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Meditation for mental health: Is it worth it?

Illustration of two individuals meditating in the Lotus pose

Opinion by Jenna Stevens

In recent years, meditation as a means of cultivating a sense of well-being has taken the world by storm. But is it truly worth the effort?

I guess you could say that I had tried every coping strategy in the book when dealing with my anxiety, from exposure therapy to CBT. That was until I found meditation.

In the past, I dabbled with meditation a few times during my therapy sessions, but I’d never delved deeper than 2–3 minutes sitting with my eyes closed and listening to some calming music whilst I tried to focus on my breath. Oh, and the savasana at the end of my yoga classes too – but at that time I used to just fall asleep!

It wasn’t until 1st January 2021 that I decided to try and start making meditation one of my daily habits, and I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t come overly naturally to me! At this point, we were still mid-lockdown in the UK, so I kind of figured what had I got to lose?

What is meditation?

So, firstly for those of you who aren’t overly familiar with meditation, or may have heard of it but end up saying the usual ‘oh, it’s not for me’, I’d like to explain it a little.

Meditation is a powerful tool that lets you develop a skill known as mindfulness. This is when you observe your mind so that you may better understand how it works and reacts in different situations. The main aim of meditation is to increase your awareness levels to achieve more mental clarity and emotional stability.

A diagram of the process of cultivating mindfulness.
Meditation helps to cultivate 'mindfulness', which, over time, is achieved through the process above.

Some of the main benefits of meditation are reduced stress levels, improved quality of sleep, increased self-awareness, heightened emotional well-being, improved physical health, better focus and concentration, and it can also help to develop a greater sense of compassion.

My experience

Over the course of 2021, I tried various apps and YouTube videos on meditation. However, it was when I saw an offer on the Calm app that I finally took the plunge and subscribed. I had used the Calm app before, but only on its free feature (which is amazing on its own, especially for those who may not be able to afford the subscription fee). Once I had signed up, I started listening to some of the longer 10 minutes plus practices and that’s when things really shifted for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was incredibly challenging for quite some time (and still is now on some days!). I am someone whose brain is constantly thinking of what my to-do list looks like throughout the day so, at first, I found it really difficult to let go of that during my sessions. But I was determined to stick it out to see if the benefits really would pay off for me over time.

Fast forward to now, and I am slowly starting to see some of these benefits come to life.

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Back in October 2022, I had some challenging triggers that I had to try and work through, some of which were my worst fears. But what I started to find was that I had developed a pause between my thoughts in my day-to-day life, not just when meditating. This then allowed me to take a second to understand that my thoughts weren’t always my reality, especially on the days that I was particularly triggered.

It started to give me a little bit of relief from the all-consuming, intrusive thoughts that used to run the show. I started realising that my worst fears would not come true which, over time, built up my confidence little-by-little. No matter what life would throw at me, I felt strong enough to deal with it, and, most importantly, that my intrusive thoughts weren’t always right.

This isn’t to say that those thoughts have all magically disappeared and don’t still come and go throughout my days. But meditation has given me some respite from them, and that slight pause after a thought pops up gives me time to make my own judgement about a situation, not what my anxiety is trying to shout at me.

Give it a chance

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: give meditation a chance. Especially if you’ve tried countless other ways to try and calm your anxious mind.

It may take some time to get into the hang of things, and it certainly isn’t a quick fix. But on days when I do feel particularly down and anxious, I know that even a short meditation can help to lift me out of that dark patch temporarily. Knowing that I have this tool in my mental wellness toolbox is relieving and calming.

You might not find the perfect fit straight away, but there are many different apps and videos you can try. The majority of these all have free options too, so don’t feel pressured into subscribing to any of the paid versions. Calm is my personal favourite, but I’ll list a few below for you to try out:

There are also ways that you can be mindful without meditating the traditional way, such as walking and noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, colouring or writing, or even daily tasks like doing the dishes and cooking can be a place where you can focus solely on breathing and being in the present moment. Meditation doesn’t have to be fancy to become part of your daily wellness practice!


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