Although meditation aims to provide insight on sacred forces of life, you’d be surprised to know how much it contributes to mental and physical health. Regular meditation practice can help manage stress by –
- relaxing the muscles,
- release of happy chemicals in the brain,
- focusing attention on other things, such as breathing exercises, and
- improving sleep.
So if you’re looking for a way for stress reduction without medications, then meditation is the way to go. Let’s look at how meditation reduces stress and can keep you calm.
How Does Meditation Reduce Stress and Affect Mental Health?
Research shows that regular practice of meditation alters body functions and has health benefits. A large portion of the many benefits include relieving stress. Here’s how it works:
- Activating the relaxation response – When muscle tension is released, there is a drop in blood pressure, slowness in breathing, and an overall relaxation of the body. Practicing meditation will require you to ease your tensed body parts and actively focus on something that is away from chaos and noise. Consequently, this triggers your body’s response into relaxing.
- Reduces cortisol levels – As a result of the relaxation response, your body will produce less of the stress hormone, known as cortisol. The blood then has room for more oxygen to flow and reduces hypertension. When cortisol levels are low, there are lesser health problems.
- Improving sleep quality – Meditation allows you to divert your mind from things keeping you tensed and awake. So when negative emotions cannot get in the way, you don’t feel frustrated and the stress response is automatically lowered. In turn, this helps to improve restful sleep.
- Enhances emotional regulation – When the guided meditation aims to focus on removing negative emotions, it gives you a better perspective of handling stressful situations. It helps you to focus on the present moment instead of lingering on the past or worrying about the future. Hence, your emotions are left balanced.
- Improves cognitive functioning – Reduced anxiety, depression, and stress all result in increased functioning of the brain. This is because the brain gets a chance to focus better on other things instead of other chemicals getting in the way which result from chronic stress. So the more you meditate, the faster your mental health conditions will heal.
- Enhances self-awareness – In mindfulness meditation practices, your attention is focused on physical sensations and how you breath. Such focused attention helps you to be aware of yourself and the outside world, and gives you more confidence in handling situations or making decisions. This results in a great way of managing stress overall.
- Changes in brain structure – Continuous breathing exercises while being consciously aware trains a certain part of your brain to increase concentration. All this activity takes place in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. So with regular practice of increased awareness, that part of the brain gets thicker and results in stress reduction.
- Reduced chronic pain – Meditation that relates to mindfulness based stress reduction usually triggers endorphins to be released. When you are trying to navigate stress by focusing on deep breathing, your body and mind starts to move away from the pain triggering points of the brain. So not only does meditation relieve stress, but it literally takes your pain away.
What Are the Best Techniques for Meditation to Reduce Stress?
Almost all meditation techniques help with stress management, but there are certain practices that aim specifically to reduce stress. Here are the top meditation for stress techniques you should try:
- Mindfulness meditation – As the name itself suggests, this technique deals with being mindful and living in the present moment. During this practice, you are allowing your body to focus only on the meditative aspects, such as deep breathing exercises and your heart rate. This helps in being mindful of what you are doing now instead of bothering about a stressful situation.
- Body Scan Meditation – This is a type of mindfulness meditation which involves scanning the body for any sort of tension, pain, or other anomalies in well being. By combining focused attention to breathing and other physical sensations, you will be aware of the areas causing you discomfort and work to eliminate them.
- Loving-Kindness Meditation – Being hard on yourself is also a major factor for prolonged stress. Through loving-kindness meditation, you can learn to love yourself and your body and cleanse itself from all stress and negativity. This type of meditation also helps to project love and kindness to others.
- Guided Meditation – This is one of the relaxation techniques in meditation that helps to reduce stress by being guided by positive things. Those things can include certain smells, sights, or a calm and peaceful environment. Sometimes guided meditation sessions work better with a teacher or yoga instructor.
- Breath Awareness Meditation – As the name itself suggests, this meditation technique involves constant breathing exercises. When you are consciously aware of your breathing, the autonomic nervous system gets activated and gets you focused on other aspects including how the air is entering and leaving your nostrils. Such a practice improves mindfulness and reduces stress.
Other Meditation Techniques for Managing Stress
A few other guided meditations for relieving stress include:
- Qi Gong meditation – This is an ancient Chinese meditation for stress technique that deals with soft movement and controlled breathing. Generally to gain relief from high stress situations, this meditation practice is what experienced meditators go for. The principles for this practice involve visualization, relaxation, movement, posture, and breath.
- Tai Chi meditation – Tai Chi is also a Chinese meditation technique which stems from martial arts. It also involves a lot of movement, which in turn promotes physical well being and inner strength, with added health benefits.
- Mantra meditation – By combining a spoken word or phrase with controlled breathing, mantra meditation diverts the mind from stressful times and brings inner peace. The continuous rhythm of the mantra and breath creates a steady energy to stress response and thus promotes self regulation.
- Transcendental meditation – Similar to mantra meditation, transcendental meditation requires lots of practice and is usually done with the help of certified teachers. Here the meditator will need to practice meditation by saying the mantra mentally, until it reaches a point where no active consciousness is required. The result is calm and ultimate inner peace.
How to Incorporate Meditation into Daily Life for Stress Management?
Despite your busy schedule, you can still incorporate meditation sessions into your daily routine for ultimate stress relief. Here’s how you can achieve this:
- Overcoming common obstacles – To make time for meditation easier, it’s best to prioritize your mental and physical health first. Start eating healthy, keep your blood pressure in check, try to sit comfortably while working, and think positive thoughts. This will give you head start for meditation and you’ll find that making time for it has become easier.
- Choose a time and place – Select a designated area and time to meditate. Think about it as a responsibility, as you would do when going to work or school. Research suggests that people are more likely to stick to a routine strictly if it is thought of as a responsibility or job. So like how you you feel the need to go reach your office at a particular time, do the same when you practice meditation.
- Start small – Avoid starting with deep and complex meditation that requires a lot of practice, as mastering those is no easy feat. Begin with small, guided practices, such as relaxation techniques involving breathing exercises. Aim to practicing meditation for ten minutes a day, and then go ahead in small increments as you progress.
- Make it a habit – Just like brushing your teeth and eating breakfast, make meditation practice a habit in your daily routine. Think about how it is absolutely necessary to maintain dental hygiene and eat well for integrative health. Likewise, see meditation as an essential activity for stress management and improved mood.
- Incorporate mindfulness into daily activities – Make a practice of being in the present moment for most situations. Be aware of your breathing while you eat and while you walk. This will increase your concentration and help you get into the mood for meditation afterwards.
- Practice self-compassion – Go easy on yourself, and separate your whole being from your thoughts and feelings. The more you start you love yourself and be confident, the lesser your worries will become about the outside world. Regardless of stress and negativity that you will have to face, you will be able to handle things with a headstrong and positive outlook.
- Find a meditation buddy – Scientific research has proven that people are likely to do something if their friend or another group is doing that task. Get a friend, and eventually a meditation group that will get you in the habit of meditating. Signing up for meditation group classes is also a good start.
Other Benefits of Meditation
Aside from relieving stress, there are many other benefits of meditation of meditation. The most common are:
- Decreases anxiety – Numerous studies on control group tests have shown that majority of people with anxiety and depression have been cured to a good extent after regular practice of meditation. Even research proven by psychosomatic medicine tells us that mindfulness calms the heart and mind, and thus gives people little room to worry or depress about things in life.
- Increases attention span – Many practitioners of meditation have found that their concentration increased significantly after meditating. This is true because during those sessions, you are focusing your mind to be fully aware of some aspect, for example breathing. That way the brain gets trained into concentrating better on other things as well.
- Lowers the risk of heart disease – Existing physical health conditions such as hypertension and heart disease is greatly reduced through meditation. One of the main causes of heart problems is stress. And as meditation works wonders with stress management, it will also be a great natural medicine for your well being.
- Provide an improved mood – Certain guided and mindfulness meditation techniques help to release serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This results in feeling relaxed and happy, and thus allowing the practitioner to go ahead with the rest of their day feeling positive.
- Gives positive outlook on life – Meditation has proven to leave you feeling content, relaxed, and happy. It triggers certain areas of the brain that works on gratification. When you are left feeling happy after regular practice, you will slowly start to have a positive view on life.
Be it mindfulness or guided practice, meditation is a significant remedy for chronic stress. Meditation literally alters the brain and body in a positive way, and helps to manage stress in the healthiest way possible. Apart from just managing stress and mental health conditions, there are numerous benefits of meditation that you should start looking into.