The American Psychological Association (APA) October 30, 2019:
"People have been meditating for thousands of years, often as part of a spiritual practice. But in more recent years, mindfulness has become a popular way to help people manage their stress and improve their overall well-being — and a wealth of research shows it’s effective."
Mindfulness and meditation have been hot topics lately and these two words have been used interchangeably. Mindfulness is the awareness of “some-thing,” while meditation is the awareness of “no-thing.”
Meditation is a mind-body practice in which we focus our attention on something, such as an object, word, phrase, music, movement or breathing, in order to minimize distracting or stressful thoughts or feelings. Meditation is practiced for a specific amount of time.
Mindfulness is an informal practice of moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience without judgment and is also a state of mind. Mindfulness can be applied to the moments of our daily life to be fully engaged in that moment.
Mindfulness is also a popular notion in the world of psychology. AnJenette Afridi, MA has been a member of the The American Psychological Association (APA) since 1996. The APA has described the state of mindfulness as one in which an individual is cognizant of what he or she is experiencing at any given moment, without passing judgment on that experience. Erik Dane, who researches for the Journal of Management, has illuminated the definition of mindfulness even further, asserting that it involves a focus on both internal and external stimuli that exist in the present.
The benefits of maintaining this present-moment focus have been the subject of extensive research, and the application of theories surrounding mindfulness has become ubiquitous in the health and wellness field. The popularity of mindfulness is not without reason, as it can exert a positive effect on mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions and Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-based interventions has received considerable attention for its potential role in stress reduction. A 2013 study in the Journal of Educational Psychology assessed the impact of a seven-week mindfulness intervention on teachers. When compared to individuals in a control group, teachers who participated in the mindfulness intervention experienced reductions in job-related stress and a decrease in feelings of burnout.
Additional research has supported the use of mindfulness interventions for stress reduction. Researchers for a 2017 publication of the journal Mindfulness found that a two-week Internet-based mindfulness intervention significantly reduced stress levels among students and staff members of a university. "In sum, this study showed that both Internet-based mindfulness training and Internet-based cognitive-behavioral training were efficacious in improving mental and physical health indicators among college students and young working adults in a convenient fashion."
The effects of mindfulness-based interventions are strong enough to alter the body's physiological responses to stress. In 2013, researchers for the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity conducted a study to compare the effects of two interventions: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and the Health Enhancement Program. They exposed study participants to a stress test and applied cream to their skin to induce inflammation. While study results indicated that participants in both interventions experienced an increase in the stress hormone cortisol after the stress test, those who had received the mindfulness-based intervention showed lower increases in inflammation after exposure to stress than those in the general health enhancement intervention did.
Associations between Meditation and Physical Health
The link between meditation and mental health benefits such as stress management is no surprise, but the research also indicates that it has an impact on physical wellbeing, which is perhaps more striking.
One area where meditation has proven useful for physical health is in the reduction of blood sugar levels. In 2017, researchers for the journal Obesity compared the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention to those of a general health education program on a group of overweight and obese women. They found that women who participated in the mindfulness intervention experienced significant decreases in stress levels compared to those in the health education group. They also benefited from substantial reductions in fasting blood sugar levels, whereas fasting blood sugar did not change among women participating in the health education program. Similarly, a 2018 study published in Mindfulness found that when individuals with type 2 diabetes completed a mindfulness-based intervention, their HbA1c levels, which measure average blood sugar over time, decreased significantly.
Meditation can also improve physical wellbeing by influencing eating behaviors. In a review of 19 studies, researchers for Obesity Reviews found that mindfulness based interventions were overwhelmingly successful in decreasing eating habits linked to obesity. More specifically, a 2017 study in the journal Appetite found that after participating in a mindfulness-based intervention, participants engaged in less emotional eating. Study results also indicated that increases in mindfulness following the intervention contributed to decreases in emotional eating.
Decreases in emotional eating following mindfulness interventions can undoubtedly impact physical health by making weight gain less likely, suggesting that meditation affects not only mental and emotional wellbeing but also physical wellness. Reductions in blood sugar levels with mindfulness interventions also support an association with improved physical wellbeing.
The Effect of Meditation and Meditation on Anxiety and Depression
Beyond providing a remedy for stress, meditation can be a useful treatment for mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Researchers for a 2010 edition of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology analyzed the results of 39 different studies and found that mindfulness-based treatments effectively ameliorated anxiety and mood disorders, and the effects of mindfulness treatments persisted over time.
A 2017 study in Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy also found a relationship between mindfulness and depression. According to study results, individuals suffering from depression were less likely to display mindfulness than individuals who had never experienced depression were. That suggests that having a sense of mindfulness, in general, could be protective against depression.
Mindfulness Interventions for Substance Abuse
Meditation can improve mental health and could also be efficacious among individuals with a history of substance abuse. In 2017, researchers for the journal Mindfulness assessed the impact of a mindfulness-based intervention on a group of individuals who were in recovery from stimulant abuse, and they found that compared to participants in a control group, those who received the meditation intervention experienced significant decreases in depression. Furthermore, participants who suffered from anxiety and depression were less likely to relapse to substance abuse when they received the mindfulness-based intervention.
A 2018 study in the same journal found additional benefits of mindfulness therapies among a group of ethnically diverse individuals suffering from substance abuse, with alcohol and cocaine being the most highly-abused substances among them. Individuals receiving the mindfulness-based intervention demonstrated less heart rate reactivity when exposed to a stressor than individuals engaged in usual treatment did. Individuals undergoing mindfulness-based therapy also experienced less anxiety and fewer drug cravings in response to stressors when compared to those receiving conventional treatment. Mindfulness-based therapies appear to equip individuals with the ability to cope with stress, which could conceivably make them less vulnerable to substance abuse.
Since meditation and mindfulness therapies also link to decreases in depression, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse, it would be reasonable to argue that meditation can facilitate whole body wellness. Individuals who want to cultivate a nonjudgmental awareness of the world, as well as their own emotions and experiences, can expect improvements in physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing following these interventions.
This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical issue or disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this article and will not be held responsible for the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to replace a personal relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your personal health care provider for specific medical advice.