Meditation for Stress Management
It’s certainly something that meditation practice can help with. For one, meditation is about stopping and focusing on the present moment–and often, many people find meditation to be a relief because it slows us down enough to recognize what the body needs. We don’t have to react like we did when running around in school or work; instead, meditation helps us get back in touch with how our bodies function. This gives our minds more time to focus–on listening for cues that show up (such as hunger or pain).
Being mindful of these signals lets you let go of stress. Stress comes from reacting impulsively–for instance, if you’re hungry and you don’t take the time to eat, then your brain might start to feel like it’s in starvation mode. Meditation can help people learn how to slow down their responses and make more informed choices.
For example, meditation can help you:
- Think before speaking–which is helpful when we avoid saying something offensive or hurtful (in meditation, we call this “right speech”).
- Stop yourself from taking things personally–this means that meditation can give us an opportunity for self-improvement; meditation allows you space to work on old habits that cause negative behaviors (such as overreacting) and ultimately replace them with new ones (like patience).
Meditation also allows us to make room for stress–we can notice what’s stressing us out, and meditation lets you acknowledge it. We learn to see where the stress is in our bodies to avoid taking it out on other people.
Since meditation practice makes us more aware of everything going on around us, meditation helps you better understand how your body functions when it’s under “attack.” When this happens, meditation can help you change your perception of stress by showing you coping mechanisms that feel calming (such as deep breathing) or just recognizing when you need to take a step back from whatever is stressing you out. It all comes down to learning new ways of dealing with things that come up throughout the day.
What Does Meditation Involve?
Meditation is often thought of as what you do when you meditate, but meditation refers to the practice of meditation. Once individuals have experienced meditation once or twice, they may feel inclined to learn more about it and continue meditating for years to come.
The most basic meditation technique includes sitting in a relaxed position with your eyes closed. Next, choose one thought that you would like to focus on during meditation. It can be almost anything:
- Counting breaths.
- Reciting a mantra (a sound or phrase that is repeated).
- Focusing on something specific in front of you (like your hands).
The important thing is that your mind is only focused on one thing at a time–no thinking about what you will make for dinner or if you have a test tomorrow. The purpose of meditation is to clear your mind or stop yourself from thinking about every new thought that crosses your mind at any given moment.
Meditation can help calm you down and reduce stress by teaching your body to relax. Many people find meditation effective in relieving insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, and panic attacks. In meditation, the brain produces serotonin which gives you a sense of happiness and relaxation after meditation sessions. You may feel more focused afterward as well. Meditation has been proven beneficial for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, too–it reduces pain intensity and muscle tension while increasing positive moods such as optimism, peace, energy, etc.(Source). This makes meditation an excellent method for coping with illness or with stress.
There are many meditation techniques you can try. You may want to sit in a relaxed position and focus on your breathing, or you may want to count each breath you take (inhale and exhale) and clear your mind after every number. Meditating with nature is also a common practice: meditation is most effective when there isn’t any noise around us–while we meditate outdoors, we don’t hear cars driving by, TVs blaring from the next apartment over, barking dogs–and there is no light pollution during meditation at night time either.
This provides us with an opportunity to focus purely on meditation itself without needing to clear our minds of other thoughts. We can focus on our breathing and feel the air going in and out of our lungs. Meditation is an excellent tool that has been developed over thousands of years, and meditation techniques are constantly evolving.
The meditation practice can be highly beneficial to an individual’s spiritual or mental growth, but the meditation itself needn’t refer to any particular religion or philosophy; meditation can be done by anyone who practices meditation regularly. Some people like to meditate in groups once or twice per week, while others prefer to meditate alone at home each day after work or school. However you choose to incorporate meditation into your life, remember that it is only one method of reducing stress and enhancing your overall well-being–and it makes an excellent addition to many other stress management techniques!
Meditation and Stress
Stress is a natural, necessary part of life. We experience stress whenever we feel fear or anxiety about something we must do, such as giving a public speech or taking an exam. When these situations arise, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in to help us perform at the highest level. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, muscles tense up, and cortisol is released into our bloodstreams so that blood flows more quickly to the muscles where it’s needed most.
This allows us to react quickly in dangerous situations when time is of the essence—for example when faced with danger from another person or animal. These reactions are known as the fight-or-flight response because they prepare us to either run away from potential threats or stay and fight.
In meditation, the body responds in exactly the opposite ways that stress does—by triggering a relaxation response. It restores the body to a calm state, helping it repair itself and preventing new damage from stress.
Meditation helps reduce stress by calming the sympathetic nervous system’s arousal process. When we meditate, our heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and muscles relax while more alpha waves are produced in the brain. These changes lead us to feel more relaxed both physically and mentally. In meditation, we learn how to recognize when thoughts stimulate feelings of stress so that we can take action before stress escalates into dangerously high levels or becomes damaging to our bodies.
The Role of Relaxation
The role meditation plays in stress reduction is one of meditation’s most excellent benefits, and meditation can be a powerful tool for fighting off the effects of stress.
Those who practice meditation regularly begin to experience changes in their response to stress that allow them to recover from stressful situations more efficiently and experience less stress from the challenges they face in their everyday lives.
Meditation produces relaxation on both a physical and mental level. Meditation works psychologically by helping people develop coping skills to manage better and reduce the pressure and intensity of day-to-day stresses. It works at a physiological level because meditation induces physical relaxation while reducing cortisol levels—a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands when experiencing mental or emotional stress (Larimore et al., 2002).
Cortisol is a hormone that can damage the body if it remains in circulation for too long. It contributes to conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease (Yehuda & Bierer, 2009). Reducing cortisol levels through meditation helps protect against these effects of stress; medical research has found meditation can lower blood pressure due to this physiological process (Krisanaprakornkit et al., 2006). Meditation also induces physical relaxation by slowing breathing and heart rate (Larimore et al., 2002).
Meditation generally increases feelings of awareness and clarity even outside meditation sessions; this heightened awareness makes meditation easier to practice on an ongoing basis because meditation users gain recognition of the innate healing effects meditation can have on their minds, bodies, and spirits. Increased relaxation produced by meditation provides long-term resilience against stress that meditation users carry with them even after meditation sessions.
Researchers have found meditation to be an effective intervention for stress reduction in students (McCown et al., 2010) as well as a valuable tool to help decrease health care professionals’ burnout—a condition where employees become overworked and emotionally exhausted—and the risk of becoming emotionally exhausted (Smith & McCown, 2011). Meditation induces relaxed feelings during meditation sessions and helps meditators develop strategies to achieve this experience despite being in stressful situations outside meditation sessions.
Meditation is a technique that everyone should know about. The benefits of meditation are abundant and include stress reduction, increased energy levels, better concentration, improved memory and creativity, lowered blood pressure, strengthened immune system function, relief from chronic pain and insomnia, greater self-awareness, and acceptance of oneself… the list goes on. Do meditation for twenty minutes twice a day or less if you can’t manage it right now. You don’t have to sit still in a lotus position if you don’t want to.
Daily meditation is the best way to achieve benefits from meditation. Meditation will take less time once you are used to meditating every day. The effects of meditation are cumulative over time, much like weight lifting. There’s no need to stress how long meditation takes now – relax and don’t worry about it. Once your practice grows, you’ll have plenty of motivation to make meditation faster!