This is the age of productivity. For most of us, the majority of our lives are filled with tasks that will develop and achieve a productive life. The first few decades of life are marked with academic achievements, sports successes, and extracurricular endeavors that will ensure a successful college and career path. The professional life then commences and we run the proverbial “rat race” and climb the corporate ladder, motivated by dreams of golf courses and Caribbean cruises in our retirement years. However, far too many discover that retirement doesn’t provide the solstice they had hoped for, and as the allure of retirement grows dull, new hobbies are taken up to satisfy the yearning for productivity, yet again. While it is true that different seasons of life can be marked by various levels of stress and chaos, many find their lives and minds to be plagued with a whirlwind of activity, which frustrates all attempts at rest and relaxation. As a result, most adults in the prime of life are falling victim to the effects of constant stress – adrenal fatigue, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
The mind and body must rest. They must learn to break from the swirling activity of the day and the fitful thoughts of the night. Rest promotes focus, clarity, balance, and mental and emotional health. It is a form of energy and strength that can allow better productivity because it promotes better health.
Meditation is one of the simplest and most useful tools for promoting rest in both body and mind. It is a practice which has transcended ages, cultures, and religions. It is not a defined practice with a list of rules, but it is an art that can be exhibited in various forms. To meditate is simply to focus the mind for a period of time. It allows the mind to empty itself from all the external thoughts and actions of the moment and to simply rest in stillness, for a time. Thoughts, worries, pressures, and tasks are constantly battling for our attention and, therefore, meditation takes practice. However, once learned, meditation is a powerful tool for stress-management and relaxation. Considering the fact that stress is now regarded as a modern-day killer, its management is vital for continued health and restoration of the body.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis showed that meditation is effective for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. PTSD is a common condition not only affecting war veterans and first responders, but is also recognized in those who have experienced chronic or traumatic physical, emotional or sexual abuse at any point in their life. The pathology of PTSD is strangely similar to that of adrenal fatigue, which commonly afflicts burnt out professionals, students, and parents. Both conditions are marked by a high total stress load, and elevated cortisol and nor-epinephrine that eventually leads to a cortisol insufficiency. According to a study analyzing serum cortisol levels of medical students before and after meditation, a statistically significant decrease in serum cortisol after meditation suggested that meditation can be an effective tool for lowering stress that is associated with high cortisol.
Meditation seems to be an effective strategy for coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and other conditions characterized by chronic worry and a dopamine-dominant nervous system. In a randomized clinical trial of 93 individuals with clinically diagnosed GAD, stress reactivity was assessed before and after an eight week intervention with meditation or an attention control. Meditation provided significant reductions in anxiety, as measured by four standardized stress and anxiety tests. It was also shown to increase resiliency and positive self-statements, indicating that meditation may be a meaningful tool for coping with anxiety and stress.
Cognitive performance may also benefit from regular meditation. In a 24-week study of 26 nursing students, mindfulness meditation significantly reduced stress and anxiety while improving the ability to shift attention, attention selection, concentration, and accuracy. Preliminary systematic reviews also indicate that meditation practices have the potential to improve neuropsychological performance; specifically, the development of selective and executive attention, working memory capacity and some executive functions. Overall, it seems that evidence points to meditation as a helpful, non-pharmacological means of improving cognitive health and function.
Meditation is such a simple tool with the ability to gently enhance mood, cognition, and emotional and mental health. Ten minutes each day is a sufficient amount of time to gain the benefits of meditation, and it can be engaged in almost anywhere and at almost any time. We diligently focus on the essentials of good health, including, diet, exercise, sleep and hydration. Perhaps, for many, it may be time to add meditation to this list, in light of the increasing prevalence of busy lifestyles and chronic stress. Taking a few minutes to calm the mind should be a welcome treat to any individual.
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