No Matter Your Resolution This Year, Meditation Can Help You Get There

Better emotional control is just one of the benefits of meditation.
Image Credit: DjelicS/E+/GettyImages

If you've been toying with starting up a meditation practice, well, there are plenty of reasons to fully commit. And even if you've got bigger goals in mind this year, adding meditation can likely help you on your road to achieving them.

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Meditation has been shown to benefit both the mind and body, and it can really serve those who are dealing with stress.

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Plus, unlike many other types of self-improvement commitments, this practice doesn't require a lot of time investment. In fact, just being consistent (i.e. meditating every day) is more beneficial than the duration of each session, according to experts. Setting aside just five minutes a day to meditate can work wonders for your wellbeing.

The practice is all about cultivating mindfulness, says Morgan Levy, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in meditation. "Mindfulness is about the action of being in the present moment, without focusing on the past or worrying about the future," Levy tells LIVESTRONG.com. "And meditation is one way to practice that."

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Contrary to popular belief, meditating doesn't necessarily mean achieving a blank brain without any thoughts, but rather becoming aware of those thoughts. So don't stress if you feel like you can't quiet your mind.

"Thoughts are not the enemy," says Jeremy Lipkowitz, a meditation teacher and wellness coach. "It's about recognizing those thoughts as they come in."

This awareness of your thoughts is largely why meditation has been shown to have the following benefits. (Spoiler: Number 3 might be the secret weapon you need to crush your New Year's resolution this year.)

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1. It's Been Linked to Lower Stress and Anxiety

While meditation has long been touted as a great way to alleviate anxiety, the evidence has been mostly anecdotal. But a November 2019 study in ​Biological Psychiatry​ found that the MRI brain scans of 42 participants asked to complete an eight-week yoga and meditation course showed changes in the hippocampus — the area of the brain associated with learning and emotions — in ways that helped mitigate their feelings of unreal or imaginary threat.

This provided evidence that mindfulness meditation really does change our neurobiological responses to stressful situations or emotions, which helps with anxiety.

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"We can never really get rid of our emotions, but when we're sitting and meditating, we realize the impermanence of our emotions and what's going through our minds."

2. It Can Aid With Regulating Emotions

Research has shown that meditation can help people control their emotions for the same reason it helps alleviate anxiety: By becoming more aware of your thoughts, you can recognize when a particular thought is making you angry or sad, and learn to better manage your emotions.

"You learn how to work with your emotions," Charity Collier, a meditation and mindfulness specialist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "We can never really get rid of our emotions, but when we're sitting and meditating, we realize the impermanence of our emotions and what's going through our minds."

Since meditation can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by your feelings and overreacting, it can also be a great aid in controlling your own behavior.

"Meditation gives you that ability to choose your actions, rather than acting on autopilot," Lipkowitz says. "If you're always simply reacting, then you're never really choosing how to live your life."

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3. It Might Help You Break Bad Habits

There's a host of promising research that suggests meditation can help people recovering from substance abuse and prevent them from relapsing. Lipkowitz, who uses mindfulness techniques to coach clients in recovery, believes that thought awareness is a crucial aid in the recovery process.

"So many of our bad habits are mindless, whether it's binge-watching Netflix or eating chips all day without really thinking about it," he says. "Mindfulness helps you cultivate self-awareness, and self-awareness is the foundation of changing your habits because you start to see how what you're doing affects you."

4. It Can Relieve Symptoms of Trauma

Meditation has been found to be a helpful tool for those coping with trauma. A May 2018 meta-analysis in ​Clinical Psychology Review​ examined a host of studies that looked at yoga and meditation as treatment options for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), finding promise in the efficacy of these practices when used as a complement to other treatments.

Similarly, a July 2015 systematic review in the ​Journal of Clinical Psychology,​ which examined results from 12 studies, found mindfulness-based approaches often led to improvements in PTSD symptoms. The review specifically highlighted meditation's role in reducing intrusive thoughts, which is a common symptom of PTSD.

A more recent systematic review, published November 2017 in ​Clinical Psychology Review,​ examined 18 different studies that compared the effects of mindfulness-based interventions to those of a randomized control group in reducing the psychological symptoms of traumatic stress and PTSD.

Researchers found that people in the mindfulness group reported dramatically lower levels of PTSD symptoms post-treatment compared to those in the other group. Also, the longer a person kept up with the mindfulness intervention, the bigger the reduction in PTSD symptoms.

Lipkowitz says "trauma-sensitive mindfulness" is a newer type of treatment that emphasizes that we are all, in some ways, survivors of trauma. "It centers around practicing compassion and love and kindness, which can help heal trauma," he says. "Most people never really deal with the root cause of their pain, and might instead try to numb it with alcohol or other substances. This practice helps you address the underlying trauma and start to heal."

5. Your Relationships May Benefit

Practicing mindfulness may have benefits that extend to the bedroom. Of 194 married, heterosexual couples at the center of a March 2019 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, those who practiced mindfulness had better sex lives.

"Meditation can make you more aware of your senses, especially if you practice a form of meditation in which you focus on what you're doing and how it makes you feel, like drinking coffee for example," Levy says. "There's also a self-love/compassion meditation, in which you stir up feelings of love for yourself and others and focus on that, which can help create intimacy."

And because meditation helps with emotional regulation, it can also help you "take a step back and not be as reactive in an argument," Levy adds.

Because good communication is key to the foundation of any healthy relationship, it makes sense that a practice that can help a person to listen and understand would be a useful tool for a romantic partnership.

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6. It Could Sharpen Your Mind

Meditation might be a great way to keep your wits about you. A March 2018 study in Cognitive Enhancement followed 60 people between the ages of 22 and 69 who went on a three-month meditation retreat. A series of cognitive tests showed that seven years after the retreat, those who continued to meditate after they left seemed to have better retained their cognitive abilities.

Practicing mindfulness may also slow the onset and development of cognition-related conditions like Alzheimer's. An August 2018 study in ​Alzheimer's Disease​ found that short, daily mindfulness practice may alleviate some of the symptoms that precede dementia. Older adults experiencing memory difficulties practiced 12 minutes of yoga mediation or music listening for a 12-week period had improved cognitive function, mood and sleep.

7. It's Been Connected to Better Sleep

Meditation is often used for relaxation, so perhaps it's no surprise that the practice can also help relieve insomnia and other sleep-related issues. An April 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine focused on 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping, finding that those who completed a mindfulness awareness program showed significant improvement in their sleep habits.

Also, a March 2020 study in the Journal of Business Venturing found that meditation may help combat some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation: The study authors concluded that "as little as 10 minutes a day of mindfulness practice may have the same benefits as an extra 44 minutes of sleep a night."

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8. Your Physical Health Could Benefit, Too

Studies on meditation indicate that the practice helps ease various stress-related conditions, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and levels of inflammation, thereby reducing the risk for heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer, per the National Institutes of Health.

The more we learn about mental health, the more we see how much it affects physical health. While meditation is by no means a cure-all, it's a great tool to have in your overall wellness arsenal.

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