According to Gallup’s annual State of the Workplace: 2021 Report, 2020 saw some of the highest stress levels to date, with 57% of American and Canadian workers reporting stress on a near-daily basis. This marks an 8% increase from 2019. Whether we’re working from home, back in the office, or trying to find stable footing with unpredictable hybrid environments – the truth is, we’re feeling the burnout. If you’re searching for ways to give yourself a reprieve from stress, inspire renewed focus, and improve productivity – a 5-minute meditation could be just the thing for you.
Listen to Harvard neuroscientist and Associate Researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital, Sara Lazar, share research that shows how a regular meditation practice changes our brains–proof positive that mindfulness meditation can positively impact mood, focus, memory, and stress on the Untangle podcast below.
When most people hear the word “meditation,” we can sometimes conjure up the image of zen masters with decades of experience. But while research suggests long-term meditation has its benefits, you don’t need to spend hours to see them. In fact, all you need to get started is a spare 5 minutes.
For instance, a 2015 study exploring the impact of short meditations on 61 mental health professionals found that the group who meditated for just five minutes a day over a seven-day intervention experienced significant reductions in stress. So if you don’t have hours to spare, don’t worry – a 5-minute meditation could be all you need.
What is Meditation?
At its core, meditation is a practice that seeks to train awareness and attention, often with the goal of easing stress, increasing mental acuity, and improving overall wellbeing. The style and structure can take many different shapes, and how it is practiced varies by person.
Some meditative practices are designed to help you develop awareness and strengthen concentration through mindfulness, others through maintaining focus on a thought, visualization, object, or sensation. You can find a seated position with your eyes closed, like focused attention meditation, or include movement, like walking meditation.
Ultimately, there are as many types of meditation as there are people who practice them. Over time, many practitioners cultivate unique meditation routines that help them feel grounded, so if you find yourself struggling with one type of meditation – don’t give up! It may just take some time to find the meditation style that resonates with you.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Practiced for thousands of years, meditation’s anecdotal benefits have been said to include everything from pain relief to personal enlightenment. However, research suggests the benefits of meditation point to stress management, mental performance (e.g., focus), and general wellbeing.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
The physical benefits of meditation can feel different for each person, but it typically involves stress relief and relaxation. Many studies exploring the physical benefits of meditation mention that its likely mechanism of action is through stress management, which can have an often invisible yet significant impact on our wellbeing.
One area of interest for meditation researchers involved meditation and blood pressure. A study published in 2009 involving 298 university students suggests that the intervention of transcendental meditation (TM) may help reduce blood pressure, likely in step with increases in coping skills and decreases in reported stress.
In a systematic review of the available data, the American Heart Association (AHA) also found meditation may positively impact blood pressure and suggests benefits for coronary heart disease. Further potential benefits noted by the AHA include reducing inflammation, lessening menopause symptoms, and improving pain responses.
Research-backed physical benefits of meditation along with a healthy lifestyle can include:
- Reduced hypertension in young adults
- Lessened inflammation
- Decreased symptoms of menopause
- Improved pain responses
- Mitigated risk of stress-induced or exacerbated conditions
Emotional Benefits of Meditation
How do you deal with troubling emotions? Well, first, you need to be aware of them! Avid meditators often develop skills in self-awareness and acceptance that enables them to spot & then let go of troubling emotions, rather than getting stuck in mental rumination.
In a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that – after sifting through 19,000 studies to identify 47 well-designed and reliable trials – mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological distress, including stress and anxious thoughts.
Even more promising? Research led by John J. Durocher, Ph.D., found that just one meditation session resulted in clear and significant reductions in anxiety.
Durocher shared, “Our results show a clear reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session, and… that anxiety was significantly lower one week after the meditation session. Participants also had reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session. This could help reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure.”
The takeaway: even a single 5-minute meditation session can make a difference. Research-backed emotional benefits of meditation along with a healthy lifestyle can include:
- Enhanced emotional coping skills
- Decreased stressful thoughts
- Reduced rate and impact of anxious thoughts
Mental Benefits of Meditation
Beyond the emotional benefits, research suggests meditation can help ease insomnia, strengthen our ability to focus, and potentially slow age-related cognitive decline.
When it comes to sleep, The Sleep Foundation conducted a comprehensive review of the available studies. They found mindfulness meditation positively impacted adults with chronic insomnia and led to fewer moderate sleep disturbances for older adults. Researchers believe meditation may help practitioners cultivate a relaxed state of mind more conducive to falling asleep than the state of hyperarousal many with insomnia experience.
Concentration and focus also seem to be expanded and strengthened by meditation, according to a study published by the University of Washington. The study found that for participants working in high-stress information-dense environments, eight weeks of mindfulness meditation was more impactful than an 8-week body relaxation program. After those 8 weeks, participants had a greater ability to shift between tasks and reduce inefficiency from multitasking, improved memory of task details, and increased resilience that lessens after-work fatigue and negative mood.
Even more incredible? Research suggests meditation may change our brain’s structure. UCLA researchers using brain mapping found that meditator’s brains had more white matter connections throughout different brain regions. A further UCLA study conducted in 2015 found the rate of grey matter loss was less steep for meditators than for controls. Together, these studies suggest meditation may help protect against age-related mental decline.
Research-backed mental benefits of meditation along with a healthy lifestyle may include:
- Improved overall well-being
- Improved mental performance
- Improved stress management
- Aid in the wind-down process before going to sleep
Guide to a 5-Minute Meditation
With so many potential benefits, it’s understandable why thousands have begun incorporating meditation into their daily routines. So if you’re finding yourself stressed, unsure where to turn, and short on time – a 5-minute meditation could be just the thing for you.
A huge benefit to 5 minute meditations is that they can be done practically anywhere! Whether it’s before a meeting or after dropping the kids off at school – even the busiest of people often can find an extra five minutes in their day to spare for a bit of meditative TLC and self-care.
How to Get Started with Your 5-Minute Meditation
If you’re new to meditation, the idea of sitting for 60+ minutes can feel daunting. So start small!
Create Your Space
To begin, find a quiet, distraction-free place where you can get comfortable. If you’re at work or in a busy environment (like at home with the kids), this could look like finding a comfortable seated position, closing your eyes, and putting on noise-canceling headphones.
Whether you opt for a walking meditation in nature or sitting in a quiet space at home – the key is limiting distractions over these next five minutes. Make sure to turn off your phone so you’re not tempted by incoming texts. These next 300 seconds are dedicated solely to you.
Choose Your Meditation Experience
Next, it’s time to choose the type of meditation that resonates most with you. This could look like a non-guided open monitoring meditation, where you let go of striving and embrace being by noticing passing thoughts before returning to a neutral mental space.
If open-monitoring meditation isn’t your thing, you can try a guided meditation that invites you to remain gently focused on the object of your choosing. You could choose to focus on a mantra or affirmation that you center in your mind, what you feel in your body as you meditate, your breath, or visualizations.
A quick tip: Dealing with mind-wandering can have many of us itching in our seats as we meditate. Many find they get frustrated and quickly tire of “thinking about nothing.” As more thoughts enter our minds and “invade the nothingness” we’re barely holding onto, the more stressed we get, completely defeating the point of meditation. Rather than getting frustrated at each intruding thought, try acknowledging, accepting, then letting go of thoughts as they come your way.
There is nothing else you need to be in this moment. You are perfect just as you are. Every thought that pops up is just a thought and all you need to do is notice, accept and let go of them.
Meditation is not about emptying your mind. It’s about learning to recover when we’re thrown off balance. In reality, meditation is less about eradicating distractions and stress, and more about strengthening our capacity to live with them. From a place of grounded calm, enjoyment, and resilience. When we lean into this practice, we welcome in the potential for a whole host of physical and mental benefits that come from sharper focus, mental acuity, and stress management skills.
The Muse App
Need support as you embark on your exploration into meditation? We at Muse are here to help. Muse has more than 500 Guided Meditations from renowned meditation instructors, including collections like sleep, performance, stress, and more. Our guided meditations are led by 20+ experts and meditation teachers with a diverse range of styles to explore.
Ready to get started on your first five-minute meditation?
Listen to Chrissy Carter’s 5-minute meditation preview, Taking a Walk, and discover if guided meditation is right for you.