Meditation for Stress
How can mindfulness help with stress ?
How big of an issue is stress in today's society?
Its massive. A survey of over 2,000 Brits found that 80% of us think that "life’s moving too fast and that the number of things we have to do, and worry about these days, is a major cause of stress, unhappiness and illness”. Over 50% said they had “difficulty relaxing or switching off", and that they couldn’t stop thinking about "things they’ve got to do!!”. Sound familiar? Are you finding coping with stress difficult? If so, read on and we'll explain exactly what it is and how mindfulness meditation can help with stress management.
So why do we get stressed and why is it so damaging?
Stress is primarily designed to help us get out of physical danger. 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 making us ready to respond. Our blood is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as our respiration. This allows us to transport energy to our muscles quickly so we can 'act fast'. While this heightened state once helped us with the physical threat of, say, a sabre toothed tiger, it does little to help us with today's worries, like when we’ve forgotten to hit save on a word document. But the response is still the same!
Stress stops the normal functioning of our body. The body assumes there’s a physical threat at hand so it channels energy into getting out of immediate danger. To do this, it shuts down longer term projects which are taking up energy. Our digestive processes, immune system, growth and reproductive processes are inhibited (no time for eating or nookie when we’re being chased!)
A bit of it in short doses is useful in improving our memory and enhancing performance. However, too much, too regularly, is extremely damaging to our mental and physical well-being. It can lead to stomach ulcers, heart problems, illnesses, lowered libido... the list goes on...
How can mindfulness help with stress management?
Simply put mindfulness soothes our nervous system. While stress activates the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system, mindfulness meditation activates the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, helping with stress management. Our heart rate slows, our respiration slows and our blood pressure drops. This is often called the “relaxation response”. While chronic activation of the response can be extremely damaging to the body, the relaxation response is restorative, making meditation for wellbeing significant.
People who practise mindfulness regularly report feeling less stressed and more emotionally balanced - and now neuroscientists are starting to understand why this type of stress management works. Using fancy brain imaging techniques, neuroscientists observed changes in the threat system of the brain. The response kicks-off in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for triggering fear, and people who suffer from chronic anxiety have a more reactive amygdala. This leaves them feeling threatened much of the time.
A study performed at Stanford found that an 8-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. Researchers from Harvard discovered corresponding changes in the physical structure of the brain with a similar meditation course; there was a lower density of neurons in the amygdala and greater density of neurons in areas involved in emotional control providing a realistic and maintainable stress management technique.
So if you want help coping with stress and want to experience a little more balance and peace of mind, let us help you get some headspace.