Who knew meditating and mindfulness could heal a broken heart? Set 20 minutes aside every day and you could kick pain to the curb
Step away from the cupcakes—there's a healthier way to ease your heartbreak. Mindful meditation can help cut emotional pain more than morphine, says a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Say whaa? Well, past research has found that meditation increases your pain threshold by helping your brain control discomfort and emotions. But mindfulness expert Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, wanted to ensure these findings weren't just thanks to a placebo effect—or merely thinking meditation would help ease your angst.
So Zeidan put people through a handful of four-day experiments testing various placebo pain relievers (like a fake cream and a lesson on a fake form of mindfulness meditation). People then had MRIs and were simultaneously burned with a 120-degree thermal probe (don't worry, that's just hot enough to feel pain but not cause serious damage).
Unfortunately, Zeidan's suspicians were right: Every group saw reductions in pain, even the people using placebos. However, for those who had actually practiced mindfulness meditation? Pain intensity was reduced by 27 percent and emotional pain dropped 44 percent.
That's right—emotional turmoil was reduced by almost half (just by meditating for 20 minutes four days in a row)! In fact, all the people did was sit with their closed eyes, listen to specific instructions on where to focus their attention, let their thoughts pass through without judment, and listen to their breath. Doesn't sound so hard. (These tips are As Good As Meditation: 3 Techniques to Cultivate a Calmer Mind.)
So what's the secret? The MRI scans showed mindfulness meditators had more activity in brain regions connected to attention and cognitive control—which exercise power over what you pay attention to. Plus, they had less activity in the thalamus, a brain structure that controls how much pain enters your noggin.
Zeidan mentioned that he's never seen results like this from any other pain relief technique—not even drowning your sorrows in chocolate and tissues, we're willing to bet. So close your eyes and breathe deep—science says so!