Meditation for Stress
All of us feel stressed from time to time. It’s a natural part of life. In fact, a little bit of stress is actually healthy for you. But only a little. When stress overwhelms you, it’s the opposite of healthy. It can actually prevent you resolving your stress inducing problems and if it gets completely out of control, can make you physically ill. Needless to say, learning to handle stress effectively will help you maintain a balanced emotional outlook.
You’re not alone
In a 2012 survey, 20% of Americans said they were experiencing extreme levels of stress. And while 64% said that it is “extremely important or very important to manage stress”, only 37% felt they were actually doing an excellent or very good job at managing theirs.2
PLEASE DON’T EAT ME
When we feel threatened, a part of our brain called the amygdala sets off an alarm bell which triggers the “fight or flight” response of our nervous system. Our body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as our respiration.
An evolutionary theory of stress is that this heightened state once helped us with the physical threat of, say, a sabretoothed tiger. However, it does little to help us with today's worries, like forgetting to hit “save” on a presentation.
Change your brain
People who regularly practice mindfulness meditation report feeling less stressed and more emotionally balanced.3 And the reason is that, as you continue to meditate, your brain physically changes.4 Using brain imaging techniques, neuroscientists have observed shifts in the threat system of the brain.
A study performed at Stanford found that an eight week mindfulness course reduced the reactivity of the amygdala and increased activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex that help regulate emotions, subsequently reducing stress.5 Similarly, researchers from Harvard University discovered corresponding changes in the physical structure of the brain with a similar meditation course; evidence that meditation serves as a realistic and maintainable stress management technique.4
- Creswell, J. David, et al. "Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress." Psychoneuroendocrinology 44 (2014): 112.
- American Psychological Association. (2012). The Impact of Stress. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/impact.aspx?item=2
- Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., Jiang, C. & Posner, M. I. Short term meditation intervention improves selfregulation and academic performance. J. Child Adolesc. Behav. 2, 4 (2014).
- Hölzel, B., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S., Gard, T. & Lazar, S. (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Neuroimaging. 191. 3643.
- 5. Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). Effects of mindfulnessbased stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 8391.