day “Inner Engineering” retreat program. Participants showed down-regulated response to oxidative stress, detoxification, and cell cycle regulation pathways after meditation. In addition, 220 genes directly associated with immune response were up-regulated.
This “suggests that meditation as a behavioral intervention can voluntarily and nonpharmacologically improve the immune response for treating various conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation with a dampened immune system profile,” the researchers wrote. This is especially significant because disease—especially chronic conditions—can often lead to or worsen symptoms of mental illness.
- Meditation can improve resilience during difficult times.
Practicing meditation—and mindfulness in particular—could help someone deal with adversity and stressful situations. This may reduce the long-term effects that difficult and even traumatic situations can have on mental health.
In one 2015 study from India, researchers surveyed 327 undergraduates measuring their mindfulness, mental resilience, and other psychological factors. Results suggested that respondents with greater mindfulness also reported higher resilience and life satisfaction.
A more recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that mindfulness, when practiced over time, can help build resilience during challenging periods. The study included individuals who engaged in physical activity or practiced mindfulness during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to those who practiced physical activity, those who practiced mindfulness started out with a lower resilience score, but this score improved and eventually equaled that of the physical activity group. Mindfulness combined with physical activity may be a powerful tool for building resilience and protecting against depression.
If you want to suggest meditation to a behavioral health client to help them manage symptoms or improve wellness, remember that there are a wide variety of meditation practices. Clients may need to try a couple different techniques, or practice one kind for a few weeks, before seeing results. Keep an eye out for a future post highlighting some specific types of meditation and how best to apply them.
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