The benefits of meditation are well-known, from decreasing stress and promoting overall mental health to improving immunity, blood pressure, heart health, and so much more. Less well-known are the risks and side effects of meditation. Everything has benefits and drawbacks and meditation is no exception. Here are the risks, side effects, and precautions to keep in mind if you practice meditation.
Facing your buried emotions
Meditation could get you in touch with buried and suppressed emotions. It could trigger waves of fear, anger, jealousy, and more, which had been sitting buried deep within you. If you’re expecting it as a natural part of meditation you’re likely to be alright. If you’re unaware though, the uncontrollable emotion wave can be destabilizing. It can also force you to relieve traumatic experiences as flashbacks thereby retraumatizing you.
Depression and anxiety
Meditation is often prescribed as a way to manage depression and anxiety for people with mental health concerns. Regular meditation can help manage stress, and anxiety which can trigger depression. The problem is meditation can cause a feeling of depersonalization, emptiness, disconnection, panic, and fear. This can further exacerbate depression and anxiety. Fear and anxiety are common side effects of meditation so if you suffer from depression or anxiety, you should likely speak to your doctor before trying meditation and perhaps do it in a guided set-up with a trained person present.
Can be disempowering
Meditation is beneficial in calming someone down especially when it comes to things, they don’t have control of and can’t necessarily change. The problem is meditation can make you so passive, contained, and compliant so that you lose motivation to do anything, even things you have control over.
One study found that meditation can make you lose interest even in things you previously enjoyed in much the same way depression does. If you already struggle with procrastination meditation may not be for you.
This disempowering effect has been cited as one of the reasons meditation is being promoted everywhere from schools to offices. Instead of standing up to oppression, inequality, climate change, and the existential problems facing us, we’re encouraged to meditate to deal with the anxiety and depression resulting from these injustices. It’s a way that’s being used to keep people isolated, passive, and compliant.
Some people experience negative physical effects including pain, pressure, involuntary movements, headaches, fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, and dizziness.
Damage to the sense of self
Your sense of self is crucial and affects all the other relationships in your life, this is why it’s concerning that meditation can damage your sense of self. One study found that participants were more aware of their negative qualities after a meditation retreat. They reported feeling a loss of agency, a loss of sense of basic self, and a loss of ownership.
Meditation is not therapy
Meditation and other mindful practices are not a substitute for therapy. If someone is really struggling, meditation may not offer sufficient support. Speaking to a therapist in addition is likely to be beneficial.
It’s worth noting that most people who experience adverse effects are those who go to intense meditation retreats where they meditate for hours each day for a week, maybe more.
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