While physical exercise has many benefits for the body, supporting the mind through mental health exercises is something that I believe is just as important. Similarly to physical exercise, principles such as practice and repetition apply to mental health exercises, for it to be most effective. Furthermore, research has shown that when creating new habits, individuals are more likely to do so at the same time each new day. Having a fit mind will allow you to make better decisions, which ties into cognitive functioning. It will also boost self-awareness – an imperative tool to have in the working environment, and throughout all walks of life.
Meditation is a common technique that can be used to unclutter the mind and make you cope easier with feelings of stress and anxiety. Meditation can be described as both a skill and an experience in one. The purpose of it is to train the mind to become more at ease with everyday life, and to be in the present moment. While all this may sound very hippy-like, there is a large body of scientific research that suggests being in the present moment can enhance productivity at work, and even improve the relationships with those around you.
A recent study by Luders et al. (2009) investigated the changes within the brain caused by meditation. MRI scans were taken of subjects who participated in some form of meditation (subjects engaged in different meditation techniques, with different levels of experience and practice frequencies). The results remarkably showed that there was an increase in grey matter within the hippocampus of these subjects – the area of the brain which is responsible for compassion, self-awareness and memory. Decreased densities in the amygdala were also present– the region of the brain responsible for processing fear. In summary, their research proved that pathways in the brain can be effectively rewired through meditative practices – meaning there is the potential for you to improve your memory and reduce daily fear and stress.
With regards to the method of meditating, the best way to go about doing this is in a comfortable environment, surrounded by light sounds and smells, which is free from distractions such as mobile phones. For beginners, Headspace and Calm applications are great learning tools for establishing techniques and making it a fixed part of your routine. As mentioned in my previous blog, gratitude logs and brain dump practices are other highly effective techniques that can be used to exercise your brain, just like a muscle.
Luders, E., Toga, A. W., Lepore, N., & Gaser, C. (2009). The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. NeuroImage, 45(3), 672–678. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.12.061
Bhasin MK, Dusek JA, Chang BH, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, et al. (2013) Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways. PLOS ONE 8(5): e62817. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062817