My interest was peaked by the headline “Is Meditation the New Antidepressant?” on the January 13, 2014 edition of the National Post. The secondary headline read “Mindfulness practice may be more effective than drugs for anxiety and depression.”
The author quotes from an article published in JAMA, the Journal of the America Medical Association, following a ground-breaking study by Dr. Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine who found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants.
Dr. Goyal singled out mindfulness meditation as the most effective form of practice and Adrian Wells, a professor of psychopathology at Manchester University is not surprised that “mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication.”
This is exciting and liberating information. Mindfulness practice requires no special gear, no postures or chants, and no “membership.” It is accessible and affordable to everyone!
Mindfulness is simply about being in the moment, being aware of what you are experiencing (feelings, sensations, and thoughts), and not being taken over by what is going around you. It’s about the experience of tranquility and balance which, like homeostasis, are natural states.
There is an alarming rise in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants and antianxiety medications in our western culture.
Constant stimulation (the news, emails, television, cell phones, Internet, social media, video games, etc.) keeps us in hyper-alert mode which in turn affects our ability to focus, concentrate, encode memories, and relax. Combine that with financial pressures and job insecurities in an unstable economy and people working longer hours, worrying more, and sleeping less and you have a fertile ground for panic, anxiety, helplessness, and distress.
Mindlessness, being on “automatic pilot,” blindly going with the flow, not discerning the important from the urgent, and not being present; can lead to boredom, disengagement, and experiencing a deep sense of aloneness.
Novelty is the spice of life! Questioning ourselves and others is a road to learning, excitement, and liberation.
It’s not that mindlessness is wrong – it can be very useful. Once we learn to drive we don’t need to consciously think about every little action involved in the process of reaching our destination.
The problem is that when we do something mindlessly it may not occur to us to think about it even when it would be to our advantage to do so – like at what speed or what route is more fuel or time efficient.
Dr. Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard, suggests that a way to break out of rigid mindsets, when we accept what we hear or see without question, is to meditate. “Meditation, regardless of the form, can lead to post-meditation mindfulness.” Dr. Langer suggests that mindfulness practice is well suited to “creating a more humane workplace.” Many companies today offer mindfulness programs – on-site – to their employees.
The mindless state, Langer writes, is exactly what advertisers, marketers and power brokers take advantage of. In fact, Langer argues, “entire industries depend on mindlessness buying which accounts for a great deal of grocery and drugstore sales.”
Today, many do not even want to pay attention to activities like eating, walking, or driving preferring instead to be texting, talking on the phone, or accessing other distractions while performing these tasks.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is about acknowledging the uncomfortable, staying with it and recognizing it as not threatening, rather than medicating it immediately or avoiding it through distractions. It’s about thinking outside the box which stimulates creativity. Mindfulness is about the process rather than the destination.
If you are not sure where to begin to cultivate a more mindful approach to living, there are plenty of community resources to access where you can learn simple techniques. Taking 10 minutes a day to meditate can, over time, reduces your anxiety, alleviates your depression, and has a positive impact on your experience of stress.