We’ve all been there. You’re feeling overwhelmed, annoyed, and frustrated—your chest starts to constrict. You either want to crawl into a hole and hide or scream at your partner, at your colleague, your boss, your parents, your kids…
Everyone experiences stress and, to a certain degree, it’s a positive thing. Without it, we wouldn’t advance in life. We would have no drive to start a career, start a family, or improve our mental and physical capabilities. Sometimes, though, stress can get out of hand.
Luckily, we can do things to control that stress and anxiety before it gets the best of us. Studies show surprising and promising results using meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.
Meditation for relieving anxiety and stress is not something new. This method has been around for thousands of years, keeping scholars, religious leaders, spiritual leaders, and all of its regular practitioners in check.
Why is meditation so powerful? Does meditation for stress and anxiety relief actually work? Is it difficult?
Here, all of your questions on meditation will be answered. Let’s find out what you can gain from meditation, and how to get started.
What Happens to Your Body During Stress?
That feeling in your chest— you know the one— it’s a real physiological response to stress. When you’re feeling anxious, there’s a whirlwind happening inside your body. Not only that, but studies show that chronic anxiety and stress actually change the structure of your brain.
The fight-or-flight response is the way your body deals with a stressful situation. It all starts in the amygdala— the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing—which passes on the stress signal to the hypothalamus, which tells the autonomic nervous system that something is wrong.
The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary body functions— breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, and dilation. If it senses danger, it kicks the sympathetic nervous system into high gear with a burst of energy that raises heart rate, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure. (1)
Your body is ready to do one of two things— fight, or run (the reason you want to either hide in a hole or scream). (2)
When the body thinks it needs to stay on high alert, the ‘stress hormone,’ cortisol, is released. As long as cortisol is pumping through your body, you’ll be in stress mode.
With all those stress responses happening at once, it’s nearly impossible for you to focus on small tasks and for the body to tend to systems which are not immediately life-threatening, such as the digestive system and the immune system. As a result, long-term elevated cortisol levels lead to weight gain, immune system suppression, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and many other problems.
How Does Meditation Reduce Stress?
Studies show that way too many people today are plagued by chronic stress and anxiety. In fact, 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety disorders. (3)
We need to reduce cortisol levels, reduce stress, and take it easy— don’t you think?
We need to retrain our bodies to react differently to stressful situations. Many experts agree that one of the most effective methods for dealing with stress and anxiety is meditation.
One such expert, Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, studied how people can counter stress and anxiety with a relaxation response. Using many different meditation methods, you actually can lower your blood pressure, and keep your breathing, heart rate, and blood glucose levels down during a time of stress. (1)
Meditation can help you manage your stress by focusing on the present. It increases self-awareness and gives you a new perspective on stressful situations. You also may benefit from increased imagination and creativity, and you may find you have more patience and tolerance for people around you and situations in which you find yourself. (4)
Simple Meditation Techniques for Beginners
If you’re thinking, “I don’t know if this meditation thing is for me”, we challenge you to try each method below. You do not need to be a yogi master or a Tibetan monk to find a relaxation method that works for you. All you need to do is find a quiet and comfortable place.
1. Concentration Meditation
This meditation method helps build a passive attitude toward the things that threaten to get you down.
All you have to do for this one is focus on one thing. You can choose to focus on your breathing, on a mantra, a sound, a candle flame, or on a calming thought.
When worries, fears, problems, or any other distracting thoughts creep up on you, acknowledge them—but don’t focus on them. Instead, go back to focusing on your chosen thing above. (5)
Begin the meditation process at five minutes and slowly work your way up, adding one minute each day, until you reach twenty minutes.
2. Mindful Meditation
The purpose of this meditation is learning to observe without judgment. No thought, movement, or muscle contraction is a distraction — they all are part of the meditation.
Begin by focusing on your breathing, but don’t change it for the purposes of the meditation. Observe how you breathe in, and out–do you breathe through your nose or mouth? Is it fast or slow? As you lose focus on your breathing, you may realize you have tension in your forehead. Observe it, and give it a name— “scrunched eyebrows” or “forehead tension.” As the worries from everyday stress enter your mind, observe your thought process and name each worry. Don’t criticize or chastise yourself, just observe. (5)
3. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation, also referred to as guided imagery or visualization, may be especially effective if you are a visual person. A guide or teacher will help you form images, places, and situations that are relaxing.
You can join a guided imagery class or simply look online for videos that will take you through this meditation.
These three meditation methods listed above won’t cost you a pretty penny and can be done in the comfort of your home.
If you would like to participate in a class or learn a whole new method that involves meditation, relaxation, breathing, and movement, you can try:
- Yoga. Through a series of breathing techniques, postures, and movements, you will improve mindfulness, flexibility, and strength.
- Qigong. Through this method, deeply rooted in Chinese medicine, you will practice movement and breathing exercises to restore balance and improve mindfulness and strength.
- Tai chi. This gentle martial arts method involves slow movements and postures that teach you to take it slowly and breathe— improving balance and mindfulness.
Would you try meditation for relieving anxiety and stress? Do you have a different meditation method that works for you? Leave a comment and let us know!