Always busy, thinking about the future or lingering in the past, a full agenda and no time for yourself. Sounds familiar? These seemingly insignificant worries can amount to real stress in our lives. Being chronically stressed can have serious health consequences, contributing to autoimmune, cardiovascular or metabolic diseases. Mindfulness meditation is one possible way to reduce stress, improve well-being and boost brainpower.
Mindfulness meditation effects confirmed
While Denmark consistently ranks in the top three of the World Happiness Report (1), it is also among the countries with the highest antidepressant consumption (2). Finding sustainable and accessible means to address the stress crisis is an important challenge for today’s society. Recently, neuroscientists confirmed that meditation can reduce stress and even lead to changes in brain structure – after only three months of practicing for half an hour a day.
A modern scientific perspective on an ancient technique
A large-scale research project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany involving over 300 participants gives new insight into the benefits of meditation techniques. In the group who started with mindfulness meditation and practiced daily for three months, the neuroscientists found physical changes in the brain regions responsible for emotion regulation and attention (3). Furthermore, the participants’ self-reported stress level decreased by 26 % in this time (4).
Mindfulness – how to benefit from “doing nothing”
Mindfulness meditation is one of many meditation techniques that focus on reducing stress by training the ability to be present in moment – being mindful. “Anybody can benefit from mindfulness meditation. In our day and age, we are confronted with so much information and we are required to be constantly online. We need to have time to settle in ourselves,” explains Professor Reinhard Stelter from the University of Copenhagen who has authored a number of studies on the topic. But mindfulness meditation is not a miracle solution, it requires some effort, Stelter adds: “To maximize the benefits, meditation should be a part of overall changes in our lifestyle. And it is a skill that has to be learnt. It’s like training for a marathon, you need to practice.”
by Markéta Hrabánková and Felicitas Flohr
2. OECD Health at a Glance 2017, page 191