As with all things in life, if we don’t do them properly, do them in excess, or do them when the time is not right for us, they can make us feel worse. And meditation is no exception. So, it’s yes to the question, Can Meditation Make You Feel Worse?
However, so can going to the gym, eating too much of our favorite foods, and watching too much TV…….. it’s a big list!
This doesn’t mean that we should avoid meditation. Instead, it is a practice we should respect and learn how to use effectively so we can achieve our desired results.
I guess this comes as a shock to some people who are drawn to meditation as a process to ‘make their lives better.’ Because, by its very nature, meditation can be a very powerful transformational tool and as such is capable of exposing our weaknesses so that we can have the opportunity to turn them into strengths.
We are all affected in different ways through our practice, so let’s try to discover if practicing meditation will make you feel worse.
Can Meditation Make You Feel Worse?
Meditation can make you feel worse if it exposes ‘undesirable’ thoughts and feelings we haven’t appropriately processed in the past. However, this is not necessarily bad and will eventually work out for your benefit. You will become a clearer channel for ‘pure positive life force’ to flow through you as you remove your blockages. The negative results YOU MAY experience depend mostly on any existing issues you have, the type of practice you are doing, and the amount of ‘quality’ time you spend meditating.
How Do We Measure What ‘Feeling Worse’ is?
Some studies have shown that meditation does make a small percentage of practitioners feel worse. Very few people consider they are a lot worse off for meditating. And one study reported that 8.3% of people, from an analysis of 83 studies, experienced unwanted effects from their practice. The effects included more depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and feeling less happy.
While I acknowledge the studies, realize they are important, and that the results should not be ignored, it’s also important to understand the subjective nature of their conclusions. I.e. how much is ‘more depressed,’ ‘more stressed,’ etc?
What most of these studies don’t consider is ‘What would those people who feel worse (and blame meditation) be like if they had not been meditating?’ This is also difficult to quantify. However, a recent study did try to shed some light on this.
In a paper by researchers at The Center for Healthy Minds (University of Wisconsin), participants who underwent a standard and widely accepted MBSR course (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) were compared to a control group who did no meditation.
The researchers discovered that the meditators did not experience a single case of psychological harm at a higher rate than the non-meditating control group. And in most instances, the rates of harm were significantly lower
than those in the non-meditators group. The researchers concluded that:
“MBSR may not only be no more harmful than no treatment, it may actually be preventative of developing increased psychological and physical symptoms.”
Did all meditation cause harm? Or was it a retreat that lasted a month, or just sitting at home in silence for ten minutes a day….. because these are hugely different scenarios? Therefore, we would expect the effects on us to be significantly different.
And ‘feeling worse?’ Is that a headache from too much concentration, slight agitation, a sore knee from sitting too long, or feeling depressed because we didn’t like the thoughts and feelings that arose within us? (Many meditation traditions view some of these “negative” aspects as a sign that you are progressing on your journey of self-transformation!)
What Are Some Ways Meditation May Make You Feel Worse?
1) You may become more focused on what you imagine to be your problems and negative aspects.
2) Attention to the ‘negative’ may cause increased anxiety, depression, and stress.
3) You may experience detachment from ‘normal life.’ Working a normal job and living as before may no longer interest you as you explore your psyche deeper.
4) Forming relationships may become more difficult as you lose interest in ‘normal conversation and activities.’
5) You may lose the motivation to achieve goals that were once normal for you.
6) Your sleep cycle may be disrupted. The more you meditate, the less you will need to sleep.
What Are Some Reasons Meditation Makes You Feel Worse?
So yes, while meditation can make some people feel worse at times, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for your personal development. However, there are some occasions when you feel worse and it’s not contributing to your growth, so you should rectify these problems.
Times, when you feel worse from meditation and should change what you are doing, may include:
1) You may be meditating in a stressful environment. If you are not yet able to self-regulate your thoughts and feelings, you could be negatively affected by the stress surrounding you.
Some forms of meditation are like self-hypnosis. This means our brainwaves slow to a hyper-receptive state. And if we cannot regulate our thoughts and emotions sufficiently, we will be ‘programmed’ by the stressful environment. And this will make us feel worse!
2) If you are predominantly angry or pessimistic and you allow yourself to dwell on your negative traits while meditating, you will no doubt feel worse after your sessions. Switching to a different meditation technique, including breath-focused, mantra repetition, or movement awareness will take your mind away from your negative thinking patterns and alleviate this problem.
3) Maybe you have stopped taking medication for depression, stress, etc? There is a growing awareness of the nasty side effect caused by many medicines. However, suddenly stopping your medication and replacing it with meditation in the hopes of ‘curing’ your problems is not a wise move. Meditation can ‘heighten your awareness’ of your issues which will make you feel worse.
4) You are spending time meditating to shift mental and emotional energy but not doing any physical exercise to facilitate its exit from your body.
Traditionally, meditation was only one part of a whole system that enabled personal growth and development. However, now, many systems are so diluted that they focus on only one aspect of health, like meditation.
Yoga, for example, is a holistic system for human development that has eight branches. And meditation (dhyana) is number seven on the list. The idea is that you master the previous seven to prepare your body, mind, and soul for the more advanced therapy that meditation brings.
5) You’re not breathing in a way that helps you relax and release tension. Breathing is such an important tool to promote mental, emotional, and physical health. However, not many people are even aware of their breathing habits, let alone know how to breathe in ways that are beneficial for them.
Learning to breathe properly will not only make you feel physically better, but also help to keep you calm and relaxed, and mentally and emotionally balanced. Check out this video if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.
Why Do These Negative Aspects of Meditation Happen To Us?
As I mentioned before, meditation is a transformational process. Most of us begin meditating to change ourselves into something (we perceive as being) better than what we already are.
Initially, when meditating, we will think a lot like we do when we are not meditating. Thoughts like what the kids are doing, I should ring mum, what’s for dinner, and am I doing it correctly, etc. will be very common.
However, as we progress, the process of quietening our minds brings us in touch with our innermost thoughts and feelings. This includes stuff we may have been avoiding facing or stuff we have suppressed under layers of busyness for years on end.
And the quieter we become, the more likely our ‘ghosts of the past,’ our fears, and our insecurities will come into our conscious minds……
Consequently, we may remember something that we did that we are not proud of or something awful that happened to us….. All of it is energy (mental and emotional) and it is all still there….. until we transform it into something better!
So, now, you may be feeling worse because this stuff is coming out and wanting to be dealt with…. You are being reminded by your soul (not anything or anyone negative) that it’s time you brought this stuff out from under the rug and ‘make good out of it!’
Right now…. these painful memories and uncomfortable emotions will definitely make us feel worse…. But only for as long as we choose to dwell upon them and not acknowledge and release our negative attachments to them.
And THIS IS THE BEGINNING of the real benefits you will receive from continuing to practice meditation. Because, as with all things in life, the discomfort you feel now is only temporary. And YOU ARE THE KEY to releasing your pain, fear, doubt, insecurities, anger, hate….. you are the key to the better life you desire. But first, you have to clean yourself up, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
And meditation, if practiced wisely, will enable you to live a better future than the life you are living today… but you will more than likely have to go through some discomfort before you get there….
Too much, or the wrong type, or the wrong timing of anything will make us feel worse. And meditation is no different from anything else in that respect. It is not a magic pill that will ‘fix’ all your issues!
And despite the prevailing narrative that meditation will make you feel better, that is not the objective of practicing. It will get you there, but the transformation, at times, can get messy depending on the ‘underlying issues’ we have.
When you begin, your mind may be used to going a hundred miles an hour…. And then you apply the brakes and become aware of what’s hiding underneath all of your busyness. And for some of us, this revelation sucks!
However, just because some studies portray this as a ‘negative,’ it doesn’t mean that it is. They simply do not acknowledge the positive side of making friends with our ‘shadow side.’ And when we do, we will become lighter, happier, and more radiant. And there’s nothing negative about that!
If your current meditation practice is making you feel worse, change what you are doing. A simple search online may reveal a practice that is better suited to your current needs…..
…… never give up, just adapt and continue the journey…..
You might like to check out my post: How do I learn to meditate: The 2 biggest secrets to help you learn meditation that actually work!