Saturday, December 9, 2017

10 Best Ways to Relieve Headache Pain

Rest in a Dark, Quiet Room

Stress is one of the main causes of headaches. Relieving tense muscles may help calm tension headaches, the most common type of headache. If you have one, you may also feel extra sensitive to light and sound. Rest or sit in a dimly lit room. Close your eyes and try to relax your back, neck, and shoulders.

Try Caffeine

It may help ease tension headache symptoms by helping pain relief drugs work better and faster. That’s why caffeine is often an ingredient in pain medications. See how you respond, because caffeine can also be a headache trigger for some people.

Relax to Ease Pain

Deep breathing exercises and mental imagery techniques may cut your stress and ease headache pain. Take several deep breaths. Breathe out slowly, relaxing areas that feel tight and cramped, while you picture a peaceful scene. Drop your chin toward your chest, then gently and slowly move your head in a half circle from one side to the other. Take another deep breath and let the air out slowly.

Treat Pain With Heat or Cold

Cold and heat may relieve pain and muscle tension that go along with headaches. You can ease symptoms of occasional headaches if you take a hot shower or put moist heat on the back of your neck. Try a hot water bottle, a warm towel, or a warm compress. If you prefer cold, wrap an ice pack in a towel. Then put it where you hurt -- on your forehead, temples, or neck.

Massage Away Tension Headaches

Massage can undo clenched muscles and help you relax, so it can be especially good for stress or tension headaches. Have someone else gently massage your head, neck, and shoulder muscles. Or do it yourself with a targeted mini-massage. Gently rub the painful spot on your head with your fingertips for several seconds. Rest and repeat as needed.

Exercise to Ease Tension

Neck exercises may ease tension headache pain caused by holding your head in one position for too long. Place your palm on your forehead. Using your neck muscles, press your forehead lightly against palm. Keep your head upright, your hand and arm still for resistance.

Try an Acupressure Technique

It may help ease your pain. Place your thumbs near the base of your skull. Find the depressions on both sides of where your head meets your neck. They are just outside the thick muscle that runs down the middle (about 2 inches from the center). Press in and slightly upward with your thumbs until you feel slight pressure. While pressing, move your thumbs in small circles for 1-2 minutes.

Over-the-Counter Headache Medication

Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can bring pain relief. Drugs that combine acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine may sometimes work better than when you take each one alone. But using any headache medicine for more than 3 days a week may cause medication overuse headaches. See your doctor if you need medicine this often.

Give Acupuncture a Chance

In this form of Chinese medicine, a practitioner places fine needles at certain points in your body. Stimulating these points may release your body’s natural painkillers -- endorphins -- to ease neck, shoulder, and head pain. Some studies show that if you get acupuncture over several months, you may cut the number of tension headaches you get.

When to Call a Doctor

Make an appointment if your headaches are frequent or last more than a few days. Get medical help right away if your headache is sudden and severe, happens after a head injury, or is the worst you have ever had. It’s also important to get urgent care if you get symptoms along with your headache like fever, stiff neck, seizures, numbness, double vision, dizziness, severe nausea, shortness of breath, or confusion.

Inspirational Quote – December 09, 2017

“Life isn’t about the destination, but the journey that gets us there.”

As another year comes to a close, this is a wonderful time to reflect on the journey of the last 12 months – the highs and lows, joys and challenges, accomplishments and disappointments that have woven a rich tapestry of experience into our lives. Looking at the overall picture allows us to see the gifts of our journey, no matter where it has led us. Being faithful to our destiny always lands us in the right place!

Susyn Blair-Hunt

The Greatest Danger

"Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, "what do we most need to do to save our world?" His answer was this: "What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying."...What disintegrates in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, but its defenses and assumptions. Self-protection restricts vision and movement like a suit of armor, making it harder to adapt. Going to pieces, however uncomfortable, can open us up to new perceptions, new data, and new responses." Joanna Macy shares more in this powerful essay.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Why Wisdom Teeth Are So Much Trouble

What’s in a Name?

Wisdom teeth won’t make you smarter. They’re called that because they usually come in when you’re older, around 17 to 21. These teeth are in the very back of your mouth. You get two on top and two on the bottom as part of a complete set of 32 adult teeth.

Missing Molars

Wisdom teeth are molars, your toughest, widest teeth that grind food. But some people don’t have all their wisdom teeth. They’re the ones most commonly missing from adult mouths. Some scientists think they became less useful as humans moved away from a caveman diet to more chewable cooked foods.

Why They’re Taken Out

You’re more likely to have issues with these molars than with any other teeth. Each year, some 10 million wisdom teeth are removed, or extracted, in the U.S. A top reason is impaction, when the tooth may not have enough room to come out from the gum like it should.

Other Issues

Any wisdom tooth with signs of disease or clear problems should come out. Reasons include:

o Infection or cavities
o Lesions (abnormal looking tissue)
o Damage to nearby teeth
o Bone loss around roots
o Not enough room to brush and floss around the tooth

Possible Problems Later

Some dentists recommend taking them out as a precaution because they could cause problems in the future, like:

o Before the tooth comes in, the sack of tissue around it can grow into a cyst, which can lead to bone loss in your jaw.
o If the tooth is on its side under your gum, it can destroy nearby teeth by eating away the roots.
o Bacteria and plaque can build up around a tooth that’s only partly out.

But many researchers and public-health experts don’t think taking out otherwise healthy teeth is a good idea. If your dentist suggests it and you’re not sure if you should, you can always get a second opinion.

Simple Extraction

How your dentist takes your tooth out depends on how far it is out of your gum. If it has come in completely, your dentist can do it. They may numb your gums, then use a needle to put a stronger numbing medicine in the area. They’ll loosen the tooth with a tool called an elevator, then pull the tooth with dental forceps, which look like pliers. They’ll clean out the area and pack it with gauze to stop bleeding.

What to Expect After Simple Extraction

You’ll probably have a little bleeding the first day. You may also feel sore and swollen for a few days. Any bruises could take a bit longer to go away. You shouldn’t brush your teeth for 24 hours. After that, gently gargle with warm saltwater every 2 hours for a week.

Surgical Extraction

If your tooth is still below the gum line, you’ll need to see an oral surgeon. During the operation, you’ll be given medicine to make you sleepy, so you won’t feel pain or remember much. The surgeon will cut open the gum and remove the tooth bone to get to the root. They may need to cut the tooth into pieces to keep the hole as small as possible.

After Surgery

It’s a good idea to have a ride home because you may be groggy from the medicine. You may be able to manage your pain with over-the-counter drugs, or your surgeon may recommend prescription painkillers, especially if they took out any bone.


You should be able to get back to your normal activities the next day. To speed the healing and ease any pain, you might:

o Hold a cold pack against your jaw to help with soreness and swelling.
o Try not to spit too much so you won’t move the blood clot that’s keeping the area from bleeding.
o Drink lots of water, but stay away from alcohol, hot beverages, or sodas for 24 hours.
o You probably won’t be able to fully open your mouth for about a week. Stick to soft foods that won’t bother the area.

Possible Problems Afterward

It’s rare, but the surgeon can damage some nerves while taking out the lower teeth. That might leave your lips, tongue, or chin permanently numb. With upper teeth, the surgery can damage your sinuses, your air-breathing cavities under your eyes. If your blood clot goes away too soon and leaves your nerves and bone exposed, that can lead to a painful condition called dry socket. That can happen with both simple and surgical extractions.

When to Call Your Doctor

Talk to your dentist or surgeon right away if:

o You have a hard time breathing or swallowing.
o Blood won’t stop oozing after a day or two, or pain lasts more than a week.
o Your face or jaw stays swollen for more than a few days.
o You have a fever.
o You feel numbness or notice pus or foul smells.

Inspirational Quote – December 08, 2017

“Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”

We’ve all run across those people who make us feel special, and they can be rare indeed. So often we are all focused on our own little world, our current problems or our goals that we miss the opportunity to stop and just “be.” If you look around for someone who could use an encouraging word, some attention or even just a smile, it won’t take you long to find them. And I can assure you that if you take one minute a day to uplift someone else, you’ll feel wonderful the rest of the day!

Susyn Blair-Hunt

Who Do You Choose to Be?

There have been other historical times that were volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and leaders arose to guide people through them. We are again in one such time. Margaret Wheatley calls on each of us to step forward to serve, rather than withdraw into denial and self-protection. She implores us to become leaders who create islands of sanity where good work still gets done and people enjoy healthy relationships in the midst of chaotic conditions, fierce opposition, and heart-breaking defeats. Wheatley describes the sane leader as someone who has unshakable faith in people's capacity to be generous, creative and kind and who creates the conditions for these capacities to blossom. She believes that even if we fail, we can be satisfied that we did the work well. She asks if we are ready to serve. Answer her questions to find out.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Curiosity Looks Like in the Brain

Research suggests that, like food and sex, information is inherently rewarding to the brain.

Humans are deeply curious beings. Our lives, economy, and society are shaped so strongly by a drive to obtain information that we are sometimes called informavores: creatures that search for and digest information, just like carnivores hunt and eat meat. What is it that drives our hunger for information?
From an evolutionary perspective, there is a clear reason why animals would seek out information: It can be vital to their survival and reproduction. A bird that spent its whole life eating berries from a single bush and never explored its environment could be missing out on a much better food source nearby. Thus, it is not surprising that exploration is common in the animal world. For example, monkeys will push a button at high rates for a chance to peek out of the window, and roundworms do not crawl to a food source directly, but rather circle towards it in a way that gives them the most information about their environment.
What drives animals’ information-seeking behaviors? One possibility is that each individual animal learns over the course of its life that a greater knowledge of its environment leads to rewards like food or other essential resources. However, while this is something we can imagine humans or monkeys learning, it is probably beyond the capacity of roundworms. Furthermore, we see curiosity-driven behaviors in very young animals, before they have had enough experience to learn the association between knowledge and rewards. For example, human newborns look at new visual scenes for much longer than at known visual scenes.
Another possibility is that evolutionary pressures have made information intrinsically rewarding. The reason so-called “primary rewards” like food and sex are pleasurable is because animals that enjoy eating and reproducing are more likely to survive and produce offspring. Evolution has therefore built up a reward system in the brain that drives behaviors that help animals acquire essential resources. Could this same reward system be prompting information-seeking behavior by making animals find new information intrinsically rewarding?
If learning is intrinsically rewarding, the brain should respond to new information in a way similar to how it responds to primary rewards like food and sex. Indeed, neuroimagingstudies show that when people are curious about the answers to trivia questions or watch a blurry picture become clear, reward-related structures in their brains are activated. However, since the resolution of neuroimaging is still quite rough, these studies cannot show whether the reward-related structures in the brain actually respond in the same way to information as they do to primary rewards like food. For this we need to study the behavior of single neurons.
Neuroscientist Ethan Bromberg-Martin and his colleague Okihide Hikosaka were the first to find signatures of reward responses to information within single neurons. They designed a task in which monkeys saw two pictures and had to choose one. Then, after a short delay, the monkeys would receive either a large or a small reward. If the monkey chose one of the pictures (the informative picture), it would get a cue that indicated whether the delay would be followed by a small or large reward. If it chose the other picture (the uninformative picture), it would see a cue that gave no information about the upcoming reward. Even though the choice of picture did not affect the size of the reward, the monkeys almost always chose the informative picture, presumably because they were curious and found it rewarding to get a hint about the outcome.
While the monkeys performed this task, Bromberg-Martin recorded activity in their dopamine neurons, which play a crucial role in primary reward processing and in motivating behavior. By increasing their activity in the face of both rewards and cues that predict rewards, dopamine neurons flag rewarding situations and experiences for the rest of the brain. Bromberg-Martin and Hikosaka looked at how the monkeys’ dopamine neurons responded to the pictures and found that activity increased in response to the informative picture and decreased in response to the uninformative picture. The reward-predicting dopamine neurons responded to information in the same way they respond to other primary rewards like food and sex.
Bromberg-Martin and Hikosaka’s study indicates that a core component of the brain’s reward-processing system can motivate animals to seek out information as well as primary rewards. Since both food and information can drive behavior that promotes survival, it makes sense that somewhere in the brain they are processed similarly. However, we would also expect that they be represented differently in other parts of the brain. A good book and a candy bar are both rewarding, but in distinct ways—and if you’re hungry, you are not going to be satisfied by reading the latest bestseller.
With this distinction in mind, neuroscientist Tommy Blanchard teamed up with Bromberg-Martin and colleague Ben Hayden to investigate how information and primary rewards are represented in the orbital frontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in many complex cognitive behaviors, including evaluating rewards. By again recording the monkeys, he found that neurons in this area responded to both information and primary rewards but, unlike dopamine neurons, did not treat these two variables in the same way. For example, an individual neuron in the orbital frontal cortex might increase its activity in response to a primary reward, but decrease its activity in response to information (or vice versa).
Blanchard’s research indicates that primary rewards and information are represented differently in the orbital frontal cortex, in contrast to the midbrain (the home of dopamine neurons), where they are integrated into a single representation. Processing these rewards differently in the more advanced part of the brain may allow for behavioral flexibility—the ability to seek out information in some contexts, but focus on primary rewards in others.
What this body of research demonstrates is that primates really are informavores—information stimulates our brains the same way food and sex do. Yet there are also parts of our brains that differentiate between information and other rewards, allowing for behavioral flexibility and complex decision making.
Many questions still remain about humanity’s innate curiosity. For example, how do reward circuits in different parts of the brain interact with each other? Why are some types of information more interesting to us than others, and why are different people interested in such different things? Let’s hope our curiosity will continue to lead us to a further understanding of curiosity itself!

Inspirational Quote – December 07, 2017

“Sometimes you have to let go of what’s gone, appreciate what still remains, and look forward to what’s coming next.”

Yes, those are the days a gratitude list is in order. To break the hold a loss can hold over us, we need to refocus on what we still have, and be grateful. Expressing our gratitude is the first step to creating more abundance in the future. So when life gives you lemons, don’t sit their pouting – turn them into lemonade!

Susyn Blair-Hunt

How Nature Makes Us Healthier and Happier

Studies show that communing with nature is beneficial for your health and your life socially, psychologically, and emotionally. The article in Yes Magazine discusses what these research studies have found regarding the benefits nature provides.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Gratitude Helps Your Friendships Grow

Research suggests that gratitude plays a quiet, key role in building a relationship.

A great deal of research has shown that gratitude helps us to initiate, maintain, and strengthen our relationships. Gratitude may make our romantic relationships closer and more satisfying, encourage us to feel more invested in friendships, and even cause us to be more helpful coworkers.
However, two questions have received relatively little attention from gratitude researchers: What specific information is processed in the mind that causes us to feel gratitude, and why did gratitude evolve in the first place?
Trying to answer these questions can help us develop a deeper understanding of how (and why) gratitude functions the way it does, so we can truly use it to build stronger social connections. Based on our initial research, we’re beginning to understand that gratitude helps to reinforce other people’s good deeds and to jump-start mutually cooperative relationships.

Gratitude and interpersonal value

Gratitude seems to be very important for building and maintaining social relationships—that is, for how we come to value others. Along with our colleagues Michael McCulloughDaniel Forster, and Adam Smith, our recent research has examined how this underlying process works.
In one experiment, we told participants they would be playing a computer game of catch with three other “participants,” all of whom were actually part of the research team. After participants met the other three, they completed a survey.
This survey measured how much participants valued their fellow players, by testing how willing they were to trade off their own welfare for that of the others. By and large, we tend to be more willing to trade off our own welfare (that is, help) people to whom we feel close. Under most circumstances, we are willing to expend more time and energy helping a family member or friend over an acquaintance, and an acquaintance over a stranger. In our experiment, we measured the willingness to trade off one’s own welfare for the welfare of another using a survey that generates a “welfare tradeoff ratio” (WTR). As you might expect, because the players were all strangers, initial levels of participants’ WTR were quite low.
Next, the game of catch began. In this particular game, every time you threw the ball to the player designated as the “Treasurer,” you would win 50 cents. Needless to say, participants were hoping to get the ball and then have the opportunity to throw it to the Treasurer and rack up their earnings.
In some games, however, the Treasurer excluded the participant from the game, never throwing the ball to him. After the other players played catch with the Treasurer for a number of rounds, something different happened—one of the other players began to throw the ball to the participant. That is, instead of throwing the ball to the Treasurer to increase her own winnings, this helpful player threw the ball to the participant so that he could earn some money—she went out of her way to benefit him.
After the game, participants again completed a WTR survey for each of the three players to see how much they valued the other players. We also asked participants to rate how they felt about the players on several dimensions—most notably, how grateful they were toward them. Finally, participants played an economic game called the Dictator Game. In this one-move game, they were given $10 and told to allocate as much or as little as they wanted to the other players—an indication of cooperation.
We found three important patterns. First, as you might expect, participants valued the helpful player more after the game. That is, WTRs increased for the player who helped the participant—and only this player. The WTRs for all remaining players either stayed the same or decreased.
Second, we found that increases in WTR predicted the level of gratitude the participant felt toward the helper. In other words, the greater the increase in how much participants valued the helper, the more gratitude they reported in response to that help.
Our third finding relates to cooperation. We found that participants allocated far larger percentages of money in the Dictator Game to the player who helped them than to the other players who did not. But, unlike with gratitude, it wasn’t the increase in WTR that predicted this cooperative behavior. Instead, it was the post-game WTR level (how much participants currently valued the welfare of that person).
This is a subtle but important distinction: Increases—that is, positive changes—in WTRs predicted gratitude, whereas current WTR values predicted giving (above and beyond the effects of gratitude). Gratitude seems to correspond to positive changes in how much we value others. When we express gratitude to someone, we are effectively signaling that, by virtue of their actions, we value them more than we did before—and that we might be more likely to provide benefits to them in the future.

Why did gratitude evolve?

As an intensely social species, humans necessarily put great importance on establishing beneficial relationships with others, whether it be close friends, romantic partners, or work acquaintances. A major question, then, is how we are able to form cooperative relationships with others who aren’t our immediate relatives. By signaling increases in WTR, gratitude may play a central role in the process by which strangers develop relationships that turn into friendships.

Generally speaking, we tend to feel grateful when a person does something nice for us—they delivered a benefit of some kind. As our experiment suggests, feelings of gratitude are explained by how much more we value our benefactor. Boiled down to their essence, the feelings of gratitude (and the psychological systems that caused these feelings) help to identify likely cooperators—people who have demonstrated that they care and might continue to do so in the future. Our gesture or utterance of gratitude thus expresses to others that we’ve noticed their actions, we perceive them to be beneficial, and we might be potential reciprocators down the line.
When we detect expressions of gratitude from someone else, we are getting the same message. And hearing gratitude from someone might make us value her more, to the extent that we care about how our actions affect her (for instance, if we are looking to make a new friend). This is because, out of the sea of people in the world, this person has indicated that she values us and is thus more likely to be an ally. Therefore, helping this person in the future might have a better chance of bolstering a new, beneficial relationship than helping others who haven’t demonstrated that they value us. In this way, both expressing and detecting gratitude can create a snowball effect by ratcheting up mutual value, starting from the very first interaction and leading to a strong, cooperative relationship over time.
In considering the possible evolutionary functions of gratitude, it is reasonable to ask whether gratitude evolved specifically in humans, or whether it evolved long ago in a common primate ancestor. One way to tackle this question is to search for evidence of gratitude in our current primate cousins. Though we can’t actually get inside the mind of a chimpanzee or a capuchin to see if they feel gratitude in the same way we do, we can observe their behaviors and see if they are consistent with feelings of gratitude and increases in social value. So far, some evidence suggests that they are.
Our current work is focused on determining how the costs and benefits of an action affect gratitude, how all of these processes work over longer timeframes than a single experiment, and how benefactors respond to signals of gratitude from their beneficiaries. In the future, we plan to extend these lines of research cross-culturally to see if these findings hold true beyond the United States—whether these patterns are specific to certain societies, or universally human.

Inspirational Quote – December 06, 2017

“Broken crayons still color.”

It’s so easy to say, “I’d do this if I had that” or “I can’t do this because (fill in the blank).” The truth is, we have the tools we need every day to do the things we dream of doing. If someone says they can’t color because the crayons are broken, they’re simply practicing the art of procrastination. Look around to see where you’re limiting yourself in life, simply because the tools you have don’t look the way you think they should. Then, break free of that mindset and paint a beautiful picture of your dreams!

Susyn Blair-Hunt

At the Tip of Time's Arrow

Close your eyes and imagine this moment, right now, as the tip of an arrow called eternity. What do you see? What do you imagine? What do you sense but have no words for? Dive into this meditation on time by Nicos Hadjicostis and look through his eyes into the infinity of time and what implications is has for how you live this very day.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The State of Mindfulness Science

Here's what we know right now about meditation—and what we don't.

During the past two decades, more and more scientists have studied mindfulness—a Buddhist-inspired collection of practices aimed at helping us to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness of ourselves and our environment. Their early findings triggered an enormous amount of enthusiasm for meditation.
Sometimes, however, journalists and even scientists (who should know better) have overstated the physical and mental health benefits, which has fed growing skepticism about mindfulness.
This essay was adapted from <em>Greater Good</em> content for the <a href=“”>January issue</a> of <em>Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time</em>. <a href=“”>Subscribe now!</a>This essay was adapted from Greater Good content for the January issue of Lion's Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our TimeSubscribe now!
Indeed, the science behind mindfulness meditation has often suffered from poor research designs and small effect sizes, as 15 psychologists and neuroscientists found after reviewing hundreds of mindfulness studies. Their paper, published in October by Perspectives on Psychological Science, argues that there is still much we don’t understand about mindfulness and meditation. Worse, many scientists and practitioners don’t even agree on the definition of those words. They end the paper calling for “truth in advertising by contemplative neuroscience.”
In that spirit, here’s a rundown of questions that seem fairly settled, for the time being, and questions researchers are still exploring.

Meditation almost certainly does sharpen your attention.

It’s not surprising that meditation would affect attention, since many practices focus on this very skill. And, in fact, researchers have found that meditation helps to counter habituation—the tendency to stop paying attention to new information in our environment. Other studies have found that mindfulness meditation can reduce mind-wandering and improve our ability to solve problems.
There’s more good news: Studies have shown that improved attention seems to last up to five years after mindfulness training, again suggesting trait-like changes are possible.
Do these benefits apply to people with attention-deficit disorders, and could meditation possibly supplant drugs like Adderall? We can’t yet say for sure. While there have been some promising small-scale studies, especially with adults, we need larger randomized controlled trials to understand how meditation might mix with other treatments to help both kids and adults manage attention-deficits.

Long-term, consistent meditation does seem to increase resiliency to stress.

Note that we’re not saying it necessarily reduces physiological and psychological reactions to threats and obstacles. But studies to date do suggest that meditation helps mind and body bounce back from stress and stressful situations.
For example, practicing meditation lessens the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, particularly for long-term meditators. According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it.
As Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson write in their new book, Altered Traits, “These changes are trait-like: They appear not simply during the explicit instruction to perceive the stressful stimuli mindfully, but even in the ‘baseline’ state” for longer-term meditators, which supports the possibility that mindfulness changes our ability to handle stress in a better, more sustainable way.

Meditation does appear to increase compassion. It also makes our compassion more effective.

While we may espouse compassionate attitudes, we can also suffer when we see others suffering, which can create a state of paralysis or withdrawal.
Many well-designed studies have shown that practicing loving-kindness meditation for others increases our willingness to take action to relieve suffering. It appears to do this by lessening amygdala activity in the presence of suffering, while also activating circuits in the brain that are connected to good feelings and love.
For longtime meditators, activity in the “default network”—the part of our brains that, when not busy with focused activity, ruminates on thoughts, feelings, and experiences—quiets down, suggesting less rumination about ourselves and our place in the world.

Meditation does seem to improve mental health—but it’s not necessarily more effective than other steps you can take.

Early research suggested that mindfulness meditation had a dramatic impact on our mental health. But as the number of studies has grown, so has scientific skepticism about these initial claims.
For example, a 2014 meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine examined 47 randomized controlled trials of mindfulness meditation programs, which included a total of 3,515 participants. They found that meditation programs resulted only in small to moderate reductions in anxiety and depression. Furthermore, there was also low, insufficient, or no evidence of meditation programs’ effect on positive mood and feelings and substance use (as well as physical self-care like eating habits and sleep).
According to the authors, meditation programs were not shown to be more beneficial than active treatments—such as exercise, therapy, or taking prescription drugs—on any outcomes of interest.
The research is also raising some interesting nuances about the effectiveness of meditation for different populations. For example, one recent, large-scale, well-designed study found that the “gold standard” Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention for adults had no impact on depression or anxiety in teens. As the authors note, this doesn’t mean meditation can’t help teenagers—it could well be the case that we need to develop and test interventions aimed at younger people.
The upshot? Meditation is generally good for your well-being, yes, but so far it doesn’t appear to be actually better than many other steps you can take to stay healthy and happy. It should definitely be considered an adjunct to, not a replacement for, other kinds of treatment for mental conditions like bipolar disorder.

Mindfulness could have a positive impact on your relationships.

There are many, many studies that find a positive link between mindfulness and relationship quality, which is probably a byproduct of the effects we’ve already described.
For example, in one 2016 study, researchers measured mindfulness in 88 couples. Then they took cortisol levels in each couple before and after they discussed a conflict in their relationship. Unsurprisingly, cortisol levels spiked during the discussion, a sign of high stress. But levels in the most mindful people—both men and women—were quicker to return to normal after the conflict ended, suggesting they were keeping their cool.
This result is echoed in many studies of mindfulness in romantic relationships from the beginning to the very end—in fact, there are quite a few studies that find that mindfulness makes breakup and divorce easier. This is probably linked the positive effects we’ve already described, such as more resilience and compassion.
Mindfulness is also linked to better relationships with your kids. Studies have found that mindfulness practice can lessen stress, depression, and anxiety in parents of preschoolers and children with disabilities. Mindful parenting is also linked to more positive behavior in kids.
small 2016 pilot study used neuroimaging to see how mindfulness practice changes the brains of parents—and then asked the kids about the quality of their parenting. The results suggest that mindfulness practice seemed to activate the part of the brain involved in empathy and emotional regulation (the left anterior insula/inferior frontal gyrus) and that the children of parents who showed the most activation perceived the greatest improvement in the parent-child relationship.
We must remember, however, that these studies are often very small, and the researchers themselves say results are very tentative.

Mindfulness seems to reduce many kinds of bias.

We are seeing more and more studies suggesting that practicing mindfulness can reduce psychological bias.
For example, one study found that a brief loving-kindness meditation reduced prejudice toward homeless people, while another found that a brief mindfulness training decreased unconscious bias against black people and elderly people. In a study by Adam Lueke and colleagues, white participants who received a brief mindfulness training demonstrated less biased behavior (not just attitudes) toward black participants in a trust game.
However, social bias isn’t the only kind of mental bias mindfulness appears to reduce. For example, several studies convincingly show that mindfulness probably reduces sunk-cost bias, which is our tendency to stay invested in a losing proposition.
Mindfulness also seems to reduce our natural tendency to focus on the negative things in life. In one study, participants reported on their general mindfulness levels, then briefly viewed photos that induced strong positive emotion (like photos of babies), strong negative emotion (like photos of people in pain), or neither, while having their brains scanned. More mindful participants were less reactive to negative photos and showed higher indications of positive feeling when seeing the positive photos. According to the authors, this supports the contention that mindfulness decreases the negativity bias, something other studies support, too.

Meditation does have an impact on physical health—but it’s modest.

Many claims have been made about mindfulness and physical health, but sometimes these claims are hard to substantiate or may be mixed up with other effects. That said, there is some good evidence that meditation affects physiological indices of health.
For example, practicing meditation reduces the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, particularly among long-term meditators. Also, meditators seem to have increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme implicated in longer cell life and, therefore, longevity.
But there’s a catch. “The differences found [between meditators and non-meditators] could be due to factors like education or exercise, each of which has its own buffering effect on brains,” write Goleman and Davidson in Altered Traits. “Then there’s self-selection: Perhaps people with the brain changes reported in these studies choose to stick with meditation while others do not.” In other words, we should use caution when championing results.

Meditation might not be good for everyone all the time.

Some seem to believe mindfulness practice will invariably induce a sense of peace and calm. While this can be the experience for many, it is not the experience for all. At times, sitting quietly with oneself can be a difficult—even painful—experience. For individuals who have experienced some sort of trauma, sitting and meditating can at times bring up recent or sometimes decades-old painful memories and experiences that they may not be prepared to confront.
In a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, Jared Lindahl and colleagues interviewed 100 meditators about “challenging” experiences. They found that many of them experienced fear, anxiety, panic, numbness, or extreme sensitivity to light and sound that they attributed to meditation. Crucially, they found that these experiences weren’t restricted to people with “pre-existing” conditions, like trauma or mental illness; they could happen to anyone at any time.
In this new domain of research, there is still a lot we do not understand. Future research needs to explore the relationship between case histories and meditation experiences, how the type of practice relates to challenging experiences, and the influence of other factors like social support.

What kind of meditation is right for you? That depends.

“Mindfulness” is a big umbrella that covers many different kinds of practice. A 2016 study compared four different types of meditation, and found that they each have their own unique benefits.
During body scan, for example, participants saw the biggest increases in how aware they were of their bodies (unsurprisingly) and the sharpest decline in the number of thoughts they were having, particularly negative thoughts and thoughts related to the past and future. Loving-kindness meditation led to the greatest boost in their feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others. Meanwhile, observing-thought meditation seemed to increase participants’ awareness of their thoughts the most. Previous research also suggests that observing-thought meditation has an advantage in reducing our judgmental attitude toward others.
Taken together, these and other studies suggest that if you’re tackling a specific issue—say, feeling disconnected from your body—then you can choose a practice aimed at helping that issue, like the body scan. Loving-kindness might help in conflict with others, while observing-thought meditation can help break rumination.
“The type of meditation matters,” explain postdoctoral researcher Bethany Kok and professor Tania Singer. “Each practice appears to create a distinct mental environment, the long-term consequences of which are only beginning to be explored.”

How much meditation is enough? That also depends.

This isn’t the answer most people want to hear. Many of us are looking for a medically prescriptive response (e.g., three times a week for 45-60 minutes), but the best guide might be this old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
To date, empirical research has yet to arrive at a consensus about how much is “enough.” Aside from the raw number of minutes, other factors may interact to influence the benefits of mindfulness practice: the type (e.g., formal sitting meditation practice vs. informal meditation practices, mindfulness vs. compassion, etc.), the frequency (multiple times a day vs. multiple times a week), and the quality (sitting and actually doing the practice vs. doing the practice “on the go”). While it’s possible that in the next 10-15 years we will see a CDC-style recommendation regarding meditation practice, to date, the empirical data on the topic are still inconclusive.
Our recommendation? Try out different durations, types, and frequencies of meditation and jot down how you feel before and after the practice—and see what seems to work for you.