Up to 40 million Americans suffer from various anxiety disorders. This high national prevalence makes anxiety disorders the most common type of mental illness. Recent events have sent the numbers to an all-time high these past few months.
There are several treatment protocols available for managing and reducing the symptoms of anxiety disorders. The practice of mindfulness meditation (MM) is one such therapy.
Mindfulness-based interventions or meditation involve clearing the mind and focusing all the attention on the present moment. Practicing mindfulness lets you immerse yourself fully in the present with no judgment of your own thoughts.
Benefits of Practising Mindfulness
Research supports the efficacy of mindfulness meditation as an anxiety and depression self-help treatment.
Several biological, psychological, and behavioral pathways or mechanisms of work have been suggested regarding how the practice reduces alleviates depression and anxiety disorders. Some of these pathways include the following
- MM helps to clarify the primary appraisal of stress factors
- The practice facilitates the secondary appraisal of a given stressor’s demands and the resources available to cope with the stressor.
- MM mitigates against copying styles such as catastrophizing and other cognitive distortions, which are dysfunctional.
- MM enhance and reinforces coping techniques such as positive reappraisal, which are adaptive
- The practice reduces the activation of psychophysiological and distress elements
Mindfulness involves mental concentration that triggers a relaxation response and mental calm. When your body is in relaxation mode, you will experience positive physiological conditions such as steady breathing, reduced heart rate, and controlled perspiration and blood pressure. This state is the complete opposite of what your body would be acting, with increased heartbeat and high blood pressure, if you were stressed.
Additionally, when you are relaxed, your body reduces its secretion of the main stress hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline. The change in hormone levels helps to reduce stress and keeps away the anxiety.
While research is limited, and the findings are not definite, what is certain is the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on mental and psychological well-being. Being in a good place mentally and psychologically will help to keep away the stress and anxiety, or at least manage the symptoms with which the anxiety disorders manifest.
Mindfulness practice does more than help with dealing with stress and anxiety. This meditation technique improves imagination and creativity. Doing the meditation without judging your thoughts allows for some positivity and optimism about yourself and situations.
The Downside to Mindfulness Meditation
Risk of False Memories
According to a study, there is a higher susceptibility to false memories after mindfulness meditation. The researchers concluded that this increased susceptibility comes from an impaired capacity to accurately monitor reality thanks to embracing judgment-free awareness.
Mindfulness meditation encourages the discarding of thought streams that you may consider unpleasant. You will find that much easier to avoid challenging situations and put off making decisions on difficult situations. Instead, you may find useful choosing to stay in that meditative state where you only allow yourself to focus on positive thoughts.
Adverse Effects in Extreme Cases
If you have PTSD, or are especially vulnerable mentally, you will need to be very careful when practising mindfulness meditation. Failure to do has been shown to lead to cases of depersonalization, delusions and hallucinations, psychosis, worsened anxiety, insomnia, and increased risk of seizures, as highlighted in a paper on potential adverse effects of mindfulness meditation.
There are evidence-based benefits to mindfulness meditation. There is also escaping the fact that there are drawbacks to this intervention. What is most important is ensuring that you are indeed suited for this therapy and that you are deliberate and mindful of both the upsides and downsides as you meditate.
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