Mindfulness Meditation and Reducing Loneliness
What do painting, meditating, listening to an orchestra play, doing yoga or Tai Chi, bird watching, and walking in nature have in common? All of these activities lend themselves well to a mindfulness practice.
Practice of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a 2,500 year old practice that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment. After decades of modern clinical research, science has demonstrated reasons why mindfulness is so effective in promoting overall well-being.
Mindfulness meditation is often taught as a group activity in conjunction with an individual daily practice. Just like committing to a consistent exercise regimen will strengthen the physical body, mindful exercises strengthen our mental faculties such as memory, emotional regulation, and perception.
Mindfulness Meditation and Loneliness
A 2012 study by researchers at UCLA and Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College reported the first evidence that mindfulness meditation can be an effective method for reducing loneliness. The medical community is well aware that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems including Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases, especially in older adults. Loneliness can be a complicated subject because it is not necessarily related to a person’s physical isolation from others but rather a sense of ‘feeling’ alone even if the individual is socially active.
Modern medical research has shown a correlation between self-reported loneliness and inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation contributes to a wide variety of health threats including cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. In the 2012 study, scientists used blood samples to evaluate the levels of an inflammatory marker known as C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the immune cells.
The researchers found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training not only decreased the participants’ self report of loneliness but also showed a reduction in the pro-inflammatory markers in the blood.
Benefits of Meditation
The study mentioned above, as well as several studies performed since that research was released, strongly suggest that mindfulness can help us develop a new relationship with loneliness by providing a clearer, more compassionate lens through which we observe experience. A daily meditation practice can help create more comfort with silence and alone time. Meditation can literally strengthen the part of the brain that helps us view ourselves and life from a more peaceful, accepting perspective.
The story we tell ourselves about being alone may become less judgmental, shaming and blaming. As a result, our own bodies produce an internal physical environment that promotes health and well-being.
During the Pandemic
Research has been initiated through the pandemic to assess how well mindfulness may benefit individuals through times of isolation. Preliminary results have been promising. So what is the take-away from this information? Committing to a mindful daily practice will contribute to the strengthening of the areas of the brain that influence perspective, decision making, problem solving, interpersonal relations, peace and well-being.
So perhaps it is time to dust off the bird watching binoculars, the walking shoes or the paint brush. Perhaps make time to listen to your favorite music with focus and intention and/or to learn to enjoy spending time by yourself. If you think about it, you are the only person with whom you will share every minute of your life. What a gift you give yourself when you value that relationship. Chances are that attitude will spill over into your connections with others as well.
Cindy Flores, Licensed Professional Counselor
Cindy Flores works with adults dealing with depression, anxiety, life transitions, eating disorders, interpersonal challenges, and academic/career issues. She also works with couples with relationship challenges. Utilizing a Mindfulness-based Cognitive approach, she is able to help clients identify negative self talk that limit them from reaching their potential, dysfunctional core beliefs that interfere with attainment of their goals and teach them evidence-based mindfulness techniques that enhance decision-making, stress-reduction and connection with others.
In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Immaculata University teaching graduate students in the Counseling Psychology Program. She considers it an honor to use her teaching and interpersonal skills to give back to the same University that provided her with the tools to become an effective counselor. Along with writings such as these, Cindy has contributed mindfulness presentations, meditation courses and other engaging content to Friends Life Care.
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