This Is How Meditation Can Change The Way You Handle Stress, According To Science

by Georgina Berbari

How do you respond to negative, stressful situations? Honestly, it's hard not to let it affect you when things don't go the way you planned, but then again, you always have the power to choose how you respond to less-than-ideal circumstances — and practicing mindfulness might help, according to the results of a new study. That's right, friends: Science says meditation can help with stress by changing the way you respond to negative feedback, or negative situations in general. So, if you're someone who tends to let stress get the better of you when things don't go according to plan, read on to see how this new research might help you keep your head on straight.

For the study, which has been published in the scientific journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK set out to discover any potential links between meditation and how people learn and respond to feedback. Here's how they did it: Researchers recruited 35 adults — "a mixture of experienced, novice and non-meditators," according to a press release from the University of Surrey — and hooked them up to an EEG (aka a non-invasive method that records brain activity). While the participants were connected to the EEG, the press release explains, they were trained to choose images associated with a reward. Some images had a higher probability of being associated with a reward, while others had a lower likelihood of reward, and the point was to see how quickly the participants picked up on which images led to a reward and which did not.

According to the study's press release, the researchers ultimately found that the participants who meditate were better able to learn which images were associated with a reward, "indicating a tendency to learn from positive outcomes," while those who don't meditate "learned the pattern via low-probability pairings," which suggests that non-meditators may be more likely to learn from negative, rather than positive feedback.

Here's where things get really interesting, though: The EEG results — aka the brain activity readings — showed that all participants, meditators or not, responded in about the same way to positive feedback. However, the study's press release states that "the neurological response to negative feedback was highest in the non-meditation group, followed by the novice group and then by the experienced meditation group." In other words, meditation might, in a way, protect your brain from the effects of negative feedback, meaning mindfulness could help you handle generally stressful or negative circumstances in a more effective way, at least compared to people who don't meditate.

"These findings demonstrate that, on a deep level, meditators respond to feedback in a more even-handed way than non-meditators, which may help to explain some of the psychological benefits they experience from the practice," Paul Knytl, study author and PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Surrey, said in a statement for the study's press release.

The truth is, meditation can do all kinds of exceptionally incredible things for your brain, and it's likely that researchers in the space have only just begun to scratch the surface of it all. Along with potentially helping you respond to negative feedback, a consistent meditation practice might also be linked to "more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making," Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told The Washington Post back in May 2015.

Fundamentally, meditation is equivalent to exercising your mind. So, if you go to the gym or a pilates class on the reg in order to feel physically healthy, it's only logical to begin a meditation practice to help nourish and strengthen your mind, too, right?

It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, either. A common misconception is that there's a "right" or "wrong" way to meditate when, in fact, there's really not.

Try simply sitting upright for five minutes in your bed in the morning, before you do anything else, and savoring the stillness and comfort of your awakening body and rhythmic breath, sans technology and interruptions. Or, as clinical psychologist, meditation leader, and yoga teacher, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, told Elite Daily in an August interview, something as mundane as sipping your morning cup of coffee can easily be considered a meditative experience, if you simply make it a point to slow down in the moment, and truly savor everything about it.

Once you start including these mini-meditations in your daily routine, you probably won't want to stop any time soon — and your brain will thank you for it.