Our world is a constant stream of information: texts, Facebook posts, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat — you name it. And with that stream of information comes a small rush of endorphins every time someone “Likes” a post or sends a picture, according to neuroscientist Daniel Goleman. This results in a focus on living in the future, and anxiety until someone responds and gives us a sense of self-worth. Focusing on ourselves and how people perceive us, according to Goleman, typically puts us in a negative mood, resulting to an unhealthy constant in our daily lives.
Not that the use of technology itself is harmful; it can absolutely help us communicate and be more productive. But our constant access to this stream of data, and the resulting anxiety that people don’t like us enough to comment on our statuses, creates unnecessary stress in our lives that can be overcome, or at least mitigated, through a few simple steps.
According to Scientific American, there has been a huge upswing in scientific research on meditation and how to achieve peace of mind in recent years, likely because of these obsessions and cravings. As strange as it sounds, studies have shown that taking some time out of our day to practice mindful meditation can not only give us a break from the bombardment of text messaging, but also have an impact on the size of certain areas of our brain. Most notably, the amygdala, which is responsible for our fears and emotions, has been proven to shrink in those who meditate, whereas the prefrontal cortex, home of such thought processes as awareness, concentration, and decision-making, begins to grow. This means that our brain achieves higher-order functioning through meditation, rather than from more primal instincts, a very helpful achievement when you’re trying to focus on studying, listening to a conversation or making a smart decision about a career path in life.
There is no doubt that without this practice, we are finding ourselves distracted, nervous, and upset on a regular basis. Scientific American did research that depicited most people find themselves forgetting conversations they just heard, texts they just read, or a drive they just took to school or work when they don’t take time to relax and meditate. Mindfulness, however, can help stimulate memory and focus. It is a simple meditation process through which the meditator focuses on the present moment, letting their anxieties about the past and future flow through them but pass without judgment, according to research from Mayo Clinic. Living in the present and letting go of our worries can be immensely relaxing, and just as importantly, can allow us to think clearly about a subject that was otherwise tied to our emotions.
The only real problem with meditation, it seems, is that there’s a certain stigma associated with it because it sounds like some kind of Eastern voodoo that has no evidence to back it, but recent research has proven otherwise. Taking time to relax and let our emotions flow away has positive impacts on our mental health and physical well-being, and, if you’re constantly stressed out like I am, is definitely worth a 10 or 20 minute break each day that will make facing all the rest much easier.
Collegian Columnist Dan Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danriceman.