Meditation can be used to treat mental illness

October 20, 2020

Since mental health awareness has been increasing, people are looking for new ways to combat depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Meditation and mindfulness are a serious help to these devastating problems. 

The Harvard Institute of Health and their researchers have been making psychological discoveries since the 1910s when the “fight or flight” adrenaline response was discovered. Today, top researchers and scientists like Benjamin Shapero and Gaëlle Desbordes are paving the way for mediation studies at Harvard Medical School.  

“If we want that to become a therapy or something offered in the community, we need to demonstrate [its benefits] scientifically,” Desbordes said. 

Modern studies have begun using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) in studies because it maps brain activity like an MRI, but also records it during the scan in real time. This means that information can be recorded while the participants in a study are performing activities, which has opened up many possibilities for Desbordes 

One study performed by the team at Harvard involved subjects with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, and how they could recover from thinking negative thoughts. At the start of the trial, participants would receive an fMRI scan immediately after hearing negative phrases, and then analyze how long it takes to stop feeling negative.  

The subjects would enroll in a mindfulness class or online course and routinely perform the test for 8 weeks, recording what change occurred within the time span. 

After the experiment was completed, Desbordes stated, “The scans still detected changes in the subjects’ brain activation patterns from the beginning to the end of the study... The subjects had significant changes in recovery times from the start to the finish of the study,” she continues, “… the first time such a change — in a part of the brain called the amygdala — had been detected.” 

This experiment was a gateway to many more performed by the team. Desbordes states, “We know those brain systems involved with enteroception, and we know those involved with rumination and depression. I want to test, after taking MBCT, whether we see changes in these networks, particularly in tasks specifically engaging them.” 

She performed a study to link meditation to improved tolerance and patience in everyday activities in a study with fMRI tests. Shapero and Desbordes have been able to further confirm many of the positive effects of mindfulness. 

Meditation can help with irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, chronic pain, and anxiety. It can also improve anyone’s overall mood and happiness.  

Mindfulness and meditation can be useful for anybody, especially during this worldwide pandemic. 

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