Researchers from the University of California, Davis have been working on a long-term study known as The Shamatha Project that seeks to ascertain how meditation practices influence brain activity and mental health.
A team of researchers led by Clifford Saron found that cortisol levels rise and fall in direct correlation with stress levels. And when people engage in meditation practices, both their stress and cortisol levels decrease, which leads to greater feelings of joy, kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.
“This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” says Tonya Jacobs, one of the lead authors of the study. “The more a person reported directing [his] cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower [his] resting cortisol.”
On the flip side, people who dwell on painful memories they have from the past, or who develop anxiety about their future, typically have higher stress levels, and thus higher cortisol levels. Long-term release of cortisol in response to stress can lead to a condition known as adrenal fatigue, which is when the adrenal gland is no longer able to properly produce and release hormones. The health consequences of adrenal fatigue include lowered immune function, hypertension, high blood sugar, reduced libido, and bone loss.
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