Meditation | Mental Health | Stress | Anxiety | Sleep | Depression | Mindfulness | Pandemic | COVID-19 | Mental Health Awareness Month
Meditation for Mental Health
Better Yourself This Mental Health Awareness Month
May 26, 2021 – 8.5 min read (Important Knowledge!)
It feels like 2020 will definitely be a year to remember (or is it the year to FORGET) mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to economic hardship, political party tensions, social isolation, and the latest fashion trend that might be here to stay, “face coverings”. Don’t be surprised if we see businesses or establishments permanently add it to their existing policies of “No shoes, No shirts, No masks, No service”. Well, if we try to look beyond the perceived negatives, I’m sure we can find some positive outcomes from 2020. For instance, it feels like we have all become more self-aware regarding the importance of taking care of ourselves both physically (diet, exercise, & supplementation) and mentally due to the role health status plays with immunity.
Taking ownership of your personal health and wellness is a critical part of both short-term and long-term health. I often get asked, “What is Health Sciences?”, and I typically reply, “It’s a discipline of applied science dealing with the study, research, and knowledge of general health and the application of that knowledge to improve health and help prevent and cure disease”. General health according to the World Health Organization (WHO) can be defined as “a state of physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. 1 This article will cover the importance of mental health and why it’s even more important during the pandemic. It will also review what you can do to help cope with these stressors during these unprecedented times such as meditation and more specifically mindfulness or mindful meditation and provide some 3rd party resources.
Mental Health During the Pandemic
Mental Health During the Pandemic The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported last year that communities have been faced with mental health challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adults have reported elevated adverse mental health conditions; however, young adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers have experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes.² The mental health conditions reported by U.S. adults are shown in the infographic below.²
What is Mindful Meditation and Why Does it Matter?
Meditation is a broad term that includes the practice of achieving definitive consciousness and concentration. Meditation can include several modalities or techniques to accomplish this enhanced level of consciousness including compassion, love, patience, and mindfulness, which is a type of meditation. 3 Mindful Meditation is about focusing on the present one breath at a time. It also includes mindful sitting meditation, mindful eating, appreciation meditation, friendly or loving-kindness meditation, mindful walking, and mindful movement otherwise known as mindful awareness practices (MAPS). 4
Efficacy of Meditation
Does mindful meditation work and is it recognized by conventional medicine? The answer appears to be yes to both questions since mindful meditation is supported by a plethora of clinical studies. When I say does meditation “work”, what am I referring to? Well, research by Sarah Lazar from Harvard demonstrated for the first time that mindful meditation can alter the brain’s gray matter in regions linked with memory, sense of self, and emotion. 5 Initial research indicates that mindful meditation may also help improve short-term sleep disturbances in certain individuals. 6 A meta-analysis reviewed 36 randomized clinical trials regarding mindful meditation and anxiety. 7 The researchers found that meditation therapies worked better than standard attention control treatment and as well as other active therapies for reducing anxiety. Mindful meditation has also been explored by Benjamin Shapero and Gaelle Desbordes for helping with depression. 8 Another meta-analysis by Goyal et al. published in JAMA Internal Medicine reviewed 47 randomized clinical trials and concluded that the evidence suggested that mindful meditation programs could help reduce depression and anxiety. 9 Herbert Benson is considered a pioneer in the field of mindful meditation research. He has been investigating mindful meditation and its genetic link to a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, brain activity, inflammation, circadian rhythms, and glucose metabolism. 10 He also coined the phrase “relaxation response”, in order to give meditation a more conventional or clinical terminology.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has recently released their scientific statement and noted that mental health is an important component to heart health, cardiovascular disease prevention / treatment, and overall well-being. 11 AHA evaluated and summarized 128 studies relating the association between psychological wellness and cardiovascular health. A recent survey in Preventive Medicine indicated that adults with depression and anxiety were 64% and 41% more likely to drink more alcohol during the pandemic, respectively, as compared to those without mental health issues. 12
Real World Application of Mindful Meditation
So how do you apply or use mindfulness? Below is a helpful step by step description of how to use mindful meditation, with information from an article by Harvard staff writer Liz Mineo.
Mindful Meditation Made Easy¹³
- Settle in
Find a quiet space. Using a cushion or chair, sit up straight but not stiff; allow your head and shoulders to rest comfortably; place your hands on the tops of your legs with upper arms at your side.
- Now breathe
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. Feel the fall and rise of your chest and the expansion and contraction of your belly. With each breath notice the coolness as it enters and the warmth as it exits. Don't control the breath but follow its natural flow.
- Stay focused
Thoughts will try to pull your attention away from the breath. Notice them, but don't pass judgment. Gently return your focus to your breath. Some people count their breaths as a way to stay focused.
- Take 10
A daily practice will provide the most benefits. It can be 10 minutes per day, however, 20 minutes twice a day is often recommended for maximum benefit.
The Key Takeaway
The National Institute of Mental Health data, back in 2019, suggested that over 50 million adults in the U.S. had some type of mental health condition. 14 As previously stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 40% of U.S. adults struggling with mental health conditions or substance abuse. The key takeaway from this article includes mindful meditation as an important and useful tool for everyone during the pandemic especially those dealing with mental health conditions. Mental health is a major component of general health and overall well-being. As always, take care of your body, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, avoid excessive alcohol / tobacco, and continue with routine preventative measures by consulting with your primary health care provider.¹⁵
● Check with local universities to determine if they offer any meditation programs or classes
Nutrients and dietary supplements that may impact depression and anxiety
● Vitamin D, Magnesium, & B Vitamin deficiency may increase risk of depression
● Fish oil, Saffron, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, SAM-E, & Ashwagandha (all have varying levels of substantiation in certain groups at specific concentrations for helping with depression & anxiety but, as always, consult with your health care provider before starting any dietary supplement)
Meditation Apps to consider for download:
● The Mindfulness App
● Smiling Mind
About the Author
Sal Abraham, PhD MS RDN LDN
Sal has been working and leading in the food, dietary supplement, and health care industry for over 25 years. He holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Foods and Human Nutrition with a Doctorate in Health Sciences and a specialization in International Health. He is a Registered & Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, ex-competitive bodybuilder, and passionate fitness / health and wellness expert.
For Educational and Informational Purposes Only
The information provided in or through this article is for educational and informational purposes only. Use of the health-related information contained on this article does not constitute a doctor-patient or clinician-client relationship. Information contained here is intended as a self-help tool for your own use. The views on this article do not necessarily reflect the values, thoughts or opinions of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or other professional health organizations. You agree that there are no guarantees as to the specific outcome or results you can expect from using the information you receive on or through this article.
Not Health Advice
While I am a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist, the information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for individualized medical advice from a medical provider. Although care has been taken in preparing the information provided to you, I cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions, and I accept no liability whatsoever for any loss or damage you may incur. Always seek medical advice to your specific circumstances as needed for any and all questions and concerns you now have or may have in the future. You understand that this article is not customized for any individual and is presented without any type of health assessment or knowledge of any individual health conditions. You understand that the information in this article should not be used to diagnose a health problem or disease or to determine any health-related treatment program, including weight loss, diet, or exercise. You understand that any mention of any suggestion or recommendation on or through this article is to be taken at your own risk, with no liability on my part, recognizing that there is a rare chance that illness, injury or even death could result, and you agree to assume all risks.
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