According to the American Psychological Association, 73 percent of Americans “regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress,” while 77 percent “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.”
How Stress Affects Us
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. The term's true definition is that it’s simply the body’s reactions to life’s experiences. However, it’s not always pleasant. Stress can keep you from relaxing, getting enough sleep, and enjoying life. Furthermore, prolonged or chronic stress can seriously affect your physical and emotional health.
Contrary to what you might think, working with stress is not about figuring out how to make it disappear completely. Instead, it’s about learning how to handle stress and navigate its rough waters, coming out on the other side intact. Meditation is a fantastic tool to manage stress, decrease anxiety and help tackle negative emotions.
So how does meditation help with stress reduction?
1. It halts the “fight or flight” response.
The fight or flight or stress response is a survival mechanism that humans acquired thousands of years ago to make it out of stressful, life-threatening situations alive. It affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls several involuntary physical functions like your heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure.
When the stress response is elicited, a cascade of stress hormones produces well-orchestrated physiological changes, like elevated blood pressure, quickened breathing, and sweating. Short-term, these changes might not seem significant. However, when they frequently manifest as response mechanisms, long-term detrimental physical and mental effects occur.
Meditation slows down fight or flight or sometimes prevents it altogether. In meditation, you stop, focus, and recenter your thinking, bringing your attention back to the breath when the mind wanders. This keeps your mind from “snowballing” into worst-case scenarios, which can negatively affect your mental and physical health.
2. It elicits a relaxation response.
One of the ways meditation combats the fight or flight response is by igniting the relaxation response. This is the opposite involuntary reaction that occurs within the autonomic nervous system. This response calms down physical functions like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. By eliciting this response, those struggling with stress will have fewer negative physical and mental effects long-term. The relaxation response has been called the “common, functional attribute of transcendental meditation3".
3. It helps you drop the idea of “perfection.”
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to swim.
— Jon Kabat Zinn
Another way that meditation reduces stress is by promoting acceptance — radical acceptance.
Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), promoted the idea of radical acceptance as a useful meditative tool for reducing stress. Essentially, the idea is that by completely accepting everything happening at any given time (the good, the bad, and the ugly), you can realize that you cannot change reality. You can, in turn, relax into truth and avoid unnecessary suffering.
Mindfulness meditation is the ideal form of meditation for radical acceptance. That’s because mindfulness is, at its core, acceptance of reality. It is witnessing, observing, and noticing the world around you without trying to change it. With mindfulness, you are simply taking stock and accepting life as it is. You’ll be amazed at how this simple act can essentially “deflate” the stress in your life.
How Do You Meditate for Stress and Anxiety?
Learning to meditate is not hard. Anahana can provide personal instruction for your first meditation session. Even if you’re busy, this Unwind Your Mind session is unique in that it only takes 25 minutes but packs a big punch when it comes to effectiveness. You’ll notice a marked difference in how you feel right away. Try this stress management activity.
Benefits of Meditation
Alleviate anxiety symptoms
Enhances positive emotions
Allows you to stay in the present moment
Reduces high blood pressure
Relieves chronic pain
Helps with addictive behaviors
Meditation techniques that help lower stress levels
Numerous meditative stress management techniques can help you with stressful situations and reduce stress in your everyday life. By incorporating meditation as a regular practice, you may experience one or several of the above-listed benefits.
Body Scan Meditation
Focused Attention Meditation
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best type of meditation for anxiety?
The best type of meditation for anxiety focuses on the breath. With mindful awareness, start by imagining your breath going slowly into your lungs, and out slowly, in slowly, and out slowly, in and out. As you experience mind wandering, continue to bring your attention back to the breath every time.
How long should I meditate for anxiety?
Even five or ten minutes of meditation can positively impact stress and anxiety levels. A meditation session doesn't have to last for hours to be effective. In as little as 15 minutes, you can have a robust session with effects that last well into the day and evening — even helping you sleep better and longer. Eventually, you might incorporate meditation into your daily routine to support overall emotional well being and improve inner peace.
Experienced meditators can stay present in practice for over 40 minutes to an hour.
How do you meditate for panic attacks?
Here are some meditation tips specifically for dealing with an oncoming panic attack:
1. Know your panic attack triggers. Everyone will have different triggers, so make sure you know how to identify your own. The sooner you can know you’re about to have a panic attack, the more effective meditation will be.
2. Figure out a quiet place you can go. If possible, find a room where you can close the door and be by yourself for at least a few minutes. Excuse yourself if you are with other people.
3. Don’t fight difficult emotions. Remember: Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It’s first and foremost about noticing them. That’s all. As you meditate, allow them to come through like an unavoidable rainstorm. Like a storm, they will eventually pass.
Unwind Your Mind With a Fresh, New Meditation Practice
[Meditation’s benefits extend far and wide. Each benefit also comes with a cascade of other positive benefits. For example, you can accomplish tasks more deliberately and efficiently when you improve your focus. This, combined with awareness, will make daily tasks and work more enjoyable, but you’ll discover more free time for other things, like recreational activities and quality time with loved ones.
Ready to start changing your life and reducing stress with a simple but highly impactful meditation practice? Sign up for our free meditation course today to learn more about the power of meditation and start practicing!