Most people think dealing with mental health issues has only two options: medication and talk therapy. What people often don’t realize though is that there are now stacks of literature proving that meditation can help with mental health. Everything from depression to anxiety, bipolar to BPD, addiction to OCD and more.
In this article, I will share some of the literature and studies on how meditation can help with mental health for things like depression, anxiety, BPD, ADD/ADHD, and even schizophrenia. Secondly, I’ll talk about personal stories from my life and others’. And thirdly, I’ll give practical tips on how to use meditation to address mental health.
I do want to mention that I am not a doctor. Furthermore, I am not advising anyone to stop taking medication or to quit their therapy treatment.
However, what I do hope is that I can inspire people struggling with mental health to give meditation a try. I hope one day they can become completely cured of their mental struggles. And hopefully, medical treatment will no longer be needed, as I have experienced firsthand.
I share this information because I don’t want to see one more person suffer or commit suicide. Everyone deserves to know about meditation. And we can all benefit from this incredibly transformative practice.
We are all miraculous manifestations of the infinite universe. When we forget that truth, suffering takes place.
Why Meditation Can Help with Mental Health
Mental health issues stem from a misconception that we are our mind. We identify with our thoughts and when thoughts are negative, our mental health suffers.
When we watch a dramatic movie, we recognize the drama is not happening to us and so we don’t suffer. But life is a movie. It is a very realistic movie and because we can’t turn around and see the projector and projectionist, we believe it is real.
But in reality, life is a story created by our mind. When we meditate, we take a moment to look at our mind, to look at the projector. We peek behind the curtain and notice the light of awareness shining onto whatever we are looking at. The mind is like the movie projector, but our conscious awareness is the lightbulb in the projector that shines through the film making the whole illusion of the movie possible.
Meditation helps us expand our awareness beyond just the thoughts in our mind. Mindfulness isn’t about an empty mind. It is about filling our mind with deeper truths and reality, such as becoming aware of our breath, our conscious awareness, our bodily sensations, and our surroundings.
Meditation helps us get out of our head and into the now. It’s how we become more aware. The more we see and the more we identify with our light of consciousness and less with our thoughts, the less power our thoughts have over us. The more we meditate, the more our thoughts just become quiet, subtle, faint background noise.
Meditation is About Becoming Our Own Mental Health Therapist
Nobody chooses to struggle with mental health. It happens completely unconsciously. Unconscious mental patterns, mindsets, habits, snap judgements and reactions create neural pathways in our brain. These pathways become automatic thoughts and behaviors we do unconsciously.
Meditation gives us the chance without distraction to observe the nature of our mind. The more we observe, the wiser we become to how it works. The more conscious we become of our own mind, the less we unconsciously generate mental turmoil and suffering.
For example, you could think of these neural pathways like a snow-covered hill. If you slide down on a sled, the first time you could take any of an infinite number of possible paths. But, the more you go, grooves start to form and you begin to take the same paths over and over again. Each time, the grooves get deeper and deeper. Meditation is like giving your mind a fresh snowfall as you bring consciousness to your unconscious thoughts and behaviors.
Observation is at the root of all scientific inquiry. Therefore, the more we observe and study our own mind, the more of an expert we become. Meditation simply gives us the chance to look and observe, inquire and examine without distraction.
No therapist can peer into our own mind like we can. We just have to take the time to look. Scientists can build incredible telescopes to see distant galaxies or microscopes to see tiny microbial organisms. But we have to build our own inward facing telescopes to look into our own mind. No one else can do it for us. Meditation is the building of that telescope.
What Meditation Has Done For My Own Mental Health
I would love to say that I was born meditating straight out of the womb and have lived my entire life as an enlightened being of pure love. But that is not the case.
I was diagnosed at a very early age of having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) and was prescribed a heavy dose of medication. From there, I would go on to have food addiction, alcohol addiction, marijuana and tobacco addiction. I was essentially self-medicating for depression and anxiety.
It was during my first meditation retreat that I realized I always needed to be on something. It really didn’t matter what it was. I would do more and more of everything because it was the only thing that would bring me some temporary relief.
How Meditation Changed My Life
It was only in meditation that I discovered something that wasn’t immediately pleasurable, but the more I did, the happier I became after the experience was over. Normally, I would do a drug, feel good, then I’d feel terrible again. Meditation was the opposite. Instead of brief pleasure followed by more suffering, meditation was a brief activity that brought me lasting joy and peace.
I was hooked on meditation. The practice of concentrating and focusing on my breath helped me with my ADD as well. I lost 60 pounds, I easily quit alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. In addition, I was cured of my ADD/ADHD, depression and anxiety.
I felt like I had my life back. The simple practice of meditating every single day gave me confidence and discipline that spilled over to every aspect of my life. I could do anything I set my mind to.
Addiction is about looking for peace and joy in all the wrong places. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues stem from being consumed by the unconscious thinking going on in our head. ADD/ADHD stems from the fact that we live chaotic, busy lives with zero time set aside to just sit with no distractions. We never practice focusing.
Meditation more than anything else changed my life for the better in ways I never thought possible.
How Meditation Has Helped Others
A friend of mine has schizophrenia. He suffered for a long time. He tried every combination of drugs possible to find what worked best for him. However, they had terrible side effects and nothing worked 100%.
I told him about a meditation that I had learned from a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. Buddhism is really just a several thousand year-old science of the mind. They study the mind, they debate what they learn, they revise their hypotheses, they test out various practices and theories, and they constantly refine their methods.
He took to the meditation so much that he decided to go to Thailand and stay there! He spent a few months there and came back. A couple years later, he still takes meds, although much fewer, but he no longer struggles and he’s never been happier.
I know a lot of people who think people with extreme trauma or depression or anxiety or ADD/ADHD can’t meditate, but take it from me, my friend, and many other people who I’ve worked with, everyone can meditate.
We can all put aside our distractions for a brief amount of time, sit still, and focus on our breath or a mantra. We may not be able to stay focused for very long. It may be tough at first. But being perfect is not the point. The point is consistent practice and progress. The harder it is, the more necessary it is and the more beneficial it will be.
How Meditation in Schools Helps with Mental Health
Meditation isn’t just a great treatment for mental health, it’s also great for prevention too. The sooner we start, the better. It’s never too early or late to start. Everyone’s mental health can benefit from meditation.
Across the U.S., schools have begun implementing mindfulness and meditation classes for kids as young as 6 years old. Let’s face it, school can be tough and kids suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and more.
These early meditation programs have shown us that meditation sets kids up for a lifetime of success. From emotional intelligence to positive coping skills, and greater joy in their lives.
When these programs have been rolled out, amazing results have followed. Depression is decreases, anxiety decreases, ADD/ADHD decreases, behavioral problems disappear, and grades go up!
Mental health issues among young kids and teens have been skyrocketing for years. These programs show us that reversing this trend is possible.
See this article on explaining mindfulness to children.
What the Science Has to Say About How Meditation Helps with Mental Health
Long time meditators have recently become the focus of studies on how meditation can affect the brain.
It turns out, meditation literally changes our brains and our brain chemistry in positive ways. When we meditate, the part of our brain that regulates our mood actually gets bigger. Our grey matter all over increases too! This implies a decrease in the likelihood of future dementia. Also, remarkably the fear center of the brain gets smaller in meditators!
Meditation floods the brain with what we call the happiness chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins…) more than any drug on the market. And, as shown in brain scans, meditation stimulates mental activity in the entire brain allowing different regions to communicate. This allows the brain to rewire itself, think in new ways, and create new neural pathways.
How to Get Started Using Meditation to Improve Your Own Mental Health
Getting started meditating is very easy. First, find a comfortable, quiet place to sit. I recommend starting everyday with a meditation first thing in the morning to make it a habit. Try to work your way up to 20 minutes twice a day but go slow and listen to your gut about how much you can do.
Most importantly, let go of all expectations and desired outcomes. Let just sitting still with your eyes closed and trying be the goal. It’s all about this moment, not the future.
Then, close your eyes, sit still as best you can, and just breath for 1 minute. After that, start repeating the mantra “om” in your mind. If you get distracted, just observe your thoughts and bring your attention back to your mantra. Do this for up to 20 minutes. End your meditation with 2 to 3 minutes of just breathing again.
Mantra meditation is best for beginners. Over time you may wish to move on to breath awareness meditation.
Tips for People New to Meditation
At first, it may be difficult. Negative thoughts and emotions may come up. That’s ok. Feel them, observe them. Don’t avoid them or force them away. They exist for a reason. Hug them and forgive them.
Accept whatever experience happens. Don’t judge it, resist it, or get mad at what comes up. It’s all part of the healing process and it’s all good. Crying and shaking is ok too. This is what happens when we have repressed years and decades of pain.
Afterwards, see how you feel. Are you more relaxed, rested. See if you notice any difference in your day or in your life. It may take months before we really notice all the changes and benefits. Everyone is different and we all go at different paces. It’s not a competition and it isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. Be patient, be gentle, be loving.
Ask Yourself if Meditation is Right for You
In addition to your current treatment for mental health, adding meditation may be the key to helping you naturally cure yourself from mental health struggles.
There is nothing wrong with the mainstream medical treatments for mental health. They can be remarkable, life-saving tools in our darkest moments. However, we know that medication can have severe side effects, including depression and suicide.
While we tend to think of doctors and medicine for treating mental health, a daily meditation practice may be just the cure you’ve been looking for. Side effects include joy, happiness, peace, clarity, focus, and an endless sense of love and gratitude.
Go here for more resources about getting started with meditation and mindfulness.
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