8 min read

Meditation For Stress

 

Understanding meditation is a powerful technique that can lead to improved well-being and health. Learn more about the causes of stress, the benefits of meditation for stress, and the various meditation practices you can use for stress relief.

 

What is Stress?

what is meditation for stressAt several points in life, everyone has experienced stressful times due to various reasons.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, stress is the body and brain's response to challenge, demand, or change and the body's natural defense against danger due to a thought or event that makes an individual feel nervous, angry, or frustrated.

When individuals experience stress, the body becomes flooded with hormones that confront or avoid the danger faced, also known as the fight or flight response; the parasympathetic nervous system triggers that response.

Stress can become chronic if individuals do not take the proper steps to manage and navigate stress. Chronic stress can result in chemical changes within the body, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

Although stress is a familiar feeling, high-stress levels or prolonged stress can also result in physical and mental health issues; therefore, it is critical to managing stress effectively.

 

How to Manage Stress With Meditation

Although stress cannot always be eliminated, managing and perceiving it through mindfulness is crucial. Mediation has existed for thousands of years and was initially practiced to deepen an individual's understanding of the mystical and sacred life forces.

Today, meditation is a common tool for managing stress and relaxation and can generate a tranquil mind and a deep relaxation state.

During mediation, individuals eliminate the stream of negative and confused thoughts they might be holding on to and feeling stressed about and focus their attention.

Meditation helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for involuntary physiological functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and breathing.

Meditative practices pave the way for a healthy lifestyle and enable individuals to learn how to navigate control of their autonomic nervous system consciously and improve their mental and physical health.

 

What Causes Stress?

Anxiety is a very different state and cannot be used interchangeably with stress; it is a visceral feeling that individuals hold on to. Still, the reason behind it is not always apparent.

Stress is often caused due to situations we can comprehend, observe, and understand the root of. There can be various triggers of stress depending on the individual. For example, work stress, financial issues, relationship issues, health issues and many more triggers can result in stress.

The amygdala plays an important role and explains why individuals feel stress. The amygdala governs individual moods, senses and decisions and is an emotional regulator that responds to forces like stress.

Based on the existing threat level, it remains calm and responds as it would in response to everyday stressors. For example, when individuals feel overstimulated, the amygdala might overheat, making individuals reactive.

Evolutionarily, the amygdala has been involved in the fight and flight response and is conditioned to respond similarly to stress.

Stress reshapes the neural pathways and structure of the brain through neuroplasticity.

The good part is that the human mind can be trained to manage stress more effectively. MRI scans demonstrated regular meditation can help shrink the amygdala and help individuals respond instead of reacting to stress. It helps the amygdala return to its baseline condition and is a tool for self-regulation.

Meditation also helps build mental resilience that can increase individual capacity to manage stress and be self-aware.

 

Benefits of Meditation for Stress Management

benefits of meditation for stressMeditation can help individuals feel a sense of balance, calm and peace, benefitting their overall health and well-being. When individuals mediate, they can clear the information overload that builds up and contributes to stress.

Meditation can also help individuals manage symptoms of chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, sleep problems, irritable bowel syndrome and other health problems.

 

Reverses of the Stress Response

The first benefit is that meditation reverses the stress response. During meditation, individuals go into a state of restful alertness. While the body is in a state of rest, the mind is fully awake and alert.

In this state, meditation induces healing effects in the body that reverse the fight or flight response experienced during stress. This includes lower heart rate, deep breathing, normalizing blood pressure, lower production of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, stronger immunity, and decreased inflammation.

When individuals meditate regularly, they give the body all these benefits in the state of deep rest, which gradually helps mitigate the accumulated effects of chronic stress and helps the body restore to a natural state of health and balance.

 

Increases of Neurotransmitters Responsible for Well-being

Deep meditation relaxation triggers the brain to release certain neurotransmitters that enhance feelings of inner calm, focus and well-being.

Some neurotransmitters released during meditation include dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin and endorphins.

Dopamine plays a major role in the ability of the brain to focus, feel rewarded, and experience pleasure. It is also a regulator of sleep and mood.

GABA is responsible for sending chemical messages through the nervous system and brain. One of its roles is to inhibit nerve cell activity, especially when neurons become overactivated, to control feelings of anxiety and fear. GABA deficiency results in sleeplessness, nervousness and racing thoughts.

Serotonin helps calm and ease tension, reducing stress and making you feel more focused and relaxed. Lower serotonin levels have been associated with anxiety, migraines, fatigue, insomnia, bipolar disorder, apathy and feelings of worthlessness.

Endorphins are chemical signals in the brain that play various roles related to pain and well-being. They block the perception of pain, decreasing feelings of pain and reducing stress.

Meditation results in the simultaneous release of all these neurotransmitters, which can result in lower stress and improved mood without any side effects, which no medication can do to relieve stress.

 

Improved Sleep and Relaxation

Many individuals today live with chronic sleep deprivation, resulting in higher stress levels and irritability. Research suggests that meditation is effective for insomnia and can help individuals get restful sleep which is crucial for their mental and physical health.

During mediation, the brain produces more brain waves, specifically theta and alpha waves, that encourage deep relaxation. Following meditation, individuals carry a sense of greater calm into any activities, enabling them to remain focused and centered despite challenges and stressors.

Therefore, when individuals sleep, they do not contemplate or think about their stressors or what happened earlier; they will more likely drift to sleep and remain asleep.

 

Improved Attention

Individuals often feel stressed because they have to do multiple tasks simultaneously, so it is difficult for the conscious brain to multitask.

Meditation helps train the brain to remain focused on the task at hand while avoiding distractions. Focus and attention on a single task help reduce stress.

Meditation and focus studies have shown that those who receive meditation training can maintain their focus for extended periods without being distracted by other thoughts or tasks. Research also shows that medication can improve memory while reducing stress.

 

Release of Emotional Baggage

When practicing meditation, individuals develop a "witnessing awareness" that enables them to closely observe and understand their feelings and thoughts more objectively and from far away rather than reacting emotionally.

As individuals witness their mental activity without trying to alter it, it results in a spontaneous feeling of inner calm. As a result, individuals begin to see beyond their moods, thoughts and complex emotional states.

Meditation allows you to release the repressed emotions that can harm your emotional well-being. Regular meditation enables individuals to spend more time in silence and become more self-aware. As the sense of awareness expands into personal life, it is easier for individuals to release the emotional baggage or old thought patterns that cause stress.

 

Alteration of the Brain’s Stress Patterns

Meditation can help create new neural connections in the brain and alter brain regions in ways that promote a feeling of calmness and reduce habitual stress patterns.

Research studies show that after eight weeks of regular meditation, participants experience beneficial growth in regions of the brain associated with stress regulation (prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and insula), empathy, self-awareness, memory and learning.

They also reported increased calm and relaxation and reduced stress and anxiety. The calmness felt during or after meditations is associated with more oxygen delivery to the body and brain.

 

Types of Meditation for Stress Relief

types of meditation for stress relief Meditation generally refers to achieving a relaxed state of mind or be. Several relaxation and meditation techniques can relieve stress and inner peace.

 

Guided Meditation

Guided meditation involves using the voice of a taped recording or a live person to guide the meditation session. This differs from self-guided meditation, where an individual directs meditation using their mind.

Individuals may use guided meditation if they are new to the practice and wish to have a voice guide their meditation in some form or for mindfulness. It is also called visualization or guided imagery. In this practice, individuals can form mental images of situations or places relaxing.

Guided meditations can involve live guides, usually available in group classes, whereas recordings can also be found through audio recordings, podcasts, apps and videos.

 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Jon Kabat Zinn was the individual who developed a course in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) more than 30 years ago. The study aimed to manage mental health conditions and chronic pain in individuals who were unresponsive to conventional treatments.

The duration of the original course was eight weeks, and components of the course included yoga, belly breathing, body scan and present moment awareness meditation.

MBSR also entailed homework-related tasks; individuals kept a gratitude journal or a positive events log. Research studies have shown the beneficial effect of MBSR as individuals who participated in this meditation practice experienced reduced stress and pain and scored significantly better on psychological tests.

Individuals who practice mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or MBSR are also less likely to experience unhelpful emotional reactions when faced with stressful situations.

 

Transcendental Meditation

Meditation can be combined with spiritual practices, and transcendental meditation is an example of such meditation.

Transcendental meditation involves individuals breathing slowly and remaining seated. This spiritual form of mediation aims to rise or transcend above the individual's current state.

During transcendental meditation, the focus is on the mantra. Often, teachers or guides can help individuals determine the mantra based on a combination of factors, or individuals can also choose it.

Studies show that this form of meditation can also lower depression, burnout and stress; however, further research is required to understand the benefits of transcendental meditation.

 

Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation involves repeating phrases, words, syllables or a mantra silently and continuously. The focus is to redirect and override the negative thoughts. Research has shown that mantra meditation can result in moderate reductions in stress and anxiety and smaller declines in depression. However, due to a scarcity of research, the benefits of mantra meditation still need to be validated.

 

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a practice that enables individuals to be fully present in the moment and involves increased awareness of the surroundings. It entails various components, including breathing exercises, guided imagery, and other techniques focused on the mind to lower stress and relax the body.

Mindfulness meditation can be done in any place. For example, while waiting in a line at the store, a person can calmly observe their surroundings, the smells, sights and sounds they are experiencing.

Mindfulness is incorporated into many types of meditation. Progressive relaxation, for instance, draws focused attention to tension areas in the body, while breath awareness results in individuals being more aware of their breathing.

Research has found several benefits of mindfulness, including improved memory, focus, relationship satisfaction and reduced emotional, impulsive reactions or negative emotions.

 

Breath Awareness Meditation

Breath awareness meditation is a form of mindful meditation that promotes deep and mindful breathing.

The aim is to breathe deeply and slowly, counting breaths so individuals can focus on breathing only while ignoring the distracting thoughts in their heads.

Breath awareness has benefits similar to mindfulness meditation, including improved emotional flexibility, concentration and lower anxiety.

 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive relaxation meditation involves starting at one end of the body, usually the feet and working through the rest of the body.

Some forms require individuals to tense and then relax their muscles. Individuals are guided to visualize a wave drifting over their bodies to release muscle tension.

The benefits of this meditation include increased feelings of relaxation, calmness, and improved chronic pain. Some individuals also use this meditation to get better sleep as it slowly relaxes the body.

 

How to Practice Meditation for Stress Relief

how to practice meditation for stress reliefMeditation has various health benefits that can help with stress relief and reduction as it allows individuals to connect to their inner strength. Some ways to practice meditation on your own include breathing deeply, repeating a mantra, engaging in prayer, scanning your body, practicing breathing exercises, focusing on love and kindness, reading, and reflecting.

Meditation can be part of a daily routine. Some individuals also use relaxation techniques that can help them reduce their stress, such as listening to music or engaging in other hobbies they enjoy.

Practicing meditation with professionals in supervised settings can help educate individuals about the benefits of meditation for those experiencing stress or other emotional states.

The meditation sessions can be any length. Longer meditation sessions are associated with greater benefits; however, individuals should begin slowly to maintain the practice long-term.

It might be difficult for individuals with other mental or physical health conditions to sit comfortably. They can instead try moving meditation such as yoga, running or walking.

There is no right or wrong way to approach meditation or a "perfect" meditation session. Individuals need to understand how mediation can help them reduce their stress and improve well being.

 

References

Meditation for Stress - Headspace

A Guide on How to Meditate for Stress Reduction and More | Everyday Health

 
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