Contemplation and Its Effectiveness in Reducing Anxiety

anxiety cognition contemplation meditation mindfulness productivity stress wellbeing Jan 13, 2023

Understanding Contemplation for Better Wellbeing

Contemplation in the pure form, or actual meaning, is deep reflective thought. On the spiritual side, contemplative meditation is the spiritually-centred observation or consideration of a specific idea, question or situation with the goal of receiving insight from the still small voice, inner wisdom or the divine.

It’s an ancient practice that’s been around for centuries which involves calming the mind and allowing you to focus on a single thought or idea. It gives time to pause and reflect to understand those thoughts, feelings, concepts or experiences more deeply. 

Unlike mindfulness meditation, which encourages us to observe our thoughts without judgement, contemplation involves actively engaging with thoughts around  gratitude, love, joy, forgiveness, and self-compassion. Consideration of these themes, in greater detail with respect to our lives, can offer greater clarity in our own situations, to help us make better-informed decisions and move forward, positively. 

The Science to Support Contemplation for the Reduction of Stress and Anxiety 

Recently, there has been a resurgence of scientific research into the effects of contemplation on anxiety, and other mental health issues, to allow us to take a step back from our thoughts and feelings and view them objectively. 

A study in 2019 found that short, practical meditation practices can have an effect on those not familiar with meditative practices. The eight-week study identified that daily meditation decreased negative moods and enhanced attention and concentration. It further identified through controlled experiments that short bursts of meditative practices can even have similar behavioural benefits as contemplative practices of longer duration and higher-intensity. 

Research around the effects of mindfulness meditation training on people suffering generalised anxiety disorders in 2018 suggested that understanding and adopting meditation practices can offer resilience to stressful psychological challenges for those prone to anxiety disorders. 

As far back as 2010, Stanford University delved into the effects of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression, and their findings identified meditative practices were effective for improving anxiety and mood symptoms. 

Then in 2015, after extensive research, a Stanford psychologist determined the positive effects associated with contemplative practices. Her research showed that viewing stress as a helpful – rather than harmful – part of life, is associated with better health and emotional well-being, as well as being beneficial for cognitive function and productivity, even in times of high stress. 

While further scientific research needs to be conducted before definitive conclusions can be made, these and ongoing studies provide insight into the benefits of practising contemplation, and show how it can help reduce anxiety and stress. 

Overall though, meditation – contemplative or otherwise – has been a positive life force for many cultures for centuries. People who engage in daily reflections report feeling calmer and less anxious than those who don’t practise or engage in reflection at all. 

How To: Contemplative Meditation

Contemplation is about openly, honestly and lovingly taking a good look at, and embracing, your reality – without defensiveness. It’s about being in the moment, and breathing, and thinking more deeply about what you are actually thinking. 

You are waking your inner observer, and effectively doing nothing and something at the same time. 

Some of the ways you can do this are: 

  • Practising gratitude: take time to notice and reflect upon the things that you are thankful for. Naming five things before you go to sleep or when you wake up regularly can offer you more positive emotions, better sleep, and allow you to express more compassion and kindness in life. 
  • Pause and breathe: it soothes the nervous system. Your body receives the message it doesn’t need to be on high alert, and it’s safe to relax. 
  • Contemplative walk: a short walk in comfortable clothing – in no shoes along a beach – brings you closer to nature. Be aware of the heel to toe, knee to foot and hip rhythms, and listen to the sound of the ground or sand. Contemplate the waves or the birds and keep your mind “chatter” free. 
  • Journaling or contemplative writing: let go of perfectionism and just let the ideas and thoughts flow – write without thinking. There’s no right or wrong – the privacy of the practice, and purging, is the key. 

There are endless – and practised – ways to engage in contemplation. From yoga to Tai chi, through to prayer and art, it’s about finding what’s best for you. It’s about being present in the moment, as opposed to being lost in our ego’s persistent judgements. 

Contemplative meditation won’t change your outer circumstances, but it will change your perception of those circumstances. This realisation and ownership can alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with whatever is happening right now. 

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Kick Fear in the Butt and Mumma Life is Now aim to promote skills and/or solutions that are protective of wellness and mental health. We may introduce techniques to support these issues, but the information is general information only, and should not be relied upon as health or medical advice in any format. We recommend you seek consultation with a mental health professional or physician before adopting any new practices or techniques to deal with anxiety- or stress-related mental health or medical issues.