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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

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15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

What could be better than reaching your big goals? Well, it turns out that meditation—something you could be doing daily, at no cost and with little effort—offers benefits that success can’t bring. Meditation benefits can seep into every area of your life and improve your overall wellbeing in the long-term.

Meditation as Mindfulness

The studies on meditation generally focus on a broad type of meditation that could be called mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means keeping one’s thoughts focused on awareness of a single thing or moment. It could be your breath (a typical point of focus in meditation), or it could be a single image, word, or emotion.

It sounds simple, but when you try it, you realize how much your mind wants to jump around. That’s okay: “When a ‘stray’ thought arises, the practitioner must be quick to recognize it, and then turn back to the focus of their attention,” says George Dvorsky, writing about meditation[1]. “And it doesn’t just have to be the breath; any single thought, like a mantra, will do.”

Here are 15 ways meditation benefits can improve your life, whether or not you ever reach those big goals.

1. Handle Stress Better

According to one source, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.”[2]

Much of our stress comes from too much input and a lack of time or tools in handling the input. We take in information and build emotions, and we get overloaded. Our brains don’t know what to handle first, so they just keep cycling through all the information.

Meditation helps your brain to let things slide away by simply giving it time to rest and meander through the information, bit by bit, letting go of what is unimportant.

2. Improve How Your Brain Functions

A 2012 study showed a brain process called gyrification happening more in people who meditate[3].

Gyrification is “the ‘folding’ of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth, which in turn may allow the brain to process information faster. Though the research did not prove this directly, scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories, and improving attention.”

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If that’s not enough, there is also evidence from MRI scans that meditation can reinforce connections between brain cells. One study showed that meditation “may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data further suggest that meditation may impact age related declines in cortical structure.”[4]

In other words, meditation may not only make your brain work better, but it might also slow down the aging process within the brain.

3. Get in Touch With Yourself

The busyness of modern life, along with the perpetual onslaught of media that tells us how we ought to look, feel, and behave, can leave us feeling detached from ourselves. It can be difficult to connect with our own values and emotions. We see standards put into place, and we want to meet those standards, so we pretend to be a certain way even when, perhaps, we are not.

Meditation benefits can help us with that. According to researcher Erika Carlson,[5]

“Mindfulness helps us to see our authentic selves in two ways: nonjudgmental observation, and attention. Nonjudgmental observation enables people to really get to know themselves without feeling any negative feelings.”

4. Improve Your Grades

Whether you’re a part-time student, a full-time student, or someone who just likes to take tests for fun, meditation can help you learn and retain what you learn.

One study[6] showed that mindfulness training resulted in “improved accuracy on the GRE and higher working memory capacity.” The researchers concluded that “the improvement could be explained, at least in part, by reduced mind wandering during the task.”

The researchers estimated that mindfulness training resulted in the equivalent of a 16 percentile-point boost on the GRE, on average.

5. Increase Productivity in High-Performance Situations

A study done in 2012 set participants up in a real-world multitasking situation. They had to do several activities that required various forms of input in a typical office setting, and they had to complete them all within 20 minutes.

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Some of the participants received mindfulness training, and some didn’t. Then, they tested them all again. “The only participants to show improvement,” reported the researchers, “were those who had received the mindfulness training.”[7]

Another study showed that “daily meditation-like thought could shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what cognitive scientists call positive, approach-oriented emotional states — states that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.”

Handling high-stress, high-performance situations like a pro could certainly be a handy skill to have, and it’s one that meditation benefits can help you cultivate. If you need more motivation to increase productivity, check out Lifehack’s free guide: Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

6. Appreciate Music More

Do you love but find yourself drifting off and missing out in the middle of a concert or show? Meditation can help you to stay tuned in and aware, one study showed[8].

The majority of the people in the “mindfulness groups” in the study said that the mindfulness task had “modified their listening experience by increasing their ability to focus on the music without distraction.”

7. Positive Effects Even When Not Meditating

Researchers have found that the way meditation helps your brain to work better is consistent, staying with you not just when you’re sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed, but all the time. According to the research, “the effects of meditation training on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states.”[9]

The researchers point out that this may mean that the benefits of meditation are not specific to a task or certain stimulus (such as that cushion or a mantra) but are process-specific, meaning that they “may result in enduring changes in mental function.”

8. Reduce Isolation and Feel Connected

It’s strange that in the age of constant connectivity, isolation and loneliness can feel even more poignant. But it happens, and when that sense of isolation descends, it can be overwhelming.

However, meditation was shown to reduce feelings of loneliness in a study on older adults[10], and those who have been practicing transcendental meditation, even for a very short time, say that the practice of meditation provides a feeling of being connected and whole, a “fundamental level of unity”[11].

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9. Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Meditation can help you feel connected and handle stress, but what about an ongoing anxiety disorder? What about overwhelming negative feelings or that debilitating sense of depression?

Well, a study done on high school students showed that a mindfulness and meditation benefits could help a lot with both: students who stuck with a mindfulness program “exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program”[12].

10. Fight Disease and Stay Healthier

Meditation benefits can be useful for both the brain and body. Being able to handle stress better can reduce its impact on your body, which can decrease symptoms and physical aggravation of various health issues, including chronic pain.

A researcher at one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals[13] notes that “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.” Health benefits abound when you devote yourself to meditation.

11. Sleep Better

Let’s do a quick review: meditation can help you cope with stress better, help you know (and like) yourself more, and help you lessen anxiety and depression.

With those meditation benefits alone, it seems pretty likely that you’d be able to get a better night’s sleep. After all, if you can stop your brain from racing and your emotions from raging, you’ll be much more likely to drift off into sweet dreams. Research concurs[14]:

“Meditation practices influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions and thus mediate global regulatory changes in various behavioral states including sleep.”

Guided meditations, especially, can help lull you into sleep, so give it a try today.

12. Help With Weight Loss

When a group of psychologists were asked to recommend a few strategies for reaching weight-loss goals, 7 out of 10 said meditation, or mindfulness training, would be beneficial[15].

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The popular meditation app, Headspace, notes that meditation can help you focus on mindful eating, which encourages you to eat when you’re hungry, not when you are stressed or upset[16]. When you develop this skill, it can help you lose weight the natural way, which is one of the most useful meditation benefits for many.

13. Make You a Better Friend

It makes sense that being able to know and accept yourself better might help you to know and accept others, as well. Other studies have also shown that meditation increases the “mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion”[17].

In other words, people who meditate tend to respond with more positive emotions rather than negative ones. They have a stronger sense of empathy and compassion for others, making them an overall better friend to others.

14. Increase Your Attention Span

Studies show that mindfulness training helps the brain to connect better. What that means for you is that your brain, after meditating, finds it easier to access and process information. Along with that, mindfulness trains your brain to release the information that’s not important, and quickly[18].

Therefore, meditation benefits help you get better at collecting information, processing it quickly, and discarding the stuff you don’t need. Doing that well is what allows you to keep your attention focused on the information and tasks in front of you.

15. Generate More Ideas

If you wish you could access the creative, idea-making part of your brain more easily, it’s time to quit stalling and start meditating. The “catch-and-release” nature of mindfulness, that ability to let a thought in and let it go, turns out to be very helpful for what one study calls “divergent thinking”[19].

The meditative practice helps your brain to be less judgmental and more accepting, while exercising less “top-down control and local competition.” Your brain opens up to new ideas and inputs, which, say the researchers, “facilitates jumping from one thought to another – as required in divergent thinking.”

The Bottom Line

Meditation benefits are wide-ranging and can have a positive impact on many areas of your life. Whether you’re looking to increase your focus, develop more compassion, or get healthier, meditation can help with it all, especially if you become a long-term meditator. To get started with meditation, find a local or online meditation program, check out this simple 5-minute guide.

More on Meditation Benefits

Featured photo credit: Darius Bashar via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Gizmodo: The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better
[2] Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
[3] Science Daily: Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain
[4] Neuroreport.: Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness
[5] HuffPost: Mindfulness Helps Us Understand Our True Personalities, Study Says
[6] APS: Brief Mindfulness Training May Boost Test Scores, Working Memory
[7] The New York Times: The Power of Concentration
[8] Psychology of Music: Mindfulness, attention, and flow during music listening: An empirical investigation
[9] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state
[10] Brain, Behavior, and Immunity: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial
[11] Medical News Today: Does meditation have benefits for mind and body?
[12] HuffPost: Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study
[13] Bloomberg: Harvard Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Meditation Benefit
[14] Frontiers in Neurology: Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep
[15] Consumer Reports: Lose weight your way
[16] Headspace: Meditation for weight loss
[17] PLOS One: Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise
[18] The New York Times: Study Suggests Meditation Can Help Train Attention
[19] Frontiers in Psychology: Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking

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Last Updated on September 23, 2021

Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, doestn’ it?

To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

  • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
  • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

“Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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  • Putting work before their health and well-being.
  • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity.
  • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job.
  • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

1. Process Your Emotions

“So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

“Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

3. Question Your Beliefs

Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

4. Make New Beliefs

Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

5. Be Clear on What You Want

Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

6. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

7. Have a Solid Support System

Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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9. Develop an Action Plan

Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

10. Talk to Someone in HR

Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

12. Complete One Thing at a Time

We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

17. Reframe Your Perspective

We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

What Organizations Can Do About It

As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

Final Thoughts

Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

Reference

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