How Meditation Can Change Your Brain

You know meditation is good for you, but did you know that it actually changes the brain in positive ways? Meditation is increasingly being used to overcome addiction because addiction itself is a negative changing of the brain, a chemical addiction. If meditation can alter the brain for the positive, addiction therapy can include more holistic, long-lasting measures. But how exactly does meditation shift the brain?

Neurological Benefits

Meditation comes with a host of neurological benefits, with studies showing that it changes the volume of gray matter as well as minimizing the activity within the “me” hubs of the brain. One study out of UCLA showcased how those who meditated for several years had brains better preserved than those who didn’t. Participants had to have meditated for at least 20 years and were found to have more grey matter in all parts of the brain. Lead researcher Florian Kurth says, “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some regions that had previously been associated with meditating—instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

Yale University released a study that highlighted how meditation retards the brain’s “me” center, otherwise known as the default mode network (DMN). If you find yourself regularly having your mind wander and experiencing selfish thoughts, DMN is at fault. It’s active when we’re not focusing on anything and when we allow our minds to wander. “Mind-wanderers” are considered less happy than others, prone to brooding and worrying. Meditation has a quieting effect on the brain, slowing down this area and offering better concentration.

Anxiety and Depression

Another study out of Johns Hopkins considered mindfulness and meditation to treat anxiety and depression. Researchers found that meditation had the ability to minimize depression, pain, and anxiety symptoms. According to lead researcher Madhav Goyal, those who take low doses of antidepressants experienced just as much help when prescribed meditation. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. That’s not true,” says Goyal. “Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

Harvard researcher Sara Lazar discovered that medication can increase volume in a number of areas in the brain. After eight weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction study, it was found that participants had an increase in the cortical thickness throughout the hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of memory. Emotional regulation parts of the brain and self-referential processing units also enjoyed a boost in volume. Lazar also found that parts of the brain volume decreased, particularly in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for stress, pain, and anxiety. Through meditation, Lazar’s team discovered that the changes in the brain also led to changes in how the participants actually felt.

Concentration

Another study considered the link between meditation and attention spans/concentration. A lot of people struggle with concentration, with Google researchers saying that westerners have worse attention spans than goldfish. However, a study found that in just two weeks of meditation training, participants had better memory and focus. The verbal reasoning part of the GRE was used to gauge changes. Their average scores were so much better; it equated to 16 percentile points (something college and high school students would be thrilled to achieve). Focusing attention is at the heart of any meditation program, so the natural increase in cognitive skills is an added bonus.

Social Anxiety

Research studies linking meditation and social anxiety are also well-founded. The mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) movement, headed by the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness and director Jon Kabat-Zinn, claims that meditation is a key factor in reducing overall stress levels both mentally and physically. The studies have also reported that in an eight-week course, the benefits are evident even years later (when participants didn’t continue beyond those eight weeks).

Meditation is a true game changer and one of the simplest ways you can alter your brain for the better. We have so much stimulation directed at us around the clock, it can easily overwhelm the body. Meditation is a way to get back to your center, quiet the mind, and let the brain do a little recovery work. It needs rest and proper workouts, too, both of which meditation can provide. A healthy brain is a part of a healthy body.

This is a collaborative post supporting our Peace In Peace Out initiative.

How to Overcome Anxiety in the Digital World

Technological advancements in the areas of communication have given us the ability to process colossal amounts of information in a short period of time. Smartphones and tablets ensure that you are constantly in touch with the world around you and your many social networks.

Recently a hot topic of discussion has been the impact that this massive degree of stimulation has on our mental health and cognitive abilities. The way we observe and react to events in our world has been revolutionised with the emergence of social media and instant news updates.

While this constant flow of information is beneficial in many ways, there is some evidence that this overload can affect the individual’s physical and mental well-being.  By understanding the human emotions of fear and anxiety, we can learn how to deal with anxiety and fear in today’s age.

Causes of Anxiety and Worry

The human mind is complex and can only process a few tasks at a time consciously. The rest of these tasks are filed away to be completed at a later date. If there are too many tasks to be completed, the mind starts to feel overwhelmed, “thinking” of all the things left pending.

This causes the mind to obsess over the unfinished tasks, only stopping once they are complete. This sense of helplessness and anxiety is only enhanced by technology.

A classic example is something you will come across each day with your smartphone. The minute you see a notification on your phone, whether it’s a message, an alert or an email, you probably experience a strong urge to check it and tick it off your list.  This is the mind experiencing anxiety over getting things done.

Unfortunately, most of us can’t have all our tasks finished at all times. Some things can take longer, and some require collaboration and the participation of others. This causes the task to remain unfinished in the mind. In such a situation your mind will remind you constantly of the task and create anxiety over the things left undone. Your stress levels get even worse when you try to juggle too many tasks at the same time. This can result in a loss of productivity and even keep you up at night.

Ways to Tackle Anxiety

Fortunately, there are small steps you can take to deal with the overload of stimuli and stress. Follow some of these habits to start feeling less overwhelmed, one day at a time.

1. Ensure You Get a Good Amount of Quality Sleep

Sleep is possibly the most important factor when it comes to your mental and physical well-being. But it’s not just about the amount of sleep you get, but also the quality of sleep. Following a few steps before hitting the sack can significantly enhance your sleep quality. Eliminate caffeine completely after 5 pm and stop using all forms of electronic media at least half an hour before bed. Keep your phone away from your pillow and keep your room dark and cool.

2. Get Any Negative Stimuli Out Of Your Life

If there is something or someone that brings negativity into your life, it may be time to say goodbye to it. If you interact with someone online who regularly uploads negative comments or posts, unfollow them. Watching the news can be depressing, so it is better not to watch it if it brings you down.

3. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

It’s a good idea to avoid anxiety triggering foods such as sugar and coffee. Caffeine prompts the release of adrenaline which stimulates a fight or flight response in the brain. This can induce nervousness and aggravate symptoms of anxiety.  If you can’t cut these out completely, try to limit your intake. Also stay away from junk food and eat wholesome meals comprising of veggies, protein, and healthy carbs. Avoid alcohol. Never skip breakfast and indulge in snacks like nuts and berries.

4. Take Up a Sport or Engage In a Workout That You Enjoy

Following a workout routine every day has numerous benefits for your body and the mind. Taking up an activity such as running will not only help keep you physically fit but also have a meditative effect on your mind.  In this digital age, there are a number of accessories that you can use to increase the effectiveness of your workouts such as fitness trackers and even virtual reality headsets!

Finding Peace and Joy 

Our mental health can affect everything from how we feel about ourselves to our relationships with others. Your thoughts are conscious decisions you make every day, so try to stay positive and optimistic. Try some of the tips mentioned above, and you’ll be able to find peace and joy in this fast-paced digital world. For more tips on overcoming anxiety take a look at the infographic below.

Rising Levels of Anxiety In A Digital World

DOs and DON’Ts When Interacting With A Suicidal Person

Depression, fear and anxiety are the most common reasons why someone considers committing a suicide. It is often that people who are going through difficult times are around us, yet what would be the best way to help them and therefore help the entire society?

On the World Suicide Prevention Day, we encourage everyone to share inner peace by becoming a listener to those in need. This kind action can save a life! Here are some helpful tips to remember when talking to a suicidal person:

DO:
• Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. Caring actions are more important than finding perfect words.

• Listen. Let the suicidal person share their story and feelings, no matter how negative.

• Be empathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

• Offer hope. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you and that help is available.

• Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

DON’T:
• Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”

• Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.

• Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe.

• Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

• Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

Source: Metanoia.org

Can Meditation Help You Better Deal With Depression?

Yes it can. Thanks to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies it has been established that practising meditation contributes to reducing activity in the amygdala, as a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience underlines. So, meditation affects that area of the brain governing stress response and often linked to feelings of unhappiness and stress. Continue reading “Can Meditation Help You Better Deal With Depression?”