Meditation has been shown to have significant promise as a treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, including depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/), obsessive compulsive disorder (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/mindfully-improve-psychological-wellbeing/), and worrying (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/). It is known that one mechanism by which meditation works is by improving emotion regulation, making the individual better able to control and deal with emotions. Meditation also produces cognitive (thought) changes that appear to assist in improving mental challenges.
In today’s Research News article “Common Factors of Meditation, Focusing, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Longitudinal Relation of Self-Report Measures to Worry, Depressive, and Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms Among Nonclinical Students.”
Sugiura and colleagues investigate how these cognitive effects of meditation might work to improve the symptoms of worry, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They studied five psychological states affected by meditation, refraining from catastrophic thinking, logical objectivity, self-observation, acceptance, and detached coping.
They found that detached coping was associated with a decrease in both depressive and obsessive compulsive symptoms. Detached coping is a cognitive skill involving detachment and distancing from external events. This is cultivated by meditation in developing non-judgmental awareness of what is transpiring in the present moment. This allows the individual to simply observe what is happening around them without becoming identified with the events, which then are taken much less personally and thereby have a much smaller impact on depression and obsessions and compulsions.
Sugiura and colleagues also found that refraining from catastrophic thinking was associated with a decrease in worrying. Refraining from catastrophic thinking involves cognitive skills to analyze and reinterpret negative thoughts. This effect was meditated by negative beliefs about worrying, where refraining from catastrophic thinking is associated with fewer and less intense negative beliefs about worrying which in turn was associated with reduced worrying. Worrying about worrying is a problem in that it tends to intensify worrying. By reducing the negative beliefs about worrying meditation interrupts this process disabling the worrying about worrying. In this way meditation helps reduce worrying.
These findings indicate that, of the cognitive (thought) processes that are affected by meditation detached coping and refraining from catastrophic thinking are particularly important for relief of symptoms of troubling mental conditions. Both of these cognitive processes involve distancing the individual from the events and thoughts about the events that occur. This suggests that distancing attitudes are useful for long-term reduction of various psychological symptoms. It further emphasizes the importance of the non-judgmental observing that is cultivated by meditation.
So, meditate, improve non-judgmental observing, and improve mental health.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies