A recent study carried out by the UK Mental Health Foundation in 2010 found that of 2,007 British adults surveyed, 81% think that the fast pace of life and the number of things we have to do and worry about these days is a major cause of stress, unhappiness and illness in UK society. Whats more, 53% said they find it difficult to relax or switch off, and cant stop themselves thinking about things they have to do or nagging worries. Sound familiar?
The consequence of feeling more stressed of course is that we experience less happiness. After all, its very difficult to feel fulfilled and satisfied about life when were feeling frustrated, anxious or depressed. So its somewhat inevitable that stress-related illness has continued to rise at the same rate as the pressures and pace of life have increased. The impact of these psychological and physical health symptoms can be devastating on both a personal and professional level, but they can also be costly to society at large.
According to the UK National Office of Statistics, stress, anxiety and depression are now the most common causes of sickness absence from paid employment in the UK. Together, they account for an eye-watering 60 million lost working days every year. The cost of this to the UK economy? £26.1 billion a year according to the Kings Fund. Obviously this includes lost revenue from absenteeism as well as the associated healthcare costs. But the healthcare costs alone are extraordinarily high. Primary care for patients with depression in 2007 (excluding associated public service costs) came in at £ 1.7 billion. Anxiety followed closely behind at £1.2 billion.
Once upon a time the government, and indeed the medical world, would have tried to address this problem with a pill. However it appears that advances in medical technology, coupled with an increase understanding of the mind, have led to a search for a more sustainable approach to the prevention, management and treatment of stress and stress-related health symptoms. Surprisingly for many, one of the front-runners in this search is meditation, or mindfulness as its more commonly referred to by healthcare professionals.
Thanks to sophisticated brain-mapping software and others forms of standardized stress measures, scientists are now able to monitor exactly what happens during meditation. The findings are proving to be revolutionary in many health circles, leading to mindfulness being incorporated into a number of other modalities, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), as well as being used exclusively in its own right.
Of course, anecdotal reports have long highlighted the greater sense of headspace and well-being that meditation can bring about. But now researchers can actually measure the reduction in stress-related chemicals in the body, study the positive changes in circulatory and respiratory function, and even observe increased activity in the parts of the brain connected with positive emotions.
Given such findings, its no surprise that in a comprehensive survey of 250 GPs, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, 68% of GPs thought it would be helpful for their patients to learn meditation or mindfulness skills, even for those with no apparent stress or illness. The only problem, is that they also reported a lack of resources and availability of secular mindfulness teaching.
This is a situation that here at Headspace we feel passionate about trying to change. Thats why we run regular one-day events called Help, I Cant Stop Thinking, as an introduction to mindfulness and meditation. We also provide free online resources and FAQ support for those wanting to learn online. Theres even a free i-Phone app which you can download from i-tunes. So why not visit Headspace and try Take10, a free 10 minute guided meditation to see what the scientists are getting so excited about!
Andy Puddicombe is the author of this article on Meditation. Find more information, about Mind Fulness here