Does Mindfulness Meditation Cure Bipolar Disorder?

mindfulness meditation and bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder makes everyday life a struggle. Its ups and downs wear us out and also harm our relationship with others. The episodes of mania and depression are disruptive and degrade our lives. Meditation is known for making us calmer and emotionally resilient. It helps with many mental conditions like OCD and ADHD. But can mindfulness cure bipolar disorder?

Meditation isn’t a cure for bipolar disorder. But it helps you manage it by improving emotion regulation and making you stable. It causes several chemical changes in the brain that reduce stress and anxiety. Research suggests practicing meditation alongside bipolar disorder treatments for better results.

Read on to learn what meditation is and how it helps with bipolar disorder. We’ll also discuss a simple technique, so you can get started with meditation.

Table of Contents

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that involves paying attention to the present moment. It’s when you observe your thoughts and emotions without any judgment or indulgence. Usually, we practice it by focusing our attention on the breath, a sound, an image, or bodily sensations.

Mindfulness doesn’t aim to remove stress, depression, or any other problems. Instead, it gives us the option to handle them with awareness. It helps us respond calmly to situations that would otherwise agitate us.

Mindfulness also doesn’t claim to give us control over the mind or ward off negative thoughts. It does something much more important: detaching us from the stories in our heads. Meditation also creates new neural connections in different parts of the brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was the biggest influence on bringing mindfulness to the West. He developed a unique 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program to reduce stress.

In the last few decades, many scientific studies have been published exploring the benefits of meditation. Researchers have found that it enhances our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The best thing about meditation is that it has no side-effects and costs nothing. You can practice it from the comfort of your home and experience the transformation.

How meditation helps you manage bipolar disorder

Meditation may not be a cure for bipolar disorder, but it can help you balance your mood. Bipolar disorder makes you stressed, and meditation can reduce the stress you experience from it. It also relieves anxiety and depression symptoms in people with bipolar disorder.

Mindfulness calms the mind instantly and allows you to experience deep emotions stably. It settles down your system naturally and healthily so that you don’t have to rely on heavy medications. From physical health to emotional well-being, meditation improves all aspects of our lives.

The Bipolar sufferer’s brain cannot process the surge of extra chemicals during mania episodes. Meditation helps you stabilize by making the brain highly resilient. It also boosts feel-good chemicals like endorphins and dopamine naturally. This improves your temperament, making manic episodes less likely.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a brain area controlling impulse and emotional reactions.It’s also linked to focusing our attention and rational thought. Low activity and abnormalities of PFC are a common finding in bipolar disorder.(1) Mindfulness meditation works to increase thickness in the prefrontal cortex. It changes the brain’s structure for the better.(2)

Also, MRI scans reveal that after an 8-week MBSR course, the amygdala region of the brain shrinks.(3) This “fight or flight” center of the brain is linked with fear and initiating the body’s stress response. A shrink in the size of the amygdala means less aggressive and fearful behavior.

Scientific research

Therapists are incorporating meditation and other mindfulness practices into bipolar treatment plans. In particular, mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has shown promising results.

Research reveals that meditation provides long-term benefits for regular practitioners. In a 2017 study, several years after completing MBCT, people who continued to practice found that it helped prevent depressive relapses.(4)

A two-year study included 311 patients with bipolar disorder II. The Bipolar Depression Rating Scale (BDRS) scores were lower for the meditation group. Meditation also improves their mood, alleviated guilt, and reduced feelings of hopelessness.(5)

Other studies also show that meditation can be used alongside other treatment methods. It provides relaxation and promotes a more balanced mood in the long run.(6)

Learning to practice meditation

Learning to meditate is simple, but sitting down and doing it is hard, at least in the beginning. Breath-focused meditation is a simple and popular way to practice mindfulness every day. The following are the basic instructions for doing it. For a more in-depth guide with tips, read the complete guide to mindfulness meditation.

  • Set a timer for 10-20 minutes on your phone or alarm clock.
  • Sit cross-legged on a mat or a cushion. Although sitting on the ground is ideal, you can also sit in a chair. Make sure the room is quiet, and there’s not too much lighting.
  • Rest your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, palms facing upward. Or intertwine your fingers and drop the hands in front of you.
  • Keep your head straight and spine erect. Assuming this posture allows you to sit still for longer periods. To read detailed instructions for the posture with photos, read the beginner’s guide to meditation posture.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to settle in. Now, let the body breathe on its own and watch every inhalation and exhalation. You can notice the sensations at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly. Don’t try to control anything; just be with every breath.
  • When your mind wanders—which it will—bring it back to your breath. It’ll happen a lot, so be gentle and don’t get frustrated. Take it as a given that you’ll only be meditating less than 10% of the time in the beginning. You’ll spend the rest of the duration thinking about random stuff.
  • Keep the body perfectly still. Try not to move at all during your session. You’ll have the urge to change your position or scratch, but you must do nothing.

Consistency is the key to meditation. Meditating regularly for 15 minutes a day will yield greater results than meditating for two hours on just one day. If you’re struggling to meditate daily, check out the article on 10 practice tips to make meditation a daily habit. It’ll help you incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.

Although silent meditation offers the best results, you may also use meditation apps to learn the basics. The guided instructions make it easy to practice at home. Make sure to read how meditation apps work and how you should use them.

Takeaway

Meditation has been around for thousands of years, and it has a remarkable effect on our lives. We can practice it anytime, anywhere, and it costs nothing. It also offers benefits for patients of bipolar disorder. Regular meditation leads to a significant reduction in stress, anxiety, and depressive relapses.

Remember that meditation isn’t supposed to replace conventional therapies for bipolar disorder. Consult your doctor about other treatments you may need like psychotherapy or medications. Meditation should be practiced as an addition to your current treatment plan.

Good luck.

References [+]
1. Maletic, V., & Raison, C. (2014). Integrated neurobiology of bipolar disorderFrontiers in psychiatry5, 98.
2. Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B. T., Dusek, J. A., Benson, H., Rauch, S. L., Moore, C. I., & Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thicknessNeuroreport16(17), 1893–1897.
3. Taren, A. A., Creswell, J. D., & Gianaros, P. J. (2013). Dispositional mindfulness co-varies with smaller amygdala and caudate volumes in community adultsPloS one8(5), e64574.
4. Weber, B., Sala, L., Gex-Fabry, M., Docteur, A., Gorwood, P., Cordera, P., Bondolfi, G., Jermann, F., Aubry, J. M., & Mirabel-Sarron, C. (2017). Self-Reported Long-Term Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Patients with Bipolar DisorderJournal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)23(7), 534–540.
5. Pandya S. P. (2019). Meditation for treating adults with bipolar disorder II: A multi-city studyClinical psychology & psychotherapy26(2), 252–261.
6. Stange, J. P., Eisner, L. R., Hölzel, B. K., Peckham, A. D., Dougherty, D. D., Rauch, S. L., Nierenberg, A. A., Lazar, S., & Deckersbach, T. (2011). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder: effects on cognitive functioningJournal of psychiatric practice17(6), 410–419.
About the author

I was introduced to spiritual practice at the age of 12. I didn't find it intriguing back then, but my curiosity about life has brought me to spirituality again, and I've been reading others' insights and learning from life for over three years. You can read more about me here.

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