World Mental Health Day first started in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, which today has grown to include members from over 150 countries from around the globe. Every October 10th, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health partners raise awareness about mental illness and advocate for better patient resources and social acceptance.
According to WHO, about 25% of the population will experience a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their life, which makes mental illness one of the most common conditions in existence today. It’s also a leading cause of disability, absenteeism, lost productivity, and healthcare costs. Despite its pervasiveness, only about one-third of people with a known mental disorder receive treatment, according to the WHO—and, like most chronic conditions, mental illnesses are often underdiagnosed.
Accessibility is one of the greatest barriers to adequate treatment. But clinical studies prove meditation can offer outstanding benefits for mental health, on top of being available to everyone, regardless of their background or ability.
Mental Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation presents immediate and long-term benefits, including but not limited to:
- Better sleep
- Reduced heart rate
- Enhanced memory function
- Lower stress-related hormonal and inflammatory levels
- Greater self-awareness
- Emotional regulation
- Improved focus
- Mental fortitude
- Increased patience and tolerance toward others
- Sharpened emotional intelligence
- Greater observational skills
- More receptivity and perspective
Cumulatively, the physiological and mental effects of meditation can alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Depression, for example, is often characterized by poor concentration, impaired memory, and sleep disruptions—all of which can improve with a regular meditation practice. A three-year study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical Center showed a consistent, long-term decrease in depression symptoms when participants practiced mindfulness meditation every week.
These beneficial effects have a clear physiological impact as well. In 2010, Sara W. Lazar, PhD, Associate Researcher in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, was the first to document increased gray matter density in the brain following 8 weeks of meditation. Just a few years later in 2018, Drs. Benjamin Shapero and Gaëlle Desbordes found 172 gene expressions changed after 8 weeks of a mindfulness practice.
Though scientists are still working to understand how meditation affects mental health, clinical evidence seems to support what practitioners have intuitively known for thousands of years: Meditation is a mind-body health intervention that’s effective and incredibly versatile.
How Does Meditation Work?
There are many different types of meditation practices, from guided mindfulness meditations to kundalini yoga, Zen (sometimes called Zazen) meditation, and Tai chi. Even relaxed breathing exercises can radically affect a person’s emotional and mental state.
When a person feels happy, for example, their respiration will be regular, deep and slow. When they are anxious, their breathing will be irregular, shallow, and fast. These responses occur involuntarily when an external force—for example, a work deadline or presentation—triggers the sympathetic nervous system.
An individual’s emotions are connected to their breathing, and this innate correlation makes it possible to counteract a “fight or flight” response and think more clearly. According to a report from the Harvard Business Review, deliberately slowing your breathing pattern signals relaxation, which will thereby help you feel calmer and more rational.
Here’s a simple centering exercise to demonstrate this idea: Inhale for four seconds, pause briefly, and then exhale for eight seconds. Continue this rhythm for 5-10 minutes and you should start to feel more relaxed.
How to Start a Meditation Practice at Work
No matter what type of meditation they practice, employees need the following conditions to reap the greatest results:
- Relaxed breathing
- A peaceful environment
- Comfortable positioning
- An open mind
To make the practice more inviting, consider enlisting a coach to lead a guided meditation session. A knowledgeable instructor adds structure to the process and can teach beginners how to get started. They also create accountability and can help reinforce mindfulness until it becomes habitual.
One of the most widely practiced guided meditations is called scanning. To begin, an instructor asks participants to focus on the lowest portion of their body and explore the sensations there. They might ask individuals if they feel tense, sore, tight, loose, cramped, etc. Then, the guide typically tells the class to acknowledge these feelings, thereby building awareness of their body and the present. Next, the instructor will tell the group to visualize heat and relaxation spreading throughout the area. They can continue this exercise until every portion of the body has been covered. Some individuals like to imagine a color that corresponds with the heat—for example, a soothing purple or blue.
This meditation can be combined with a simple breathing exercise to help employees regulate their emotions and manage stress. It’s also been shown to alleviate chronic pain, which can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a mental illness.
Employee Benefits and Mental Health
If you want to offer additional resources to employees to support their mental health, Gympass can help make the process simple. We have thousands of wellness partners from around the world offering guided meditation sessions, mental health counseling, fitness classes, and more. Our unique membership platform gives employees the power to customize their wellness journey to fit their needs and schedule, with a broad variety of programs, applications, and studios to choose from. To learn more about how Gympass can support your mental health initiative, visit our corporate page today and request a quote.