A lot of people say that the hardest part of meditation is finding the time to do it. When each day feels like it’s constantly spinning with to-do’s, must-do’s, will-do’s and should-have-already-been-done’s, it’s very difficult to justify taking a few minutes out of your day to just sit. And do absolutely. Nothing.
However, this ancient practice is getting a lot of mainstream attention precisely because of all the newly discovered benefits that justify us making the time for it – benefits that are especially important for the busiest of people. Discover why making meditation a priority – even in the hustle and bustle of your busiest days – can greatly enhance your life.
10 Ways Meditation Helps Busy People
1. Improve Your Performance, Decisions and Relationships
Research shows that meditation helps to train the mind to become better at resisting distracting urges. Child psychologists have made the case for years that the ability to resist temptation and distraction is one of the most important determining factors for a person’s future success. In a day and age that constantly pulsates with ready-at-hand distractions – emails, texts, phone calls, social media, online videos – the ability to tune it all out and focus on the task at hand relies almost exclusively on your own self-control.
Our ability to resist an impulse is also the key to making more thought-out decisions, changing behaviours and improving relationships. Holding yourself back from criticising your child for an unintentional mistake, or yelling at an employee when you know that listening and responding rationally would lead to a better outcome, or not allowing emotions to drive you towards bad impulse decisions – the ability to resist, to stay calm, and to focus on the priority of the moment leads you to use your time more productively, to make more clear-headed decisions, and to communicate in ways that improve your relationships.
2. Squash Stress and Boost Your Health
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in your body when you experience physical, psychological or emotional stress. Hectic schedules often bring stress along with them, and when stress becomes a regular part of your life, your body starts to flood with a constant stream of circulating cortisol. Chronically high cortisol levels are associated with a wide range of chronic health problems, including life-threatening diseases and early death. A study published in the journal Health Psychology reported a relationship between a person’s ability to mindfully meditate – to focus the mind on one immediate experience – and their cortisol levels. Through meditation training, the researchers found that improved ability to mindfully focus resulted in lowered resting cortisol levels in the body. Other studies have also shown that regular mediation can lower blood pressure. This new research reinforces the ancient idea that there is a strong mind-body connection, and that fostering healthier mental habits can have a direct effect on improving how you feel and how your body works.
3. Improve Your Memory
Researchers at the University of California had 48 university students who had just completed their standardized tests for graduate school (the Graduate Record Examinations, or the GREs) split into two groups. One group was asked to attend a two week course on meditation, and the other group attended a two week course on nutrition. Each group attended 4 classes a week and was trained by professionals in the respective fields. At the end of the two weeks, the students took their GREs again, as well as several memory and focus tests. Scores in all tests significantly improved for the students who took the mindful meditation course, while no improvement was shown in the nutrition students. Taking time away from studying in order to prioritize meditation, breathing, thoughts and posture was more successful at boosting memory, cognitive functioning and performance than simply studying alone.
4. Lift Out of Depression
After close analysis of over 18,000 earlier studies on mindfulness meditation, researchers at John Hopkin’s University of Medicine found that meditation was as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of anxiety, depression and pain. Regular mindful meditation enhanced the patients’ emotional regulation, self-perception, body awareness and attention regulation, all of which are known to play a role in depression. Also, MRI scans found that meditation is linked to reduction in activity of the amygdala, the brain region that governs the stress response, and the “default mode network,” a network of brain neurons that are activated when the mind is distracted, which often spirals into unhappiness. Regular meditation is a great preventative strategy for people prone to feelings of anxiety and depression, and unlike most antidepressants, has no harmful side effects.
There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and energized, especially if you have a busy day ahead of you. With lower levels of cortisol, stress and anxiety burdening you, you’re more likely to have less trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, helping people with insomnia or sleep issues tremendously. Studies also show that meditation leads to a deeper, more satisfying sleep with less fatigue in the morning. Meditation helps to break the train of everyday thoughts, evoking a relaxation response that allows the body and mind to transition more easily into a healthy state of sleep.
6. Improve Your Immune System
With less cortisol weakening the body and overworking your immune system, your body can deal more efficiently and effectively with germs and viruses. Studies find that people who meditate tend to get less severe colds and infections, and that they also tend to get over them more quickly.
7. Lose Weight
Stress, difficulty in dealing with negative emotions and giving into impulse cravings are usual culprits behind overeating, binging and weight gain. By becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions, lowering your stress levels, improving your self-control and strengthening your will power, research reviews have shown that meditation can be an effective way of dealing with emotional eating behaviours that get in the way of weight loss.
8. Improve Physical and Emotional Pain Tolerance
The Journal of Neuroscience published a fascinating study that showed that people who were exposed to unpleasant or painful stimulation while they were meditating perceived the experience as less painful than people exposed while not meditating. Aside from people’s personal reports, MRI scans showed that, during mediation, the parts of the brain that ordinarily react to physical pain and panic responses showed less activity, while parts of the brain involved in rational thinking and evaluation showed higher activity. Meditation trains individuals to observe their thoughts, feelings and sensations in a calmer and more analytical way, allowing them to mentally reframe a situation so that it can be experienced with more tolerance and less intensity. Other studies have shown that meditation can help people heal more effectively from emotional pain as well, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
9. Boost Creativity and Innovation
Meditation encourages you to observe the constant rush of extraneous thoughts that race through your mind all day long, and to allow them to sail by without demanding your immediate attention as you focus on your breath. This encourages the mental blockages holding you back to clear the stage, creating a fresh, blank canvas for brand new and creative thoughts to shine through and develop. Meditation also increases activity in the neocortex, which is where we do our most creative thinking. Studies show that non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular meditators, and were more likely to use outdated or unnecessarily difficult solutions to fix problems.
10. Increase Your Happiness in Life
Not only does meditation reduce negative emotions like stress, anxiety, pain and depression, but it also increases positive feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Subjects who were trained in mindful meditation journaled their days and reported more feelings of calm and appreciation and a stronger sense of self-control and peaceful social interaction. Subjects who completed the meditation course were also more likely to give to charity when presented with the opportunity, compared to subjects who did not take the meditation course.
A Breath of Fresh Air for the Body & Spirit
By taking a few minutes each day to remove yourself from the overload of life to focus on nothing more than cleansing breath, meditation can be a way to refresh yourself each day, pulling you out of the chaos and helping you settle in to the unique value of here and now, lending to a wiser, gentler and kinder approach to life. Drawing you outside of your own thoughts and your own desires, meditation gains you a better appreciation and connection with the needs and desires of others. And connecting to others fulfills one of the most fundamental human needs, bringing with it a sense of ultimate comfort, peace and happiness.