It’s not an exaggeration when people say, “Stress is a killer!” Stress is our subconscious response to negative thoughts. Whether it be an assignment, unpaid bills, or just dirty dishes piling up in the sink. Our first response is to feel stressed over the list of chores that keep growing. All the while the hands on the clock keep speeding away.
It has been scientifically proven and noted in multiple studies that stress build can lead to disastrous consequences. From freezing up in the middle of a busy work week to an inability to properly functioning arms and legs. If left unchecked that is what stress can lead to.
What it Means to be “Stressed”
As we said earlier, stress is our automatic response to a troubling situation. Does that mean our body is genetically predisposed to freak out when things go wrong? No, of course not!
Since ancient times we have an inbuilt response system to threats to actual danger. This response can be described as a powerful jolt of strong chemicals – the hormones cortisol and adrenaline - that rush through your system to prepare you to do either one of two things: fight or flight.
In modern times this can be taken to mean that we either face whatever the situation might be or…run and avoid it for as long as we can. But the ability to face the obstacles is only possible because of your body’s powerful response known as stress.
Unfortunately, left ignored this surge of chemicals can cause more problems than solve them in the long run. We’ve all heard one or more of our friends admit they have a tendency to stress eat. This little quirk can lead to more severe complications because of our body’s response.
For example, Cortisol has been noted as a cause for accumulated fat around organs. This surplus of fat is dangerous because it blocks important organs such as the liver and pancreas from performing their functions properly.
The next time you hear someone jokingly tell you to, “Stop stressing out!” try and make an effort to listen. Prolonged episodes of untreated stress can also lead to:
- Autoimmune illnesses
- Certain kinds of cancer
- Heart diseases and high blood pressure
- Migraines and frequent headaches
- Depression and anxiety
- Memory loss
The same strong hormones that can help you overcome daunting tasks are also capable of eating away at your body. As you read this and feel your blood begin to spike, remember to breathe! There are a number of ways to deal with your stress e.g.: proper diet, daily exercise, a regular sleep schedule, as well as practicing meditation. In this article, we hope to help you find ways to face your stress.
How Meditation can Help
We said earlier that some of the ways we can deal with stress are to adopt daily exercise and meditation. Meditation is one of the fastest ways to involve both your physical and mental states.
To put it simply, stress isn't just something your body produces. It is something you experience and engages your mind. It is not a force of nature that you need to wait out like a thunderstorm. It is a stimulus that you can manage and calm if you can learn to acknowledge the source of it.
This internal calm will translate to your body. Once you understand what the stress is and where it is coming from then your body will not fly into a panic in the face of a broken vase. We need to understand that stress is not an unfinished work assignment or a scattered room, but rather a worry that we may not be able to accomplish all we set out to do on time, even the idea that life is flying out of our hands! Meditation helps us deal with these beliefs in a peaceful way. Here are seven ways in which meditation can help manage and reduce stress.
1. Meditation can help improve sleep:
To meditate is to traverse into an ocean of calm and quiet. While you block your surroundings and focus only on yourself you find yourself getting calmer. You practice being relaxed and restful. You are teaching your body that it is possible to find peace and rest for a while.
Why is to so difficult for so many of us to just fall asleep after a particularly tiring day? Why do so many of us wake up feeling like we didn’t sleep enough? Even though we spent most of the night trying to do just that.
A reportedly high number of adults have admitted to suffering from insomnia, a state in which we continue to feel valuable time tick by as sleep refuses to come. One major reason is our excessive exposure to technology. Many of us take our devices to bed and try to read off of them until we fall asleep. This is not the best habit as the light from our phone screens trains our brain to stay awake.
Another reason is that we bring our daily struggles to bed. Instead of falling asleep to rest up for a new day we waste energy in reliving the last. We need to teach our body to relax to practice rest. Meditation helps our body realize a restful space where we can achieve a healthy amount of sleep.
2. Regular Meditation sharpens focus:
Have you ever felt yourself lose focus in the middle of a class or just space out when someone is talking, only to have people complain that you’re not paying attention!
And you, in turn, blame yourself for not trying hard enough. Despite the fact that focus is a constant and engaging activity, not a passive ability. This is why, much like any other skill, it can be learned and improved. Meditation helps us concentrate on the here and now. Through meditation, we practice dealing with concerns that are the most immediate and pressing.
This helps our mind to give our undivided attention to each task. Multitasking, in other words, is a skill left to the professionals. Rather than trying to juggle tasks we should try to focus on doing a good job on each of the chores we have planned for the day.
Meditation helps to sharpen our focus and improve our ability to concentrate.
3. Meditation promotes Neurotransmitters that help well-being:
The same way that stress releases hormones that can cause damage to your organs and long term harm meditation can also affect your bodily functions. By practicing meditation we make it possible for our brain to release important neurotransmitters that make it possible for us to achieve well-being. You might have heard of some of these neurotransmitters and we are happy to provide a description for the rest.
- Endorphins: a rush of endorphins has been commonly associated with exercise. In other words the feeling of jubilation that fills you when you accomplish an impossible hurdle. Meditation plays an important role in releasing endorphins and allowing you to experience happiness and accomplishment.
- Dopamine: has been very commonly associated with feelings of pleasure like when we eat a bar of chocolate. This strong neurotransmitter can also help to alleviate your mood and regulate healthy sleep cycles.
- GABA: (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a very important set of neurotransmitters that help combat stress. Stress can be a side-effect of fear or nervousness and GABA can help control both. A deficiency in GABA can be identified in the form of someone that experiences chronic nervousness or uncontrollable fear.
- Serotonin: better known as “the calming neurotransmitter” that allows you to relax. You might have heard of people promoting foods on the basis of the level of serotonin they might have. This is because a lack of serotonin can cause weakness, migraines, bipolar disorder, feelings of worthlessness and fatigue among other things.
4. Meditation counteracts the effects of stress:
As we know, some of the immediate effects of stress are to increase our blood pressure, speed up our heart and breathing. In a necessary moment, these actions can help us evade a threat.
But a continued flood of cortisol and adrenaline can cause inflammation in our system and damage to our immune system. Meditation helps maintain our stress and counteract each of these side effects.
Meditation decreases the pace of your overworked heart and it regulates your breathing. A more controlled pace in breathing means you get a higher amount of oxygen into your bloodstream. Meditation also helps bring down the inflammation circulation through your bloodstream.
Through meditation, we are able to experience normal levels of blood pressure as well as a stronger immune system. Our body is healthier when it is not constantly assaulted by stress hormones. Meditation helps to check the production of these hormones and keep us from further harm.
5. Meditation can help reprogram your thought patterns:
The exercise of meditation involves an active engagement with the issues that trigger stress. Think of the blank space you explore during meditation as a drawing board that helps you come up with alternative solutions.
Continued meditation can actually help your brain grow in the areas that are responsible for memory, problem-solving, and empathy. In this way, you are able to help your brain learn the most optimal courses of action. In other words, meditation can help us reprogram our brain to better respond to stress or challenges.
You can see improved results in memory and focus after only weeks of meditation. Meditation helps by sorting through your stress and allowing you to experience calm. It is essentially this feeling of calm that allows us to think through our problems and find easy solutions.
6. Meditation teaches us to cope with difficult emotions:
Meditation not only improves concentration by promoting the regions of the brain associated with self-awareness. Through meditation, we are better able to experience some of the most emotionally, exhausting episodes of our life.
The quiet calm that is afforded to us by meditation helps us to explore these scenes as a bystander and better understand exactly what went wrong. If you've had more than a few people comment on the sudden shift of your emotions then you should think about meditating.
Being an emotionally aware person that is sensitive to the world around them is empathetic to others is not a bad thing! It is only worrying when you allow the weight of negative emotions to stress you out. And that is exactly what complex emotional memories can cause.
The pain from these unprocessed memories causes you stress. If you want a safe space to sort through these memories then you ought to try meditation. Meditation promotes relaxation and allows you to learn how to deal with difficult emotions.
7. You can access your true self through meditation:
The main purpose of meditation is to help cut you away from your daily toils, not in a way that makes you unaware of the suffering of others but rather to put you in a better place to understand them.
You cannot solve a problem unless you fully understand what it is. As we mentioned before, often we believe that it is the immediate challenge that is causing this rush of powerful emotions that cause us stress. When in fact the stress could just be a trigger for something else. Through meditation, we are able to see exactly what is in front of us and within us.
The more time we spend within ourselves through meditation the better we are able to deal with our everyday life. Meditation helps us access the myriad possibilities within ourselves that we have yet to realize. Through meditation, we meet our full potential and all that we can possibly achieve.
Meditation improves life by not only eliminating stress but by promoting awareness for the things that make life worth living. We are passing each day through numbness and stress because we allow these everyday concerns to take over our mind.
By practicing meditation on a regular basis we are improving the living conditions for our body as well as our mind. By rushing each task and every day we are not doing ourselves any favors. Despite what we would like to believe, healing takes time. These sessions of practicing calm and reflection help give our minds the time to learn and heal.
Photo by Patrick Schneider.