7 Ways Meditation Can Assist You in Reducing and Managing Stress

“Life appears to contain suffering,” the Buddhist stated “ thousands of years ago. Suffering can be profound, such as the loss of a loved one or the discovery of a serious illness. Most of the time, however, our mental anguish arises from the stresses of everyday life. You get stuck in traffic or in a long line at the grocery store. You have unexpected vehicle maintenance or the barking dog of a neighbor wakes you up.

These are minor inconveniences, but they have the potential to activate your body's ancient fight-or-flight response, also known as the stress response. Cortisol and adrenalin surge through your body, causing your heart to beat faster. Your blood sugar levels rise, your immune system is repressed, your breathing rate quickens, and your blood supply to your digestive organs is whittled down.

Your Stress Response

Your ancestors' emergency response system evolved to allow them to survive immediate physical threats, such as an attack by a wild animal. It prepared your body to either fight the threat or flee as quickly as possible.

However, the majority of the stress you may experience today is psychological, as a result of the demands of modern life. Daily challenges such as a long commute, caring for an elderly parent, or working with a difficult coworker can activate your stress response, and if these conditions persist, you may be living in a state of chronic stress, which can have a significant impact on your health and happiness.

For instance, the stress hormone cortisol has been linked to an increase in visceral fat (fat around organs). Visceral fat accumulation is risky because these fat cells actively secrete hormones that can disrupt the functioning of the liver, pancreas, and brain, resulting in issues such as insulin resistance, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome. Chronic exposure to other stress hormones can also weaken the immune system and even change the structure of chromosomes, promoting the onset of age-related diseases at an earlier age.

Long-term stress, as researchers are discovering, causes increased inflammation and a significantly increased risk of developing a variety of health problems, including:

  • Heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Headaches caused by migraines
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Diabetes \sObesity
  • Memory lapses

Take heart if this information is making you anxious. There are numerous powerful ways to manage stress and experience greater well-being, including exercise, adequate sleep, social support, and meditation practice.

How to Deal with Stress

The first step is to recognize that, contrary to popular belief, stress is not an uncontrollable force. Stress does not exist outside of you in the environment or in external situations; rather, it is an internal reaction to a perceived threat or unmet need. It is not an overdue payment, a broken dishwasher, or a fight with our spouse that causes stress; it is your thoughts and the story you tell yourself about an event or circumstance that causes emotional upset, racing heart rate, shallow breathing, surging adrenalin, and other stress-related symptoms.

I like to use surfing as an example: if you're a skilled surfer who enjoys the water, you'll see every wave as an exhilarating adventure or, at the very least, an opportunity to learn something new. If, on the other hand, you are afraid of the ocean and have never learned to surf, every wave will appear to you as a terrifying potential disaster. It is clear from this example that stress is caused by your perception of an external event rather than by the event itself.

Let's take a closer look at how meditation can help you manage stress and cultivate greater health and well-being.

1. Meditation Can Help You Reverse the Effects of Stress

In meditation, you move from activity to silence. You move beyond the noisy thoughts in your mind and into a state of restful alertness. You're in deep sleep, but your mind is fully alert and awake. In this state of restful alertness, the body experiences many healing effects that are the polar opposite of the fight-or-flight response, such as:

  • Reduced heart rate
  • Blood pressure normalization
  • Breathing more deeply
  • Stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are produced at a lower rate.
  • Immune system fortification
  • The body's use of oxygen is more efficient.
  • Inflammation in the body is reduced.

Meditation does not require you to be an advanced meditator to benefit from it. A recent study at the Chopra Center discovered that after a six-day meditation retreat, new meditators experienced significant reductions in stress and depressive symptoms that lasted for 10 months.

When you meditate on a regular basis, you are providing your body with all of the benefits of deep rest, which gradually aid in the release of the accumulated effects of chronic stress and restore your body to its natural state of balance and health.

2. Meditation boosts the body's neurotransmitters of happiness.

Meditation induces a state of deep rest, which causes the brain to release neurotransmitters that improve feelings of well-being, focus, and inner calm. Here are a few of the key neurotransmitters that are released during meditation, as well as the benefits they provide:

Dopamine is essential for the brain's ability to feel pleasure, reward, and maintain focus. Dopamine is also involved in mood and sleep regulation.

Serotonin has a calming effect on the body. It relieves tension and makes you feel less stressed, more relaxed, and more focused. Migraines, anxiety, bipolar disorder, apathy, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, and insomnia have all been linked to low levels of this neurotransmitter.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) communicates chemically with the brain and nervous system. One of its many functions is to inhibit nerve cell activity, which aids in the control of fear and anxiety when neurons become overactive. Nervousness, racing thoughts, and sleeplessness are all symptoms of a GABA deficiency in the body.

Endorphins are best known as the chemicals that cause the euphoria known as "the runner's high." These neurotransmitters play a variety of roles related to well-being, including reducing pain and the negative effects of stress.

Meditation orchestrates the simultaneous release of these neurotransmitters, which no single drug can do—and it does so without side effects.

3. Meditation encourages relaxation and sound sleep.

Many of us suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, which increases our stress and irritability. Meditation has been shown in scientific studies to be an effective therapy for insomnia and can help you get the restful sleep you need for your physical and emotional health.

When you meditate, your brain produces more brainwaves that promote deep relaxation, such as alpha and theta brainwaves. Following a meditation practice, you carry a sense of greater calm with you into your activities, allowing you to remain more centered in the face of life's inevitable ups and downs.

When it's time to go to bed, instead of ruminating on what happened earlier in the day, you're more likely to fall asleep—and stay asleep.

4. Meditation Improves Concentration and Attention

Many people are stressed because they are attempting to do multiple things at once. The conscious brain, as neuroscientists have discovered, cannot multitask. I'm doing neither if I'm talking to you and checking my emails at the same time. Meditation trains your brain to stay focused on the task at hand rather than being drawn away by every passing thought and distraction. This single-minded focus makes you more effective and less stressed.

A meditation and focus study led by Dr. David Levy at the University of Washington, for example, discovered that a group of human resources managers who received meditation training were able to stay focused for longer periods of time without switching back and forth between tasks. Meditation also improved study participants' memory while decreasing their stress, according to the researchers.

A group of university undergraduates who practiced mindfulness and meditation for only two weeks saw a significant improvement in their ability to focus on a task without becoming confused in another randomized, controlled study. Furthermore, the participants in the study improved their working memory capacity.

5. Meditation Calms Emotional Upheaval

Meditation practice cultivates “witnessing awareness,” which allows you to observe your thoughts, feelings, and stories with greater objectivity and distance, rather than being drawn into the melodrama of emotional reactivity. There is a spontaneous calming of the inner commotion as you begin to witness your mental activity without attempting to resist or change it. You will notice that some space has been created around difficult emotional states over time. You will notice that there is more to who you are than your moods or thoughts, and you may also notice that the sensations associated with the negative state fade away.

It's a wonderful realization to realize that you don't have to suppress your feelings in order to experience inner peace! In fact, suppressing emotions never leads to emotional well-being, but rather contributes to the buildup of emotional toxicity in the body. They can move through and out of the body if they are not suppressed or fixated on. Regular meditation practice enables you to spend increasing amounts of time in silence and peace of pure awareness. As this sense of spaciousness expands in your daily life, it becomes easier to let go of old stress-inducing patterns of thinking and feeling.

6. Meditation Has the Potential to Alter Your Brain's Stress Patterns

Meditation is a valuable tool for stimulating new neural connections and even transforming brain regions. Meditation, according to research, can even change the structure of the brain in ways that reduce habitual stress patterns and promote calm.

Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, discovered that after only eight weeks of meditation, participants experienced beneficial growth in brain areas associated with memory, learning, empathy, self-awareness, and stress regulation (the insula, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex). Furthermore, the meditators reported lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of calm.

7. Meditation Unites You with Your True Self

The ultimate goal of meditation, from a spiritual standpoint, is to awaken to your true self. Although it is natural to identify with your body, mind, thoughts, emotions, personality, possessions, accomplishments, relationships, and preferences, these temporal characteristics are not who you truly are. Your true self is limitless consciousness that transcends space and time. The field of all possibilities is another name for pure consciousness. Happiness, love, timelessness, compassion, creativity, wisdom, peace, silence, and grace are all characteristics of this field. You already are pure love, peace, and awareness. Simply put, you've forgotten who you are.

When you spend time in meditation's inner silence, you begin to have a spontaneous experience of your true self's attributes. Instead of becoming stuck in constrained awareness, which limits your options, you experience expanded or pure awareness, which is the field of all possibilities. This process of becoming more aware of your true self is usually gradual. You gradually let go of the stress and limiting thought patterns that cloud your awareness of your essential nature, which is always present and shining brightly.

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