Are you facing a stressful time and are curious about meditation techniques for stress? We all face stressful situations from time to time. Stress is a part of life and all the ups and downs that come with it. If you feel like you’re more stressed out than you should be, however, you’re certainly not alone.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 75% of American adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month, and almost half of them say their stress has increased in the past year.
Meditation can help. There’s a reason meditation has gone mainstream — in our stress-fueled lives, it’s something we need. Stress doesn’t have to continue to rule anyone’s life, no matter what the cause might be.
Why Are We So Stressed?
We’re sure you have your own, very personal reasons when it comes to experiencing stress. Ever wonder what other people are stressing out about? The APA has been conducting its annual “Stress in America” survey for more than a decade, and work and money have consistently been at the top of the list of stressors. Don’t feel like you ever have enough money or can get ahead? Join the club.
Lately, the most common reasons people stress in America have changed a bit. The number one stressor for Americans, it seems, is the “future of our nation,” which is now followed by money and work. The current political climate and fears of violent crime are both significant causes of stress in our country.
While we can’t totally avoid the stressors that seem to set us off, we can learn to control our stress response. One of the best ways to do so is through meditation. Just 10 minutes of meditation a day can help reduce stress, decrease anxiety and invoke a significant sense of relaxation. The impact of meditation can truly be life-changing and we believe everyone should know just how far a little meditation can go.
How Meditation Helps Relieve Stress
When it comes to stress, it’s vital you understand that stress isn’t a force beyond your control. While it can absolutely feel like there’s no end in sight and you might drown in your stress before you can overcome it, stress is really just an internal response to a perceived threat or need that hasn’t yet been met.
Stress isn’t the state of our nation, your bank account balance, your boss or the fight you had with your children or significant other. Instead, it’s your thoughts about the situations that are causing you to feel stressed out. When you understand this concept, it can make it much easier to grasp that stress is something you can manage. Change your thoughts and how you react to things, and you can truly change your life.
Stressful circumstances aren’t ever going to stop. They’re part of life in all its brilliant, messy complexity. The way you perceive the events that cause stress can change, though. Meditation happens to be one of the best ways to switch up the way you respond to the world. Here are but a few ways it can help.
3 Ways Meditation Helps Relieve Stress
1. Meditation Decreases the Body’s Stress Response
When we perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, the body goes through a very real physiological response. Stress hormones are released, our hearts start pounding, muscles tense up and we experience what is known as the “fight-or-flight” response. It’s a normal survival mechanism that has evolved over time to help us rapidly react to life or death situations. It can kick into gear when we’re facing stress that isn’t life-threatening, like when we face a looming deadline or get stuck in traffic. A fight with a friend or family member can also cause this kind of response.
Meditation may help to decrease the body’s natural stress response by helping us move into a state of increased relaxation and calm. A regular meditation practice can help reduce heart rate, reduce the production of stress hormones, regulate blood pressure and allow the mind to remain in a relaxed state regardless of what’s happening around you.
You don’t even have to be an advanced meditator to feel these profound effects. A 2014 study conducted at the Chopra Center discovered that new meditators who engaged in a six-day meditation retreat experienced substantial reductions in their stress levels that lasted for 10 months after the retreat.
2. Meditation Helps Change Brain Structure
Neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life, is now a well-accepted concept. While it was once assumed our brains stayed fixed throughout our entire lives, we now know the brain is constantly changing.
According to Dr. Celeste Campbell, a neuropsychologist at the Washington DC Veterans Administration Medical Center, neuroplasticity “refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.”
Meditation is one of the most powerful ways to help positively influence change in brain structure. Research shows that meditation can modify brain structure in a way that helps reduce persistent stress patterns while promoting a deeper sense of calm. A 2011 Harvard University Study found that just eight weeks of meditation caused growth in the insula, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, all areas of the brain associated with stress regulation.
3. Meditation Releases “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters
Another effect meditation has on the brain is its ability to release neurotransmitters that promote feelings of calm and well-being. When a person engages in meditation, some of the chemicals released in the brain include dopamine, serotonin and GABA.
Dopamine is associated with our ability to experience pleasure and also regulates mood and sleep patterns. Serotonin helps to relieve tension and has an overall calming effect on the body and mind. GABA is responsible for controlling fear and anxiety and preventing the activity of nerve cells. Too little GABA, for example, and you’re bound to experience those racing thoughts that are a huge part of the experience of stress.
Meditation Techniques for Stress
Knowing how meditation helps ease stress can make it a lot more enticing to engage in meditation techniques that are used to help with stress relief. The best thing is that you don’t even need to know how to meditate or consider yourself a meditator to reap the benefits meditation offers.
Following are some of our favorite meditation techniques to reduce stress and engage an inner sense of calm and well-being, no matter what else might be going on in our lives.
Breath Focus Meditation
One of the simplest meditation techniques for stress is known as “breath focus.” All that’s required of you is to concentrate on taking long, deep, slow breaths while doing your best to silence the incessant thoughts in your mind.
One of the best ways to engage in this meditation technique is perhaps explained best by renowned Vietnamese monk and global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh. On your inhalation, say to yourself, “Breathing in, I am breathing in.” On your exhalation, say to yourself, “Breathing out, I am breathing out.” This allows you to engage with your breath rather than the thoughts that consume you.
Another way to use the breath focus meditation technique is to count each inhalation and exhalation. Inhale for a count of four, counting in your mind, “One, two, three, four,” then exhale for a count of eight, counting in your mind, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.” Repeating this breathing pattern for just ten rounds can have a profound effect on the stress you’re experiencing.
Guided Stress Relief Meditation
If you’re new to meditation, you might be surprised at how many resources there are to help you experience the sense of calm you desire. Not only are there several meditation apps that have made their way into our mainstream culture, but there are countless videos online designed to guide you into a state of serenity.
When it comes to guided stress meditations, it’s all about finding one that resonates with you and helps invoke that coveted feeling of calm and relaxation. When you find the right one, you might be surprised just how well it can help relieve any stress or tension you might be feeling. There are plenty of guided meditations available on YouTube, as well as a plethora of free apps that can help you more easily take the first steps toward your guided meditation journey.
Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword in our fast-paced, stress-fueled modern lifestyles. Described by Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Research suggests that mindfulness meditation can ease feelings of stress, including anxiety, depression and pain. According to Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, mindfulness meditation “makes sense” for those who tend to experience anxiety.
She says through mindfulness you can train the mind to experience your thoughts in a different way. “If you have unproductive worries,” says Hoge, “you might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that, a thought, and not a part of my core self.'”
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t even require you to sit for a “formal” meditation practice. Remember, it all comes down to paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment. You can engage by taking a mindful approach to eating. Doing the dishes. Taking a shower. Walking the dog. Driving to work. The key is to focus on what you’re doing rather than the thoughts in your head. We promise, with practice, it gets easier and easier and is awesome for taming stress.
Meditating Your Way to a Less Stressful Life
Stress is a part of the complex, chaotically beautiful thing we call life, and it’s always going to be there. How you react to the stressors in your life, however, is up to you.
Time and time again, meditation has shown to help reduce stress and bring increased feelings of calm and well-being. Meditating for just 10 minutes a day can have life-changing benefits and completely alter your response to stress.
If you’re interested in living a less stressful life (and seriously, who isn’t?), the simple meditation techniques we just covered are a perfect place to start. Meditating your way to less stress is real. Give it just a little time each day and watch your stress begin to melt away.
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.