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. In fact, the true definition of the term is that it’s simply the body’s reactions to life’s experiences. This doesn’t mean that it's pleasant, however. Stress can keep you from relaxing, getting enough sleep, and enjoying life in general. Furthermore, prolonged or chronic stress can actually be detrimental to your physical health as well as your emotional health.
Contrary to what you might think, what can help with stress is not figuring out how to make it disappear. Instead, it’s about learning how to handle stress — how to navigate its rough waters and come out on the other side intact. Meditation is a fantastic tool for this.
Does Meditation Work for Stress?
Yes. Meditation works for stress in several ways:
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 in order to make it out of stressful, life-threatening situations alive. It affects the autonomic nervous system, which is in control of a number of involuntary physical functions like your heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure.
When the stress response is elicited, a “cascade of stress hormones … produce well-orchestrated physiological changes,” like elevated blood pressure, quickened breathing, and sweating. Short-term, these changes might not seem significant. However, when they occur again and again in response to life’s stressors, long-term detrimental effects can occur — both physically and mentally.
Meditation slows down fight or flight — or even prevents it altogether. In meditation, you stop, focus, and recenter your thinking, constantly bringing your attention back to the breath when it wanders. This keeps your mind from “snowballing” into worst-case scenarios, seriously impacting your emotional health.
2. It elicits the relaxation response.
One of the ways meditation combats the fight or flight response is by igniting the relaxation response. This is an 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 meditation.”
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, 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 that is happening at any given time (the good, the bad, and the ugly), you can realize that you cannot change reality, and you can, in turn, relax into reality 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 and — 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. In fact, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions About Stress and Meditation
Q: What is the best type of meditation for anxiety?
A: The best type of meditation for anxiety is one that 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 your mind wanders (and it will), continue to bring your attention back to the breath every time.
Q: How long should I meditate for anxiety?
A: Even five or ten minutes of meditation can have positive benefits on stress and anxiety. A meditation session doesn't have to last for hours to be effective. In as little as 25 minutes, you can have a robust session with effects that last well into the day and evening — even helping you sleep better and for longer.
Q: How do you meditate for panic attacks?
A: 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 the 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 rain storm. 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, when you improve your focus, you can accomplish tasks in a more deliberate and efficient manner. This combined with mindful awareness will not only make daily tasks and work more enjoyable, but by improving your efficiency, you’ll discover more free time for other activities and time spent with loved ones.
Ready to start changing your life and reducing stress with a simple, but highly impactful meditation practice? Try our one-of-a-kind Unwind Your Mind session with a personal instructor. You’ll stress less and feel better in just 25 minutes — no experience required.
Download Your FREE How Meditation Helps with Stress Infographic!
Written by Clint Johnson
Clint teaches Yoga, Pilates, breathe, and mediation to students and teachers all over the world. Prior to joining the wellness world, CJ as his friends call him, started his career as a MBS derivative trader and portfolio manager on Wall St. Clint is the founder of Anahana, and holds an MBA from INSEAD.