Opinion: Let’s take a breather on meditation

Graphic by Lincoln Aftergood

Graphic by Lincoln Aftergood

Lily Rulnick, Guest Writer

Close your eyes and transport yourself to a happy place. That’s a sentence sure to relieve your anxiety, right? While there are plenty of statistics that show that meditation helps calm an anxious mind, few consider the possibility that it might not work for everybody.  

According to a study done by the University College of London, 25% of 1,232 people who had been meditating for at least two months reported having “unpleasant” emotional responses from meditation. Head researcher Marco Schlosser said that there is a lot of research on the benefits of meditation, but more research needs to be done on the “negative effects” that result from meditation before its health benefits continue to be promoted.

As someone who deals with anxiety, meditation is always the first suggestion I’m given when I ask for help, whether it’s from actual therapists or my peers. The first time that I had heard about it, I tried it. Everybody kept telling me that it would help calm me, so of course, I wanted to try out this miracle method. 

I tried all sorts of different guided meditations but quickly realized that I was seeing no results at all, which only added to my frustration. 

Mental illnesses, such as anxiety, are too personal to generalize. Saying that meditation works for everybody is harmful because really, everybody’s experiences are uniquely their own. Just as there is no one universal way to study for a test, there isn’t one universal strategy for dealing with mental illness. So even though meditation is portrayed to be beneficial to everybody, I’ve found that it most certainly is not. 

Co-founder and Education Director at the Mindfulness Center Jessie Taylor said that the purpose of meditation is to put us in a “healing state.” Taylor explained that it increases our “awareness of pain and discomfort” so that we can better heal. In other words, meditation makes us more aware of our current experience so that we are able to properly address our needs and truly be in touch with our discomfort. 

But what if the discomfort is too much to handle? This was certainly the case for me. In my experience, meditation caused me to be overly in touch with my discomfort, worsening my anxiety and filling my head with more anxious thoughts. Meditation is meant to calm you down, so if it only worsens your situation, what’s the point in continuing?

Even after I had stopped meditating, I was still being pressured by multiple people to keep trying it. Though I had clearly expressed that it hadn’t worked for me in the past, most adults or peers I had sought help from said that meditation would surely help me since it worked for everybody. This only made asking for help less appealing.  

Persistently suggesting meditation to people who have expressed that it hasn’t worked for them can be harmful for two reasons. Firstly, it causes the false impression that the problem is the person themself. This also causes people to not want to ask for help since they think the only possible suggestion that they are going to be given is to meditate.

So next time you’re tempted to help a friend out by telling them to meditate, try to understand that what’s going on for them might require a bit more than closing their eyes and taking a few deep breaths.