We love to talk about the benefits of meditation ! Meditation is a practice that anyone can incorporate into their daily ritual as it’s free, can be done anywhere, takes only a few minutes of your time, and boasts a slew of body and brain benefits.
One of those benefits is stress-relief. Who couldn’t use a little stress relief in their life?
How Do I Meditate to Reduce Stress?
Stress can manifest itself in our bodies as pain in the neck or back, as insomnia or other sleeping-related issues, or as headaches and migraines. Stress affects our ability to focus and concentrate, weakens our immune system and can make us feel tired and weak.
Chronic stress can even increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and exacerbate mental health conditions like depression and personality disorders. The good news is, meditation not only works to relieve stress but also helps us develop the skills needed to cope with and manage stress in our daily lives. So how does it work?
Though there are various techniques within the larger practice of meditation, from simple breathing exercises to the art of mindfulness to mind-body scans, on the whole, meditation is about harnessing the power of the mind through concentration. It involves training your thoughts and attention , being aware of the present moment, and staying in the here and now in order to bring about a calm, focused state of being.
Doing so triggers the body to respond in the exact opposite way it would to stress- by eliciting the body’s relaxation response as opposed to the fight or flight response that stress delivers.
Meditation and Stress Relief
Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which suppresses many of our body’s functions that are non essential in an emergency, like our immune response and digestion. Cortisol, actually known as the stress hormone, inhibits the production of insulin while stimulating the production of glucose; it also narrows our arteries, forcing the blood to pump harder in reaction to the stressful trigger.
You can see how this is all beneficial in the scheme of your fight or flight response: all non essential functions are effectively put on hold while you deal with what your body thinks is a life-threatening situation. The issue arises, of course, because we are not always in a life-threatening situation every time we feel stressed. And if we do nothing to mitigate these stressful inputs our bodies are stuck in this response, effectively stealing resources away from things like our immune system and our digestive system and forcing our hearts to work overtime.
This is where meditation comes into play. Meditation works to quiet the mind - and those stress-inducing thoughts and feelings that keep you in that heightened state of response to stress. It reduces cortisol levels in the body, helps you use oxygen more efficiently and normalizes blood pressure.
Get your body to a calm state
One particular study found that mindfulness meditation actually reduced the inflammatory response caused by stress. Participants found that their heart rate and breathing slowed, immune function improved, and they even started sweating less. Researchers discovered that in practicing mindfulness meditation, the body was able to return to a calm state, repair itself and prevent new stress-related physical damage.
What’s more, research has also found that those who have made meditation a regular practice have actually begun to experience changes in the way they respond to stress. This means that these individuals not only recover from stressful situations more quickly, they actually experience less stress on the whole because their bodies are more equipped to deal with stressful inputs in a meaningful, productive way. Though we’re not entirely sure why this happens, many surmise that the positive feelings and mood boost associated with a meditation practice makes people more resilient when it comes to stress and anxiety.
Meditation is a proven-through-research method to reduce stress and anxiety, and there are so many different meditation techniques to try, there is sure to be something that works for everyone. Meditation does require a certain amount of patience but if you commit to a meditation practice, you can essentially learn how to change your response to stressful situations, calming and quieting the mind while reducing the negative effects of stress and anxiety on your body.