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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Meditation A Long-Term Solution To Stress

By January 8, 2013

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The practice of meditation is becoming increasingly popular for good reason: it works amazingly well as a stress management technique, and brings other benefits as well. It brings stress relief in minutes, but with long-term practice, people are able to use meditation to alter their responses to stress and build resilience from within. Meditation may feel like doing nothing--you may even wonder if you are doing it wrong--but simply taking the time to sit is enough. Meditation does not come naturally to everyone, and perhaps those who have the most difficulty with it are those who need it the most. However, meditation can be practiced by anyone, and the more you practice, the greater the benefits you'll experience.

What, specifically, can you gain from meditation? Fortunately, the research on meditation has increased quite a bit from previous generations. We now know much more about exactly what happens when you sit, and what continues to happen afterward. The following research may inspire you to start a meditation practice of your own if you haven't already:

  • One study found that after one month of daily meditation (in subjects who did not meditate regularly prior to the study) found that meditation had several benefits that were apparent after the month of practice compared to before it. In the short term, meditation was associated with the triggering of the relaxation response as well as improved scores of cognitive flexibility and reaction time. In the long term, meditation raised IQ scores for cognitive functions and decreased stress reactivity. (There was no demonstrated change in emotional intelligence, salivary cortisol, and heart rate.)
  • Another interesting study measured the effects of meditation on performance-related stress, but also measured the effects of meditation on performance--the stress we feel often compels us to do better than we normally would, so many people feel they thrive under stress. This study found that a 20-minute guided meditation session prior to playing a taxing computer game brought beneficial effects (decreased physiological activation) without decreasing the gains that come from feeling the performance-related stress. What, exactly, does this mean? It means we can enjoy the benefits of performance-related stress without the costs we tend to associate with this type of stress.
  • Other studies show an improvement in emotional intelligence, perceived stress, and negative mental health coming from regular meditation practice. Meditation has also been shown to be helpful with chronic pain, addictive behaviors, and many chronic diseases.
If you're thinking about getting started with meditation, but think it might be a challenge, the resources below can help. Sources:
Chu, Li-Chuan. (2010). The benefits of meditation vis--vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress, and negative mental health. Journal of the International Society for The Investigation of Stress, Vol 26(2), p. 169.
Freeman, L. W. (2009). Mosby's complementary and alternative medicine. (3 ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Mohan, A.; Sharma, R.; and Bijlani, R. L. (2011). Effect of meditation in stress-induced changes in cognitive functions. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol 17(3), pp. 207012.
Singh, Y.; Sharma, R.; and Talwar, A. (2012). Immediate and long-term effects of meditation on acute stress reactivity, cognitive functions, and intelligence. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Vol 18(6), pp. 46-53.
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