After our scientific explanation of resilience, here we are with another equally important topic!
We all have felt stressed once in our life: it could have been because of an exam, a short deadline or just the feeling of being anxious without any specific reason. Some of us are more prompt to being stressed but stress is more particularly a modern problem as society and the workplace put an unparalleled level of pressure on people. Anxiety disorders are recognized to be the most frequent mental disorders (1) and their consequences on all aspects of life are numerous. As it is very difficult to change the society we live in or our workplace, one concrete solution would be to elaborate strategies or use tools in order to help oneself to better cope with this stress and anxiety. Therapies and medicaments can benefit to many people, but they are not always helpful. The use of mindfulness meditation, as an alternative approach, has been growing these last few years and is now considered as a useful tool to better cope with stress. But one can wonder: is meditation really efficient and evidence based? Let’s look at the history of meditation:
There are plenty of different types of meditation that have in common the goal to improve the ability to focus and manage attention. Meditation seems to be a very old practice, based on records found in India and China, as old as 1500 years BC with some authors stating that meditation might be as old as humanity itself (2)!
But let’s focus on the restored popularity of this type of practice nowadays by starting with the 60’s and the trend of transcendental meditation. The techniques at the basis of this type of meditation were initiated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in the mid 50’s and were claimed to promote relaxation, relieve stress and access to higher states of consciousness. Despite the popularity of transcendental meditation, of which the Beatles were great followers, however, it lacked some scientific basis.
It is to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher in biology and a professor, that we owe the introduction of a form of secular and accessible meditation in the 80s: the mindfulness meditation. The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on the present situation and state of mind, such as breathing, emotions or just the pleasure of eating chocolate. Based on his experience and science, Dr. Kabat-Zinn then set out to create a meditation-based stress reduction program (3,4). This work initiated more and more scientific research into the impacts of meditation on physical and psychological variables.
Experimental studies showed that a mindfulness meditation treatment has the potential to instigate effects on attaining higher psychological well-being, such as stress reduction, experiencing less negative emotions, greater well-being, and less suffering from anxiety (5).
Moreover, a recent research showed that meditation can literally change some brain’s areas associated with self-regulation, resilience, perception, pain tolerance, and many others (6).
To resume : meditation engage specific brain structures and has the potential to treat clinical disorders and facilitate the cultivation of a healthy mind and well-being. Science said it!
Mindfulness meditation is a personal experience and there will always be variations in people's understanding of it but the ultimate goal is to practice it in a way that fits you and your needs!
Mindfulness is then a must-have to protect ourself from day-to-day stress, improve our well-being and change ourself in a positive way.
1. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593
2. Davanger, S., Eifring, H., Ellingsen, O., Hammarlund-Udenaes, M., Hetland, M. L., Holen, A., Smeby, N. A., Solberg, E. E., Waersted, M., & Westlund, P. (2008). Fighting Stress—Reviews of meditation research.
3. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context : Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144‑156. https://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy.bpg016
4. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281‑306. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2011.564844
5. Eberth, J., & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation : A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), 174‑189. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0101-x
6. Fox, K. C. R., Nijeboer, S., Dixon, M. L., Floman, J. L., Ellamil, M., Rumak, S. P., Sedlmeier, P., & Christoff, K. (2014). Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 43, 48‑73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.03.016