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The Most Worthwhile 5 Minutes You'll Spend All Day

It has never been more difficult to live in the moment. Many of us have lives so full of activities that we can hardly catch our breaths. We work long hours, sometimes on weekends, and have hectic lives at home. When we do get a free minute, our heads are full of thoughts about the email or task we didn’t get to. As great as it is to be productive, our busy lives can leave us disconnected from our feelings and bodily sensations.

Meditation offers us an opportunity to become connected to ourselves in a powerful way. I recommend meditation to many of the people I work with, and have found that people who practice it regularly are more able to cope with strong feelings; some begin to see improvements in their lives within a matter of weeks. Many seem calmer and more in touch with their feelings. In addition, they generally harbor more compassion for others and are better able to appreciate different points of view, a skill that is useful in all areas of life.

Neurobiology is beginning to validate a lot of these observations. A new study at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who regularly practice mindful meditation show more activity in the inferior parietal cortex, the region of the brain that is involved with empathy and understanding of others. Their studies also show that compassion and understanding can be developed through regularly practicing meditation. Just as a person can get stronger by working out, meditation can foster an ability to understand other people.

Some studies show that just a few minutes of meditation a day can reduce stress and increase our ability to handle stressful situations. A recent study conducted by a psychologist named Barbara Fredrickson showed that daily meditation can improve people’s acceptance of other people, joyfulness, and can even strengthen our immunity to diseases. These results could be seen after just nine weeks of daily meditation.

To illustrate the power of meditation, I wanted to discuss a man who I work with in my practice who I’ll refer to as Christopher.

How Meditation Can Help with Stress at Work

Christopher had been struggling with an extremely difficult boss for almost three years. He was often blamed for everything that went wrong at the office, and his performance was held to a higher standard than everyone else. Despite going above and beyond the call of duty, he was rarely recognized for his dedication, and scolded for every mistake he made. As a result, he became consumed with thoughts about his boss, often unable to think about anything else. Even on weekends, when he was away from work, he could hardly think or talk about anything else, and was perceived by his girlfriend to be spaced out and out of touch.

A few months ago, I recommended that he try meditation. We went through a 10-minute meditation that I am familiar with, and I recommended a class near my office, along with some apps he could use at home. He was quickly hooked, and began practicing every day.

The results were quick and noticeable. While his boss would still bother him, he was able to leave the stress at work and enjoy his free time more. After a while, he was better able to understand his boss’ perspective and even empathize with him. His control over his emotions helped him communicate more effectively and eventually advocate for himself in a way that helped him to not be singled out as much.

It is so natural for us to wish for our difficult and painful feelings to disappear. Unfortunately, difficult and painful feelings are part of life. Meditation can help us function when these feelings arise, and allows us to have more choices in how to respond.

Develop a Meditation Practice Today

The benefits of meditation can be seen when it is practiced regularly. Most people begin to notice a difference in how they feel after a month of regular practice.

I recommend picking a time of day when there are five or 10 minutes that can be set aside. During this period of time, try to redirect your attention to something outside your thoughts. This can be the breath, your bodily sensations, or the sounds around you. Try to play with each of these and see which one is most helpful. There are also many apps that can guide the meditation. Many people find that classes are useful (and affordable) in providing guidance.

The redirecting of thoughts is the skill that we are developing here, and simply becoming more connected to the feeling of the body and the underlying feelings is what is important. What types of thoughts trigger our bodies to feel a certain way? What are the feelings underneath that we may not be aware of? We want to start to ask ourselves these questions, and wonder how they are all connected. After a period of time, we begin to develop insight and know ourselves better.

Many people practice meditation sitting in a comfortable chair, but it can also be practiced standing up or even walking around (feeling the sensation of the floor on the bottoms of our feet can be the focus of the meditation). If you start to fall asleep, try raising your gaze or stand up.

Other Mindfulness Practices

Another practice I recommend is to pick a daily activity to be done mindfully. This could be as simple as brushing one’s teeth, taking a shower, or doing the dishes. The possibilities are limitless.

Once an activity has been chosen, commit to focusing completely on the task at hand throughout the week. In the same way as with meditation, where the focus is on our breath or sounds around us, focus on the activity. If thoughts come up, try to redirect to the task at hand and don’t judge yourself for the distractions.

Meditation Works Best in Conjunction with Therapy

I have also found that meditation works best in conjunction with talk therapy. The feelings and insight that come about through the practice of meditation can sometimes be troubling and difficult to process on our own. Meditation can bring to mind difficult memories that were blocked out but are still relevant to the way we interact with the outside world. Having a place to share these thoughts and feelings with another person can make the experience more powerful and impactful.

Meditation is a powerful tool that has been shown to have dramatic effects on people. It is affordable and does not have to be time-consuming. If practiced on a regular basis, it can help us become more connected to ourselves and the outside world, learn how to be calmer in all areas of life, and appreciate the joy of being alive.

References:

  1. Bergland, C. (2013). Compassion Can Be Trained. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201305/compassion-...
  2. Doucleff, M. (2013). Mapping Emotions on the Body: Love Makes Us Warm All Over. NPR. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/12/30/258313116/mapping-em...
  3. Desteno, D. (2015). The Kindness Cure. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/mindfulness-meditation...
  4. Mindful Staff (2015). This Neuroscientist Proves Well-Being Can Change the Brain. Mindful. Retrieved from: http://www.mindful.org/this-neuroscientist-proves-well-being-can-change-...

This article was originally published on the Good Therapy blog. 

 

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