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Meditation: Improve Your Mind, Mood, and Health

Meditation has transformed from a spiritual ritual to a growing daily practice. Meditation has probably been recommended to you at some point to help reduce your stress and anxiety in an attempt to “center yourself.”

Over 14% of adults have tried meditation at least once, making it nearly as popular as yoga and chiropractor work. 40% of Americans meditate weekly, and about 200-500 million people meditate worldwide.

But what is meditation, and does it actually work?

What is Meditation? 

Meditation is the practice of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts as a way to let go of stress and develop concentration. 

Stress is your body’s alarm system. Stress floods your body with hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can speed up your breathing, increase your heart rate and blood pressure, cause muscle tightness, and sharpen your senses.

Stress kicks us into action when you sense danger—real or imagined—known as “fight or flight” response. Stress can save your life when you need to respond quickly and can also help you rise to meet challenges. Stress keeps you focused on situations like giving a presentation, studying for an exam, or concentrating when playing a game.  

Chronic stress, however, can take a toll on your body when it goes on too long or is a regular occurrence. Increasing the risk of health problems like: 

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems 
  • Digestive problems 
  • Weight problems 
  • Reproductive issues 
  • Thinking and memory problems 

Meditation provides a mechanism for handling stress more healthily. Meditation helps you draw your attention inward and calm the mind.

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Types of Meditation 

Various forms of mediation include: 

  • Metta meditation: focuses on compassion and loving-kindness
  • Mindfulness meditation: focuses on letting go of negativity and calming your mind and body 
  • Insight meditation: focuses on self-awareness and self-actualization  
  • Transcendental meditation: silent form focusing on inner peace and wellness 
  • Movement meditation: focuses on posture and movement (qi gong, tai chi, yoga)  
  • Visualization meditation: focuses on adjusting your perception and attention  
  • Mantra meditation: focuses on sound vibrations and a repeated syllable, word, or phrase   

Benefits of Meditation  

Multiple studies have been conducted to investigate the benefits of meditation. The evidence shows that meditation can help: 

Reduce anxiety: a meta-analysis (a group of studies) looked at 2,466 participants and showed that meditation strategies helped to reduce anxiety symptoms. 

Fight Addictions: multiple studies looked at alcohol addiction, food addiction, and smoking addiction, and found meditation helped to control cravings, increase willpower, and control addictive behaviors.

Reduce Pain: a 2016 study showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction training had a greater improvement in functional limitation and back pain at 26 and 52 weeks. 

Reduce Blood Pressure: multiple studies have shown that meditation can decrease blood pressure and strain on your heart muscle. 

Improve Sleep: a study showed that those who meditate fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer than those who do not meditate. 

Reduce Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms: a study evaluating 75 women showed 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation reduced the severity of IBS symptoms; another study concluded that mindfulness training improved pain and quality of life.

Reduce Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms: a 2018 study revealed that a meditation program reduced PTSD symptoms by 73% and lead to improvements in issues such as self-blaming and numbing feeling. 

How to Start Meditating: 

The only requirement for meditation is YOU—you don’t need special equipment, space, time, membership. All you have to do is show up. 

First-step: consider what you want to get out of meditation and choose a method that focuses on your goals. Try out multiple types of meditation until you find something that works for you. 

Meditation is not always as easy as it sounds. Have you ever tried to meditate and find your mind just wanders instead? You’re not alone. Our minds wander, and we start thinking about the future, dwell on the past, worry, fantasize, or daydream. 

As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Meditation brings us back to the present moment in an accepting and non-judgmental practice. The goal is not to stop thinking or empty the mind, but to focus on your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions without assumptions.

Meditation is not a performance test; It is a self-care practice.   

There are many aids to meditation: mobile applications, videos, books, talks, teachers, groups. Find something that will help you and stick with it. 

Meditation can benefit your mind, body, mood, and emotions. Take a few minutes each day to care for yourself. 

References

  • Department of Health and Human Services. Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db325-h.pdf. Published 2018. Accessed 15 July 2020.
  • Pew Research Center. Meditation common across many U.S. religious groups. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/02/meditation-is-common-across-many-religious-groups-in-the-u-s/. Published 2018. Accessed 15 July 2020.
  • The Good Body. Top 22 Meditation Statistics Reveal Data and Trends for 2019. https://www.thegoodbody.com/meditation-statistics/. Published 2019. Accessed 15 July 2020.
  • Department of Health and Human Services. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml. Published 2020. Accessed 15 July 2020.
  • American Heart Association. Meditation to Boost Health and Well-Being. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/meditation-to-boost-health-and-wellbeing. Published 2020. Accessed 15 July 2020.
  • Chen KW, Berger CC, Manheimer E, et al. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety. 2012;29(7):545-562.
  • Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, et al. Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2016;315(12):1240-1249. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.2323
  • Boyd JE, Lanius RA, McKinnon MC. Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2018;43(1):7-25. doi:10.1503/jpn.170021
  • Zgierska A, Rabago D, Zuelsdorff M, Coe C, Miller M, Fleming M. Mindfulness meditation for alcohol relapse prevention: a feasibility pilot study. J Addict Med. 2008;2(3):165-173. doi:10.1097/ADM.0b013e31816f8546
  • Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat Behav. 2014;15(2):197-204. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
  • Tang YY, Tang R, Posner MI. Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110(34):13971-13975. doi:10.1073/pnas.1311887110
  • Ong JC, Manber R, Segal Z, Xia Y, Shapiro S, Wyatt JK. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia. Sleep. 2014;37(9):1553-1563. Published 2014 Sep 1. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
  • Levine GN, Lange RA, Bairey-Merz CN, et al. Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(10):e002218. Published 2017 Sep 28. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.002218
Published July 30th, 2020 by Dr. Miriam Opara, PharmD
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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