2020 has been a stressful year. In fact, the CDC reports that mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation are all on the rise due to the widespread chronic stress we all feel from the coronavirus pandemic. Now more than ever, it is important to create healthy habits and find ways to decrease your stress levels through activities like meditation and relaxation.
The Benefits of Meditation and Relaxation
One of the main reasons people try meditation is to relax and reduce stress, which in turn reduces anxiety. Forms of active relaxation, like meditation, reduce the inflammation-promoting cytokines in an individual’s bloodstream, and can also reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone released by the body’s stress response. Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved sense-of-self, self-image, or a more positive overall outlook, thus lowering the risk of depression or other mood disorders.
For those who struggle with a lack of memory or focus, meditation can improve their attention spans and ability to retain important information. Individuals who meditate regularly also show increased positive feelings, like empathy and kindness, towards themselves and others. Meditation also may help with chronic pain and has been proven to lower blood pressure.
Meditation and Relaxation Methods
As with anything, specific benefits are linked to specific forms of meditation. Below are a few of the most common forms of meditation and relaxation techniques.
Mindfulness meditation is the most popular meditation technique in the western world and encourages participants to acknowledge their stream of consciousness without judging it or obsessing over it. Simply observe your thoughts and see if there are any patterns that pop up.
Focused Meditation involves the act of concentrating on one sole thing, whether it be your breath, a candle, or calming music. It may be hard to hold focus for more than a few minutes when starting, but with practice, focused meditation can improve memory, attention, and retention.
Movement meditation consists of letting one’s mind wander while doing something lightly active, like yoga, walking, or gardening. In this form of meditation, let your movements and your thoughts flow!
Progressive relaxation is often used to promote sleep or relieve pain. Commonly referred to as a body scan, this form consists of focusing on or tensing each muscle group in your body and then releasing it, all the while paying attention to how the muscles feel both tensed and relaxed.
Visualization meditation is a very relaxing form of meditation that includes visualizing something that makes you feel happy or peaceful. This method is used unintentionally very often. Has anyone ever told you to close your eyes and go to your happy place? If so, you may have experienced visualization meditation!
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