Chronic stress affects the whole body. It can take a toll on health and happiness, ultimately leading to disease. One way to release this stress is to use meditation to stay centered when life gets upsetting. Below are seven separate ways to use meditation as part of stress relief and healing.
Life will have times of suffering, it is inevitable. Whether you have recently lost a loved one or have an illness that is long term or the simple everyday hassles we all experience are getting to be too much, meditation can be helpful. When we are stressed, the body’s flight or fight response is triggered, as is the stress response. Cortisol and adrenalin start to surge throughout the body and your heart races, sugar rises, breathing is rapid, and blood supply is limited to your digestive organs. This suppresses your immune system and can lead to illness if not corrected over time.
Stress Response Explained
The natural emergency response system in our bodies allowed our ancestors to survive physical threats. This allowed them to fight for their lives or run away when needed. Today, most of the stressful situations we face are psychological, not physical, but the stress response is still the same. As the daily demands grow, we live in chronic stressed out states.
The stress hormones that are released have been linked to several common problems. This includes fat around the organs that can hinder full functionality of the pancreas, liver, and even brain. This can also affect glucose levels causing insulin resistance, inflammation, and metabolic issues. Overall, chronic stress weakens the immune system and can cause early onset for a number of diseases.
Chronic stress has been linked to the following conditions through research.
- Memory issues
- Autoimmune diseases
- High blood pressure
- Some forms of cancer
The good news is there are several ways to manage this stress and improve your well-being. However, you must also have social support, practice good self-care, exercise, and use meditation.
We must first recognize the common misconceptions about stress. The first is that it is not outside our control. It is an internal response, not an external one. If you can keep yourself from reacting to a problem and becoming overly emotional, then the stress response will also be silenced. It is all in how we view and approach situations. Below are some specific ways in which meditation can help with stress management and improve health.
Reversing Stress Hormones
Meditation allows you to move from activity to silence and stillness. This is a restful state of alertness, meaning you are resting, but fully awake. As you meditate, the healing effects of this quietness can begin. This is the opposite of a fight or flight response. So meditation leads to:
- Lowered heart rate
- Lowered/Normal blood pressure
- Relaxed, deeper breathing
- Stronger immunity
- Decreased inflammation
These results are not dependent on being an expert. Even those relatively new to meditation can see and feel the benefits. When you meditate regularly, your body gets the benefits of deep rest and a release of stressful feelings. This restores balance to the body.
Neurotransmitters of Well-Being
When practicing meditation, the deep state of rest causes the brain to release neurotransmitters to enhance our well-being, level of calmness, and focus. Some of the following neurotransmitters are released when practicing meditation.
- Endorphins – associated with full joy or exhilaration, this decreases pain and reduces stress side effects
- Dopamine – helps to feel pleasure, reward, and keep focus as it helps regulate sleep and mood
- GABA – helps to control anxiety and even fear or racing thoughts
- Serotonin – provides a calming effect, without it someone may suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar, migraines, fatigue, and insomnia among others
When practicing meditation, these are released simultaneously, side effect free.
Sleep and Relaxation
Too many people live with chronic sleep deprivation which makes us irritable and stressed out. Mediation has been scientifically shown to help with insomnia. This is important because sleep is necessary for mental and physical health. When meditating, more brainwaves are produced to promote deep relaxation. Once the meditation session is finished, the deep peace is carried with you and allows you to stay much more centered. Then, at bed time, it is easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Focus and Attention
Many of us try to take on multiple tasks at one time, but the brain is not made to handle this. Meditation can help train you to focus on a single task rather than be sidetracked by other things going on around us. This ultimately alleviates the stress of trying to multitask and makes us much more effective. Even those who have only practiced mindfulness a couple weeks have noted an improved focus on tasks.
Meditation allows you to develop witnessing awareness which is the observation of your thoughts and feelings with objectivity, rather than emotional response. As this is learned, the inner commotion is calmed and you are not as emotionally reactive to stress. This helps you move beyond thoughts and moods, as well as dissolving negative states. You do not need to repress everything to have peace, in fact, repression is unhealthy. Meditation allows for awareness so that you can let go of these negative patterns.
Brain Stress Patterns
New neural connections are awakened when practicing meditation. Even transformation of the brain is possible as habitual stress patterns are decreased.
True Self Connections
Spiritually speaking, meditation awakens your true self. The true self is unbonded consciousness, not time bound attributes and possessions. Unbound consciousness includes things like compassion, love, happiness, peace, grace, and even silence. We all have this inside; it is just often forgotten. As you spend time in meditation, these unbounded feelings arise and are made known. This awakening is usually gradual as stress is released and thought patterns altered. Eventually, your true self will shine through brightly.