5 Profound Ways Meditation Can Help you Reduce and Manage Stress

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As a nation, we are growing more and more stressed, and it seems safe to assume that most of us suffer from some degree of stress on a regular basis – whether that’s financial worries, work troubles or relationship difficulties.

If not adequately managed, stress can weaken the immune system, lead to high blood pressure, fatigue and even mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

How Does Meditation Relieve Stress?

Meditation can help us to build resilience to stress, both during and after your practice. Even spending a few minutes focusing on the breath can calm the body’s nervous system and slow your heart rate.

Meditation is an essential tool when it comes to stress management, helping you to build resilience to stressful situations.

Not only can meditation be incredibly calming while you are practicing, it also helps develop skills that we can tap into in everyday life.

Many people find that a regular meditation practice teaches them to centre themselves when they feel overwhelmed during the day.

Meditation can be used as both a long-term and a rapid stress-reliever. Just as we may quickly make a cup of coffee when we start to feel an afternoon lull coming on, a few minutes spent meditating can rapidly transform our mood when we feel our stress levels starting to build.

Regular meditators learn to look at stressful situations objectively, allowing them to handle complex or overwhelming emotions far better than they would have otherwise.

Meditation helps us to relieve stress because it:

  • Slows our heart rate and breathing.

     

  • Helps us to focus on the here and now.

     

  • Allows us to look at intrusive thoughts objectively.

     

  • Helps us to regulate our emotions.

     

  • Improves the quality of our sleep.
Reduce and Manage Stress - Sleep
Reducing stress can improve quality of sleep.

What Type of Meditation Reduces Stress?

Most types of meditation will relieve stress in some way, but mindfulness meditations are most commonly used to reduce stress levels. 

Mindfulness meditations can be practiced for any length of time, and taking just a few deep breaths at the start of the day can bring you into the present moment. 

Almost any form of meditation can help relieve stress in some way. A walking meditation is a great stress reliever because it releases endorphins and allows you to connect with nature.

A sleep meditation can lead to a sounder night’s sleep, improving your mood and energy levels the next day which, you guessed it, can help you better manage stressful situations!

However, for effective there-and-then stress reduction, a mindfulness meditation is a wonderful option. The beauty of a mindfulness meditation is that it can be practiced for any length of time, making it a great option when emotions begin to overwhelm you.

A short mindfulness break can bring you back to the present and instil a sense of calm, encouraging you to tackle the task at hand with a better mindset.

Mindfulness meditation will give you an increased awareness of the present moment, something that you can take with you into everyday life. Often in times of stress, we begin to ignore the here and now.

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We worry about how much work we have to do, feel anxious at something we might have said to offend someone, or feel irritated by something that happened earlier in the day.

Taking a breath and simplifying our attention down to physical sensations, such as the flow of our breath or the rise and fall of our chest will allow us to take a step back from damaging thoughts.

Meditation provides us with the space to observe our thoughts passively, allowing them to pass without judgement.

We’ll learn to see thoughts for what they really are, just thoughts with little meaning in the physical world. With this new mindset, we’ll be able to tackle what’s weighing us down in a calmer state of mind.

How Does Meditation Affect the Brain?

Meditation has been shown to alter the structure and chemistry of the brain, improving both focus and our ability to deal with difficulties. 

In fact, a regular mindfulness practice has been shown to strengthen the areas of the brain that regulate our emotions. 

Any sceptics doubting the effectiveness of meditation may be surprised to learn that a regular meditation practice can actually adjust our brain chemistry.

In recent years, scientists have developed an in-depth understanding about what actually happens to our brains when we meditate.

A regular meditation practice can decrease activity in the area of the brain that leads to distractions, or the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is active when we are daydreaming or not focusing on anything in particular.

An overly active DMN can lead to dissatisfaction, worrying and ruminating. Ever suddenly felt embarrassed about something that happened years ago? This often comes from an overactive DMN.

When the DMN is less active, we’ll find it easier to focus, and be able to stay in the present moment.

Meditation can also change the structure of our brain, with some tests demonstrating that a regular mindfulness practice can increase the thickness in the part of the brain that regulates our emotions.

When this part of the brain is stronger, we’ll find it easier to manage our intrusive thoughts and stay on top of our stress levels.

Reduce and Manage Stress - Brain scan
Meditation can alter brain chemistry.

How Does Reducing Stress Affect Our Lives?

Long-term stress can lead to a huge range of physical and mental health problems, so stress-management is essential. 

Reducing stress will help you to sleep better, reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your relationships. 

While some stress is good for you, the level of stress most of us currently live with certainly is not. A small amount of stress can prevent boredom, depression, and improve alertness, but too much stress can be immensely damaging to our physical and mental well-being.

Long-term stress can lead to a range of health problems, but taking steps to reduce your stress can almost certainly negate these effects.

Reducing stress can help improve your sleep quality, reduce the risk of heart disease or high blood pressure, and help you maintain healthy relationships.

Additionally, lower stress levels will improve your productivity at work (which will again lower your stress!) and help you switch off at the end of the working day.

In periods of high stress, our body becomes flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. While these chemicals are handy if a lion is chasing us, they’re not quite so helpful if you’re trying to get to sleep at night!

Key Facts

  1. Long term stress can lead to a range of health problems including higher blood pressure, trouble sleeping and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

  2. When it comes to reducing and managing stress, a regular meditation practice is key.

  3. Meditation can help lower stress levels both while meditating and over the course of the day.

  4. Even tuning into your breath or senses for just a few minutes can slow your heart rate and nervous system.

  5. A regular mindfulness practice is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your day to day life.

  6. In fact, meditation can lead to physical changes in our brains to help us regulate our emotions and improve focus.