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3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know

3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know

Mindfulness meditation (the practice of sitting still, focusing on your breath, noticing when your attention is drifting and bringing it back to your breath) is all the great rage at the moment—and for good reason too. There are some pretty amazing benefits of meditation that science agrees can work to everyone’s benefit. An Oxford University study, for instance, has found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) courses can reduce relapses into depression by 44%. In other words, mindfulness meditation is as effective as taking antidepressants, say the researchers.

However, like most things in life, there are potential dangers associated with meditation you may not know about. Without attempting to be alarming, psychiatrists are now increasingly sounding a warning that mindfulness meditation can have troubling side-effects that are intimately connected with the benefits. Keep in mind that the following concerns about meditation and its hidden dangers come not from critics of mindfulness but from supporters.

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1. It can bring feelings of ennui, emptiness and even fear.

Dr Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London, has conducted a number of investigations into adverse reactions to MBCT and uncovered some troubling news. She has reported rare cases of “depersonalization” where some meditators feel like they are watching themselves in a film. For some people this “depersonalization” can whip up some difficult emotions that can include feelings of ennui and emptiness, disconnection and even fear, says Ruths.

This potential side-effect or danger of meditation is important to know beforehand because if you’re diagnosed with a mental illness like depression and anxiety in many western countries, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is something you’re likely to be offered as a treatment.

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2. It can bring changes in your sense of self, and cause impairment in social relationships.

This particular concern about meditation follows the “dark night” project at Brown University in the US, which has catalogued how some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories. Professor Willoughby Britton, lead researcher and psychiatrist in the project, has recorded surprising problems among some of the Buddhist meditators that include: “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations,” impairment in social relationships and changes in their sense of self.

One Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, has described the “dark night” phenomenon as an “irreversible insight into emptiness” and “enlightenment’s evil twin.” Another man who felt he’d been harmed by meditation described going through “psychological hell” as a result of his practice, while yet another man worried he was “permanently ruined.”

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Mindfulness experts, however, say such extreme adverse reactions are rare and only likely to occur after prolonged periods of meditation, such as weeks on a silent retreat. Nonetheless, this information opens up a new angle to think about meditation amid the avalanche of hype.

3. It can be disempowering and keep you passive, contained and compliant.

In the mainstream arena, mindfulness meditation is merely a tool or way for calming and focusing oneself. But, mindfulness meditation in its original Buddhist tradition is more about gaining insight into the human condition, reducing stress and suffering in our own hearts and minds, and also in the world of which we are a part. It certainly has calming benefits in situations where we cannot do much to change things and it’s necessary to calm down and de-stress. However, there are times when we should be angry, distressed and determined to change things.

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The single-minded enthusiasm in which meditation is now being deployed in schools, hospitals and even offices of companies like Google to paper over the cracks in situations where oppression, inequality, discrimination and other difficulties face us is concerning. This kind of deployment is tantamount to using repressive psychopharmacology to restrain people, or an injunction to ‘stop thinking about it,’ which is quite disempowering. It is an effective way to keep you isolated, passive and compliant.

The way to address these and other hidden dangers of meditation is to view it as part of a repertoire of techniques for living. Many times meditation is helpful, but it can also have troubling side effects. As Britton cautions, meditation is not all calm and peace. It opens up a space for you to see what’s going on in your mind. Psychological material (old resentments, wounds, trauma etc.) can surface that require additional support or even therapy.

Featured photo credit: Luis Alvarez/Vetta via gettyimages.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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