Ever have the experience where you feel like your to-do list is never ending? How about feeling a pressure that you always have to do more? In that moment, how do you respond?
It is a completely normal reaction to want to stay busy… how else will those tasks get done? But perhaps, the best thing you can do is practice mindfulness and actually intentionally slow down. Although it might be challenging and counterintuitive, there is strong scientific research that supports the value of mindfulness for stress.
How does meditation help reduce stress?
When practiced regularly, meditation has been shown to help essentially re-program the brain to be better able to respond to stress. Stress causes our autonomic nervous system to become active, and as a result, stress hormones are released into our bodies. When these hormones enter the bloodstream, they set off our “fight, flight, freeze” response. Everyone experiences stress a little differently; but common symptoms include: muscle tension, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, headaches, fatigue, lack of focus, and so on. If stress endures overtime, it can causes changes in our brain leading to a chronically activated “fight, flight, freeze” state.
Meditation actually can then help change the brain. Research has shown meditation contributes to neuroplasticity by reshaping and strengthening the neural pathways in our brain. This helps increase our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for our awareness, and shrinks our amygdala, a part of the limbic system of the brain responsible for emotions, memories, decisions, moods. Both of these changes help to increase our mental resilience by allowing us to become more aware and less reactive.
In what ways does practicing meditation help with my experience stress?
Through practicing, you become increasingly more aware of your thoughts, and as your awareness of your thoughts increases, you begin to see that they are not always the truth. Meditating also helps you to not react immediately to a situation. Instead, you become better able at pausing and take more time to respond in a mindful, wise way. It also allows you to become more in tune with sensations in your body, which can then indicate whether you are experiencing stress earlier and allow you to help in turn take better care of yourself. Meditation has also been shown to help you develop emotional intelligence and, as a result, you can become more compassionate. Mindfulness also helps improve focus, which in turn, allows you to be more present and even work more efficiently.
What can I do when I’m feeling stressed?
Good news, there a lot of practices! You might even be doing some of these things already. We’re sharing a few we use, maybe you try them out to find what will support you best.
Take a Pause
See if you can create a few minutes in the midst of the busyness to pause and take a few deep breaths. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. Tara Brach, a meditation teacher says “through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.”
Singing bowls are often used in yoga classes or meditation practices. It is believed that the energy caused by the vibrations in the bowl can influence your brainwave functions. When you listen to the signing bowl, played here by Colleen, your nervous system is engaged and it helps to bring you into parasympathetic, "rest-and-digest" state. Listening to singing bowls is said to help reduce stress and provide clarity of mind.
Move Your Body
Feel like you can’t be still… then try mindful walking or take a few stretches. You can even move while you listen to your favorite guided meditation. Moving helps reduce the physical sensations, like muscle tension, associated with stress. It can also help if you are feeling fatigued or tired, as moving mindfully, sometimes can give you a little extra boost of energy.
Let Yourself Be With the Stress
We typically see stress as “bad” and something to get rid of. But, it's a natural response and completely healthy when its balanced. As you notice stress, eee if you can cultivate non-judgemental awareness of your experience. Notice what is happening. Know that with time and compassion our perceived stress tends to decrease. Meditation essentially helps us to zoom out and step back so that we can become more aware of our reaction and what causes stress in the first place. Want to practice? Here’s an exercise called Notice, Shift and Rewire.
BE SURE TO FOLLOW TYP ON FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER FOR MINDFULNESS TIPS AND GUIDED MEDITATIONS AND PRACTICES IN HONOR OF NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH. WE ARE CREATING A MOVEMENT TO #MEDIATE4MENTALHEALTH AS RESEARCH SUPPORT THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION.