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Can meditation worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety?

Today, perhaps the lazy did not hear about the benefitsmeditation. It is believed that meditation practices along with breathing exercises can help relieve stress and anxiety. But meditation can harm your mental health, according to work published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. The results of a large-scale study showed that the overall prevalence of meditation adverse events among the subjects was 8.3%. In a meta-analysis of 83 scientific studies published between 1975 and 2019, involving a total of 6,703 people, the researchers found that 55 of those 83 studies included reports of at least one type of meditation-related side effects. A bit unexpected, isn't it?

Meditation is not a cure for stress

The most common side effectsThe meditations the researchers found included anxiety (reported by 33% of subjects), depression (27%), and cognitive abnormalities (25%). Gastrointestinal problems, suicidal thoughts and even behavior were noted in 11% of the subjects.

Altered states of consciousness

Meditation techniques were originally developedto stimulate altered states of consciousness: to feel differently or even challenge the “normal” self. But these experiences do not always have to be pleasant or positive. For example, there are meditation practices common to various religious traditions that recommend visualizing your own death or even imagining your corpse and focusing on its decay. It was expected to generate fear and disgust, but ultimately leave behind anxiety about the world and about yourself.

Most of those who turn to meditationthey use it mainly to heal their own "I": with the help of meditation practices, they hope to become more stress-resistant or less anxious and depressed. However, the results of a large-scale meta-analysis have revealed the dark side of meditation.

In the course of the work, the researchers examined the data,indicating that intense meditation practices, such as those undertaken during meditation retreats, sometimes increase the likelihood of developing diseases such as depression, anxiety disorder, etc. On the other hand, the question of whether the presence of mental health problems makes the meditator more at risk remains open.

Meditation can have a dark side too

In general, speaking about meditation, it is necessary to remember aboutthat our understanding of the mind (as well as consciousness) is still limited. The study of how we respond to mind-altering practices such as meditation is still in its infancy, and the new research is an important step in recognizing the full range of effects of meditation, both positive and negative.

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The study authors hope that their workwill encourage scientists to seek a more balanced understanding of when, for whom, and under what circumstances meditation can be beneficial or harmful. The work also notes that meditation is not a panacea, it doesn’t work for everyone and can lead to negative consequences.

The benefits and harms of meditation

1977 American PsychiatricThe association released a statement recommending that researchers pay more attention to meditation to assess its benefits and dangers. It should be noted that ancient meditation manuals (such as the Buddhist scriptures on Dharmatrata meditation) also indicate that if meditation is not performed properly, the mind can become unstable, restless, or confused.

But what does this mean for millions of peoplepracticing meditation to relieve everyday stress and anxiety? Not to mention an increase in the number of schools using meditation programs with children - is it possible that some of them will end up doing more harm than good? Alas, new evidence from the latest scientific research shows that this is quite possible.

More on the topic: Parental depression negatively affects children's health

Most people do not harm meditation,but it is undoubtedly overly widespread, and therefore cannot be an unconditional benefit for everyone. So, there are cases when the practice, designed to relieve stress, led to panic attacks and increased anxiety. As the authors of the meta-analysis note, the figure of 8.3% can be underestimated, because many studies either record only serious negative effects, or do not record any adverse effects at all.

If you feel anxious or intensely anxious during or after a meditation session, meditation may not be for you.

Researchers note that they cannot establishpeople with mental illness are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of meditation. In a meta-analysis, they found that people with no history of mental illness experienced the adverse effects of meditation, either during or immediately after meditation practice.

Interesting: Meditation can help reduce pain and improve mood. But how long does she need to study?

Katie Sparks, psychologist and member of the BritishThe Psychological Society, which was not involved in the study, expressed concern that adverse effects could be attributed to people trying to meditate due to undiagnosed anxiety or depression. Sparks also notes that sometimes when people try to “calm their thoughts,” the mind can “rebel,” akin to reacting to trying to control their own thoughts, leading to an episode of anxiety or depression.

2019 study with1,232 people showed that more than 25% of participants reported "particularly unpleasant" emotions, such as "anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts", which, in their opinion, "could be caused by meditation." Overall, 2020 showed that "there may be a bias towards exaggerating the clinical benefits of meditation and denying its potentially negative consequences." What was your meditation experience? Share your answer in the comments to this article, as well as with the members of our Telegram chat.