Meditation and Mental Health
Since ten years old, I have experienced the symptoms associated with Bipolar Disorder. Though challenging, through the assistance of meditation I have been able to maintain a positive mental health balance.
This post will cover my Bipolar experiences, but only on a brief, surface level. For those wishing to better understand Bipolar and the various types of the disorder, I have provided in the Resources section a link to an NIH article on Bipolar Disorder.
Having the more intense Bipolar Type 1, I struggled for the first two years trying to handle the head-spinning peaks and the dingy dungeons, as well as the in-between. After stabilizing from a recent elevated hypomanic episode, I accepted that something was wrong with me and I needed answers. While I would have loved the opportunity to discuss my challenges with my family, mental health is not a subject we openly discuss.
As such, I independently searched for information regarding my symptoms in the psychology and mental health section of my local Barnes and Noble. Being so young and too embarrassed to ask for reference assistance, I failed to find any resources regarding my symptoms. However, moving into an adjacent section, I stumbled upon a book that shared that regular meditation could provide positive changes in one’s mental health. I took a leap and purchased the book.
Though the beginning of my meditation practice was… rocky; over time, I was able to gain more of an appreciation for the practice and yield better results from each session. Additionally, while at first the sessions were consumed by me attempting to calm my sporadic and panicked mind, today my mind is easily calmed and I find center within only a few minutes.
With Bipolar Disorder, it is known that symptom intensification is greatly influenced by environmental factors. These influencing factors can be related to substances, physical atmosphere, and social surroundings. Taking this into consideration, I have found that my symptoms are most easily influenced by social surroundings due to my social anxiety.
However, through meditation, I have been able to deconstruct my social anxiety and calm my escalating manic thoughts during periods of intensification, such as workspaces and communal gatherings. Equally as important but in the opposite direction, during low moods, meditation has helped me find the light when my spirit craves the shadows.
While this post highlights the mental health benefits I have gained from meditation, this practice has broader potential beyond Bipolar. Given a recent CNBC article shares that, since the pandemic, people are reporting depression levels tripled from what they were previously, meditation could be a positive supplemental assistant (Stieg, 2021).
Before closing out this post, I would like to share just one more piece of advice geared towards those who are looking to start meditating.
Over the years, I have helped others with beginning their meditation journey. Being that most of these people were starting meditation at a very challenging time in their life, the common pushback I have heard was, “Look, I just can’t handle sitting still; I’m too stressed out — ok?!”
Yes, this is ok.
For those who have “jittery legs” or “a wondering, anxious mind”, it is important to know these are temporary roadblocks. So, consider how to adapt your meditation practice to these present challenges.
For example, you have jittery legs? Maybe walking meditation could help. This can be achieved by taking yourself to a calm, quiet place like a park, forest, or beach and just walking while maintaining equal breaths and focusing on calming your mind. If these spaces are unavailable to you, then consider doing a simple circle where you have enough free space to achieve this.
And for those who have the “worse time focusing!”, you are fine. Everyone who started anything new usually did not start off as a savant. So, if you find your mind wandering while you are sitting or during your walking meditation, remind yourself in a friendly tone, “Thank you for your ideas; but, we are focusing right now.” However, if you are still struggling with your concentration, consider focusing on a physical or mental image, a song, your breathing, or humming.
Meditation is about finding your center and calming yourself so you can explore further aspects of yourself. Over time, you will get there.
Just remember: be patient.
Now, with all that shared, it is time for you to find your comfy spot, walking path, or whatever works for you and enjoy a few minutes of peace; you know you deserve it.
Please, do not self-diagnose and consult a professional for any of your health needs (be they physical or mental).
— Recommendations —
For those looking for some deep level concentration music for their meditation dives, I highly recommend this video by Brainwave Music on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWnCk_86KVE
— Resources —
NIH — Bipolar Disorder: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder
CNBC — Depression rates have tripled during the pandemic — how to recognize the signs and respond to them: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/10/depression-increased-during-covid-pandemic-how-to-feel-better-cope.html
Journeying — A Shaman’s Meditation Technique: https://www.sierrabythesea.com/about/articles/journeying-a-shamans-meditation-technique-by-jay-rau/
How Meditation Can Help You Manage Bipolar Disorder by Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/meditation
What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health by Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health-
— Sources —
Sturgeon, C. S. (2018, September 10). Five black rocks [Photograph]. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/6KkYYqTEDwQ
Cosmic Dreams VFX — Let Go of Your Negative Energy — Get Inspired — Relaxation Music. (2020, February 19). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWnCk_86KVE
Bipolar Disorder. (2020, January). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder
Stieg, C. S. (2021, October 10). Depression rates have tripled during the pandemic — how to recognize the signs and respond to them. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/10/depression-increased-during-covid-pandemic-how-to-feel-better-cope.html
Journeying — A Shaman’s Meditation Technique. (2019, September 23). Sierra By The Sea. https://www.sierrabythesea.com/about/articles/journeying-a-shamans-meditation-technique-by-jay-rau/
Watt, A. (2018, February 12). How Meditation Can Help You Manage Bipolar Disorder. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/meditation
Harvard Health. (2014, July 16). What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health-