Multitasking and Distraction

“In a time where no one seems to have enough time, our devices allow us to be many places at once — but at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we actually want to be. Mindfulness says we can do better.” — Time Magazine cover article on mindfulness, February 3, 2014.

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Meditation and Your Brain



A recent and important research study out of neuro-imaging researcher Sara Lazar’s lab (my old lab) at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in late January.  The study found changes in the structure of the brains in people who completed an eight-week class in mindfulness meditation.  This result is another piece of evidence that that the adult brain can experience far more physical changes than previously thought.

MRI of the brain
MRI scan of the human brain

This study suggests that we can change our brains in just eight weeks!  The authors of the study tell us that in their study, people who completed the eight-week mindfulness meditation program experienced changes in parts of their brains “responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

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Meditation and mindfulness research

For several reasons, mindfulness and meditation have been the subject of more and more well executed scientific research over the past twenty years.  Much of this research has investigated the effect of meditation on mood and on the brain’s ability to regulate emotion. 

Other research has investigated the capacity for meditation to help people suffering from anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  It may be that the study of meditation’s ability to make us happy has gotten more publicity than the study of meditation’s capacity to reduce anxiety.  However for people with diagnosable anxiety disorders, the potential to be gained from meditation is perhaps greater than it is for everyone else.  Meditation can “quiet the mind,” and pave the way for certain types of anxiety (e.g., worry, panic attacks) to improve.

Mental Health Parity Law

With the recent passage of the federal bailout of the financial industry, a groundbreaking piece of legislation was passed that will significantly affect mental healthcare in the U.S. This bill stipulates that mental health conditions must receive the same insurance coverage as physical health conditions. Thus, treatment for schizophrenia or OCD will not be covered with different annual limits, co-payments, and deductibles than those for, say, arthritis.

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