Meditation vs. Medication

So which is it? Sitting and observing your breath for 30 minutes every day or sitting and gulping down a couple of pills every morning? Remembering to stay present and be mindful throughout the day or remembering to take the little blue tablet with dinner every night? Is one better than the other? If you listen to some people, you might think the answer is yes. With all the attention meditation and mindfulness have been getting lately, you might think, like I once did, that you should be able to solve all of your problems simply by committing to a regular practice. Some studies even seem to support this fact, indicating that meditation could be just as powerful or perhaps even more powerful than medication. Still others might argue that such research is misleading and that meditation is just a new age obsession. Which side are you on?

Personally, being the lover that I am, I’m not inclined to take sides. In fact, I’d take out that “vs” altogether. Why must we always pit one method against another? If one works for you and the other doesn’t, fine. If a Prozac a day is all you need to carry on with your life and not spend all your time wallowing in bed, good for you. If you’re able to drop the meds and replace them with 30 minutes a day of meditation, power to you. If you don’t need either, well, isn’t that just swell.

In my own case, I’ve found that meditation PLUS medication is the perfect formula. Meditating has helped me to ground myself and become more aware of myself, my feelings and my triggers in a way that I never was before. I’m more patient, less reactive and more present. But before I started taking medication, meditation only went so far. I was still incredibly anxious, especially around food and social situations, and my obsessions/ruminations were pretty out of control. My therapist encouraged me to try medication for at least a year before I finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t really “do it on my own.” In the past, I’ve been really resistant to taking medication. Along with the conviction that I should be able to power through my issues on my own strength — that I didn’t need a ‘crutch’ — I was also a little afraid of being turned into someone or something I’m not. I was afraid a pill might mask who I really am. Now, I believe the pills I take enable me to be who I really am.

However, I realize I’m lucky. For many people, it can be difficult if not downright impossible to find an effective medication without a host of unwanted side effects. I mean, have you ever listened to those TV commercials for psychotropic medicines? They’re pretty disturbing if you actually pay attention: “Ask your doctor if astroprozanilol is right for you. Taking astroprozanilol may cause severe bloating, heart attack, frothing at the mouth, turning into a werewolf every full moon, hallucinations, uncontrollable urges to gyrate like Miley Cyrus and the very symptom you started taking it for…”  For such people, maybe meditation alone is the better option. It’s certainly worked wonders for me. But for other people meditation may not even be an option until they get some medication in their system to make it so their brain settles down enough for them to be able to meditate. I guess what I’m saying is, everyone’s different. Don’t compare yourself to someone else and don’t compare your situation to someone else’s. Don’t write off meditation as hocus pocus until you’ve really tried it, and don’t write off medication unless you have a legitimate reason to. And if you’re worried about potential side effects, do yourself a favor and don’t read the entire pamphlet that comes with your first dose. And DO NOT get on the internet to search for more information. If you’re anything like me, this will FREAK YOU OUT and you will be convinced that you are dying before you’ve even swallowed a pill.

It’s also important to remember that NOT taking medication may have severe side effects too. In fact, there are a few things I’ll never be able to reverse because of my long term illness. But that’s not something I care to dwell on. Right now, all I care about is that for the first time in a long time, I feel awesome. After speaking with my doctor a second time (after the initial discussion about a potential incorrect diagnosis I mentioned before), he prescribed something to amp up the medication I was already taking. Until I started taking it, I didn’t really even realize what was missing. Or that anything WAS missing. But now that I’ve been on it a little while, I feel as though someone has taken a blindfold off and now I’m finally able to see. I’ve been walking around with a huge weight on my shoulders and this tiny pill is helping me to shrug it off. I feel like MYSELF. And it feels damn good.

 

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It’s Not a Problem Part II: This time with Science!

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with TED talks lately, and after writing my last post I realized I had listened to one not too long ago that proves just how powerful the way we think about things can be.

In this particular talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses her discovery that how you feel about stress in your life makes a big difference in whether or not that stress is bad for you. If you’re like me, you probably learned from a young age how harmful stress is to your health — that it can lead to heart attacks, immune deficiency, high blood pressure, etc.  Just google “stress health impacts” and you’ll see what I mean. McGonigal actually spent much of her career spreading those same messages, only to find out recently that they were perhaps a bit misguided. To come to this conclusion, she relied on studies like the one conducted by researchers at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, in which roughly 30,000 people were asked to rate their stress level over the past year as well as to indicate whether they believed stress affected their health minimally, moderately, or a lot. The researchers then followed these people over a period of eight years and used death records to note the passing of any of the participants. Perhaps not surprisingly, people who reported high levels of stress and who believed that stress impacted their health a great deal were 43 percent more likely to have died. However, people who reported high levels of stress but who believed that stress only affected their health minimally were the least likely to die. Even less so than people reporting low levels of stress.

It turns out stress can actually be good for you if, well, if you don’t stress out about it!

I highly recommend watching or listening to the talk in its entirety for all the details. And if you get as hooked on TED as I am, be sure to check out the handy TED talks app and the TED radio hour podcast on NPR.

And lest this sound too much like a commercial, know that I am in no way affiliated with TED, NPR or Kelly McGonigal — just a fan. However, if you have connections, don’t be afraid to give them my name.