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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness

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Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness

Many of us know that meditation can be beneficial, but did you know that it is actually one of the most convenient ways to make a drastic improvement to your mental health and physical wellness? Practicing mindful meditation is good for more than just peace of mind. It can actually change your life.

Mindful meditation has the potential to radically transform our everyday experiences.

A lot of people would like to make changes to their lives, both big and small. Sometimes, this seems like an impossible feat. With meditation, though, it is very possible.

Imagine making wiser decisions and feeling a deeper sense of peace and happiness. If this were possible, what would it mean for you, your health, your lifestyle, and your relationships?

In this guide you’ll discover a straight forward way to understand mindfulness and meditation, know what practicing these techniques can do for you, and find out who benefits most from adopting mindfulness and meditation practices.

Tap Into the Power of Your Mind to Change Your Life

If you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it. –Joseph Goldstein

Many times, the idea of mindfulness evokes mystery and thoughts of saffron robed Tibetan monks chanting ‘Om’ — ideas that western culture step lightly around.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to cleanse mindfulness of its Buddhist roots and use it as a tool to help manage stress in a University of Massachusetts Medical School Clinic [1]. Here, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an 8-week program teaching outpatients how to change their relationship with pain after medicine had done all it could, was born.

Because of the program’s success, hospitals around the world have integrated similar programs. Now sanctioned by the medical profession as a tool to ease suffering, we’re experiencing the trickle-down effect as mindfulness enters main stream.

Mindfulness’ Deeper Impact

While mindfulness is best known as a way to manage stress and pain, it has a deeper impact for anyone aiming to rediscover a lost sense of what it means to know one’s self in a fast-moving world.

Jack Kornfield, mindfulness and meditation teacher and author describes it like this:

“Mindfulness is not a philosophy or a religion. It’s not a destination. Rather, it’s a spirit with which you can travel through life.”

Why Is Mindfulness Such A Big Deal?

“Mindfulness is often spoken of as the heart of Buddhist meditation. It’s not about Buddhism, but about paying attention. That’s what all meditation is, no matter what tradition or particular technique is used.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

If mindfulness is about paying attention, what’s the big deal?

The original term ‘mindfulness’ comes from the Pali word ‘sati’, which means memory [2] but is more correctly described as ‘lucid awareness’. It’s an embodied state that doesn’t let day-to-day experiences or moments drift away unnoticed.

When ‘not noticing’ your mind takes on a life of its own, wandering through old memories, recalling old feelings and ruminating endlessly on ‘what I would have said to … if I had the chance again’. We think without thinking, kidding ourselves we’re focused on what we’re doing.

You may be familiar with this state. I certainly am.

While reading a book, I can find myself halfway through a chapter, having to start again because my eyes mechanically ‘read’ the text, while my mind drifted elsewhere. Or petting the cat absentmindedly while planning the next job only to get a solid nudge from a wet nose to pay more attention to her. Or writing this article between cooking, phone calls and checking in on an unwell relative. I laughed at the irony of writing an article on mindfulness while pushing mindlessly ahead with the multiple to-do lists I was juggling.

Overcome Challenges of Modern-Day Living With Mindfulness

The problem of modern-day living touches us all. With deadlines and time as premium resources, it’s easy to think we can do it all, until our body sends ‘slow down‘ signals. This is where mindfulness can really make an impact. If your body is telling you to slow down, then it may be wise to listen to it.

6 Steps to Train Your Brain

Modern-day living has trained our bodies and minds to be separate entities. It has trained us to ignore body-felt sensations and mindlessly dwell somewhere between the past and future, dismissive of the present moment. It’s as if ‘now’ is something to rush through while getting somewhere else. Mindfulness practice aims to help us pay attention, to reunite body and mind through noticing senses, feeling and experiencing moments more fully. It’s about switching off auto-pilot and sitting upright in the driver’s seat again. It’s about quieting the endless chatter that occupies our minds every moment of every day.

With a simple sequence, the mindfulness process flows like this:

  1. When paying attention be consciously aware of what’s happening around you.
  2. Using all your senses, not just your preferred sense (usually sight or hearing), note what each sense is perceiving.
  3. Be enchanted about the experience, not distracted or dismissive.
  4. Refrain from judging the experience as positive, negative or neutral; instead raise your awareness and conscious presence to any feelings arising in the body.
  5. Notice whether you’re wanting to avoid any emotion arising because it hurts, or clinging to the outcome as if there’s a dearth of resources to go round.
  6. Consider your response with wisdom, accepting ‘what is’ with a sense of gratitude.

Holding Back the Endless Torrent of ‘White Noise’ in Your Mind

Most mindfulness practices begin with paying attention to your breathing, without aiming to change it, instead simply noticing it. It’s a gentle beginning, yet challenging to maintain. Noticing your breath as it moves in, through your body and out again is the beginning of sensory awareness. As you begin, you may notice very little from a sensory level; you may even feel nothing. Alternatively, you may experience emotions you’ve not allowed yourself to feel previously.

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Noticing what you’re noticing is the first step.

You may also notice how easily your mind gets distracted by an endless torrent of white noise. Again, it’s about noticing what you’re noticing without judgement. Simply notice the thoughts and let them go.

If thoughts return, notice that you’re noticing them, and let them go again. Be gentle with yourself. Being curious about what you’re noticing while returning to your breath is a strong beginning.

You can be mindful where you are right now. Noticing. Paying attention. Being aware of your body’s senses – tight shoulders, pressure of your sitting bones on a chair, clothing touching skin, any scents or smells, the quality of the light, soft sounds barely audible. This is an informal way of being mindful as you go about your day.

Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is a formal way of setting aside a specific time to focus. It’s about setting an intention and a focus for a set period of time.

Meditation offers the space to move away from the automaticity of thoughts that are often negative and self-defeating. It’s a space to release the process of worry, doubt, fear and anger.

Meditation offers tools to relax those automatic thoughts. It helps break the illusion of ‘self’ – our ego and sense of identity to which we cling, unaware of a higher level of consciousness available to us if we let go, release attachment and allow a sense of possibility enter.

The meditation practice may involve music, prayerful thought or loving kindness to build greater empathy. You may find a guided meditation useful to support you as your mind strengthens its ability to focus without distracting thoughts entering.

What’s The Evidence Mindfulness Works?

Mindfulness and meditation are forms of mental training that involve exercising the mind to hold a space, a thought or an idea spatially. When practiced regularly over time, researchers see significant changes to different parts of a person’s brain structure via brain scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI scans).

For example, a mindfulness-based training program aimed at reducing stress will include training to assist focus, organization and planning (thickening areas associated with tasks governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex). Training to help with emotional regulation (strengthening the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system) and memory (thickening the hippocampus) also assist.

Regular mindfulness-based exercise can be as beneficial as stretching physical muscles for greater flexibility, lifting weights to tone arms, and walking briskly to improve heart health.

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The main difference is that you can’t see the benefits of mindfulness (unless you have a pre- and post-mindfulness training fMRI scan), but you can experience the difference.

Who Benefits Most From Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation?

While mindful meditation can enhance most people’s lives, three broad-based groups may gain specific benefits.

1. You’re Experiencing Major Stress and Physical Pain

If you’re looking to change your life because of health problems, then mindfulness and meditation may assist. [3]

Many health-related problems originally stem from stress and anxiety.

Initially showing up as unexplained aches and pain, persistent headaches, muscle tension, decreased interest in sex, stomach upsets, debilitating tiredness or insomnia, many struggle to believe that ‘simple stress ’ can be the culprit. [4]

If stress is left to fester, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes can result.

Chronic stress places your amygdala (the part of your limbic system designed to react to danger) on red alert. Your body is literally fighting a crisis: chronic stress, amplifying physical symptoms until the stress is relieved.

The key here is in changing your relationship with what’s causing the problem. Instead of rejecting the problem or denying its existence, mindfulness and meditation offer ways to ease or minimise the sensations associated with pain and stress.

2. You Crave Greater Personal Freedom, Happiness and Fulfillment

Mindfulness and meditation help us understand what contributes to suffering and contentment. When we see this, we can make wiser choices. And as we make wiser choices we become happier. And as we become happier, we make wiser choices, and so it becomes a spiral achieving greater fulfillment and ease. –Joseph Goldstein

Observing the character of your mind at work helps begin a mindful transformation to live with greater wisdom through making better decisions, which in turn brings greater happiness.

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Each of us have skillful and unskillful thoughts. Meditation helps us see, without the need for someone telling us, the thoughts that are wise and helpful and the thoughts that are not.

Noticing feelings of greed, anger or jealousy – the afflict-ive emotions, helps us see how much better we’d be if we let go of them. If we can recognize mindfully the thought patterns and emotions that allow us to feel happier, like generosity, kindness and compassion, we will experience for ourselves the nature of what we want more of.

Practicing meditation aims to help you create a transformation in your life. Instead of being ‘lost’ in thought and acting-out old patterns of behavior, by observing what’s happening in your mind you can make a conscious choice to skillfully think and wisely act.

3. You Need to Release Anxiety and Unhelpful Emotions

Interrupting thought patterns which induce a range of uncomfortable feelings is a skill mindfulness meditation teaches. Rather than numbing the feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, sex or a range of avoidance strategies, you’ll learn how to change your relationship with emotional pain.

Knowing how to be mindfully aware lets you experience emotions as transitory. Anger fades. Sadness lifts. Love ebbs and flows.

These shifts naturally occur. Knowing this transitory nature exists helps release attachment to a way of being that may seem as if it defines you.

Mindfulness Meditation for True Happiness

Mindfulness and meditation practice are thousands of years old. Originally part of Buddhist culture, these practices are settling well into western culture through programs that have gained positive results from respected practitioners and professionals.

Research will continue measuring results. Brain scans offer physical proof. Yet the only proof that matters is in changes experienced by individuals.

Experiencing a greater sense of peace, feeling happier and freer, being more relaxed or managing pain are positive affects of practicing mindfulness.

The benefits of being mindful and practicing meditation offer ways to become more aware of yourself, others and the natural environment.

It’s a global change on a personal level achieved through the demystifying of a complex language now made readily available. When you manage your emotions and responses, this grass root change reaches beyond personal benefit. You will be affecting others to live and love with purpose and intention.

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Start today practicing mindfulness, and make your world (and the world of others) a happier, more peaceful place

Featured photo credit: Patrick Fore via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Umass Medical School: Jon Kabat-Zinn
[2] Taylor and Francis: What Does Mindfulness Really Mean?
[3] Good Therapy: Mindfulness Based Interventions
[4] Mayo Clinic: Stress Symptoms–Effects on Body and Behavior

More by this author

Barbara Grace

Barbara Grace is the Director of the School of Modern Psychology. She believes in living a purposeful life.

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Published on August 23, 2021

Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

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Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

If you suffer from depression or suddenly experience bouts of sadness that seem to come out of nowhere, you probably wonder why this is happening. The truth is that there are several possibilities, and you aren’t alone. According to the World Health Organization, in January of 2020, more than 264 million people were diagnosed with depression and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.[1] In this article, I will answer the question: why am I depressed if my life is fine?” I will discuss what depression is and what the possible causes of depression are. Additionally, I will offer some solutions to consider as you navigate the depression you are experiencing.

The question of why you are depressed if your life is fine is one that I can personally identify with, as I can remember a time when I went through an intense depression even though, in many ways, my life couldn’t have been much better. I was financially secure, had a good family, lived in a beautiful place, had a pretty adventurous and exciting life, but none of that could have prevented a serious and prolonged battle with depression.

Given that you are here reading this article now, you will hopefully be able to identify the problem early and get the support you need to fend off any significant depressive episodes, as this can make a huge difference in your battle with depression.

Furthermore, you don’t have to live with depression! Despite the debilitating effects of depression, with the right treatment and support, it is also one of the more “curable” mental health disorders and you can overcome it.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, and in the worst cases, despair and suicidality.

Depression from a clinical perspective is classified into a few distinctive categories, two of the more common categories are; major depression and dysthymia. According to the DSM 5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—which governs the diagnosis of psychiatric and mental health disorders—major depression is classified as experiencing five or more symptoms in the same two-week period and must include a loss in pleasure as well as a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.[2]

The criteria are:

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  • Loss of pleasure or joy
  • Intense feelings of sadness and depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
  • Difficulty sleeping or disturbed sleep
  • Change in appetite (increased or decreased appetite) and a 5% change in body weight
  • Difficulty focusing, poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation or slowing down
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Persistent thoughts of death, dying, and suicide

Dysthymia is an ongoing or persistent depressed mood for a period of two years where you feel sadness more days than not. It will include at least two of the following symptoms when depressed:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (having more sleep than usual)
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling of hopelessness

The above symptoms of dysthymia can coincide with the symptoms of major depression.

Causes of Depression

Depression happens for several reasons that I categorize into three: biology, environment, and situation. Depression also tends to occur in more sensitive people, tend to overthink, and get stuck in their thoughts, which—more times than not—are negative.

Biological causes of depression are related to how your body produces neurotransmitters that impact your moods, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Some people might have a biological predisposition for depression and never experience any significant symptoms but when confronted with a challenging life situation, such as a loss or disappointment, it can send them into a tailspin of despondency and intense feelings of low and sad mood.

Depression caused by one’s environment is more about those you might have grown up with, your family, and your home environment, which could also be connected to heredity. Regardless of your biological predisposition, you learn how to handle challenges in life by observing those around you.

Adults, in particular, are role models for children and will likely deal with life in similar ways as to what they observed. For example, a child who grows up witnessing partner abuse between their parents is at increased risk of either being a victim or perpetrator of violence in an intimate relationship as an adult.[3]

Situational depression, as I mentioned above, can be seen as more of a cause-and-effect relationship. When you are confronted with a particular life challenge or change, such as job loss, geographic relocation, or family and financial stress, these situations can cause you to fall into a temporary or prolonged depression.

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In some cases, depression can be a combination of all of the above.

Examples of Causes of Depression

Below are some examples of situations that might lead you to experience a prolonged period of depression.

Grief

The loss of a loved one, especially when sudden and traumatic, can bring about intense feelings of loss and sadness, which can lead to clinical depression. This includes the death of pets.

Medical Issue or Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a medical issue, especially if chronic and progressive, is much like any other loss you might experience. It represents the loss of a life you had. Very often, there will need to be changes made in one’s life that will not allow for a lifestyle previously enjoyed.

A Feeling of Failure or Perceived Shortcomings

As I mentioned, people who experience depression tend to be sensitive and self-critical. You might be struggling with not getting a job promotion or failing to progress in the way you imagined for yourself, but this doesn’t mean that you are not progressing in some other way.

Sudden Life Change

Changes—even good changes and welcomed changes—are hard. Sometimes, these changes can have an impact on your role and status in society like marriage or parenthood, which are both wonderful changes yet fraught with many challenges and new social roles.

Feeling Trapped or With Limited Options

Having options is both a blessing and a curse. We know that the more options we have, the less happy we are and the more anxious we might tend to feel, wanting and needing to make the right decision. However, on the flip side, the idea that you don’t have any options can also lead to feeling trapped and feeling that your life circumstances are already written in stone.

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Burnout

Job stress, being overworked and underpaid, or the lack of fulfillment in your profession can lead to depression, which might also coincide with the feeling of being trapped and feeling as though you don’t have many options in your life and career.

What Can You Do If You Experience Depression?

It may sometimes feel as though, out of nowhere, that you are hit with depression, and this is true for many people who have a biologically based depression. However, I would argue that whenever there is something like depression or anxiety—which are defense mechanisms—there is something in your life that is not 100% congruent with who you are and where your life is at or going.

This essentially means that it’s time to take a step back and reassess a few things in life. It doesn’t mean that you will be able to wright the ship entirely. However, you might be able to make some small changes that will help you feel more in control of your life and the direction that you are going in.

1. Consider Therapy

Therapy will help you take stock and think about what is happening in your life and where you might be able to make some changes. Needless to say, you will also have the support you need to embark on making those changes. It could also be a chance to identify what it is in your life that is causing the depression. A therapist can also help you connect to other supports that might help you as you work through this period in your life.

2. Group Support Network

Processing hurt and pain through the group experience is a powerful method of connecting with yourself and others who might be experiencing similar challenges. Part of the value of group experience is knowing that you are not alone and that you have support not just from professionals but also from other people just like you.

3. Self Assessment

Self-assessment involves assessing where you are in your life in relation to your life goals, your relationships, and the direction that you are headed. Maybe it is time to make a pivot and change course, which could be a very scary thing. Bringing this kind of information to therapy will be very valuable and will assist you in the therapeutic process.

4. Take Some Time Off

Taking some time off will be and can be helpful in many ways. If you are experiencing burnout, this will give you more time for self-care and help you give yourself a break. Moreover, taking a time off gives you more time to do some of the things I described above in therapy, group work, and self-assessment.

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5. Are You Bored?

Sometimes, when we lack stimulation or work in a job for which we are overqualified, we might find ourselves feeling underutilized and as if we are not meeting our potential. This would, hopefully, come out in a self-assessment and could indicate the need to make a change in your work life.

Depression and Suicide

Depression is a serious mental health disorder. Thirty to seventy percent of deaths by suicide are attributed to major depression or bipolar disorder.[4] If you or someone you love is experiencing depression and expresses thoughts or statements about death and suicide, consult with your medical professional or mental health counselor. People who receive treatment for depression have an 80 to 90% rate of success from therapy and/or medication.

Suffice to say, if you get the treatment you need for depression, your chances of recovering skyrocket. Again, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to live with depression. Get the right treatment,[5] and you can have a whole new lease on life.

Final Thoughts

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness for a long period of time. Many people throughout their lives will experience some depression in varying degrees. If you notice that what you are experiencing resembles any of what I have described above, please know that you can make changes and you can live a life free of depression. Getting help, support, and treatment is essential to addressing the depression or changes in your life that might need to be considered.

More Tips on Coping With Depression

Featured photo credit: Paola Chaaya via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The World Health Organization: Depression
[2] NCBI: The DSM-5: Classification and Criteria Changes
[3] OASH: Office on women’s Health: Effects of domestic violence on children
[4] Mental Health America: Suicide
[5] Upside Down Flan: The Best Treatment for Depression

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