Good Morning! Let the stress begin…… (The Fresh Quotes)
Stress is the epidemic of the 21st century. Don’t take my word for it, that’s a claim from the World Health Organisation. Ofcourse stress is inevitable. Life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. However, the level of stress that people experience in their day to day lives is on the increase. We are wrestling with growing anxiety levels and its impacting on our relationships, our ability to enjoy life and our physical health. Google it and the research comes thick and fast. One study that stated that 80-90% of visits to GP surgeries were in some way related to stress. Another stated that High School students in the US now have the same level of stress as a psychiatric patient in the 1950’s. That’s heart-breaking isn’t it?
We could postulate all day about why this is the case. I could wax lyrical for hours about how on a macro level we are losing human connection, don’t know how to switch off and that phones are the end of civilisation as we know it (I alternate between loving mine and wanting to flush it down the toilet). But we need to tackle the immediate problem at a micro level. The world isn’t going to slow down any time soon and none of us are likely to ditch our electronic devices, even if we would like to, so how are we going to manage this unprecedented health crisis?
Obviously, I am going to suggest meditation…
Meditation has reduced my stress levels. I am not saying that I don’t get stressed, of course I do. But meditation changes how we react to stress and reduces the number of things that we get stressed about. Meditation helps us eliminate the small fry stress, it separates the wheat from the chaff. You may still worry about your kid or your job at three o’clock in the morning but you don’t get so wound up when you are stuck in a traffic jam or when someone cuts you up at a roundabout. That’s got to be better for your day to day mental state not to mention those in the car with you. It’s important though because if we don’t find a way to manage and lessen our stress levels it will start to manifest itself physically. The physical consequences of stress include mind fog, sleep problems, skin conditions, migraines, chest pain, the list is endless. So being able to ameliorate stress levels is good and important for your physical as well as mental health.
So how does it help? Let’s think about what it feels like when you are stressed for a moment. Your mind is rushing, thoughts dart back and for, interrupting each other and leaving you unable to think straight or calm down. This is where meditation works. It enables you to slow your mind down. It makes space in you mind. Small pockets of space start to emerge between those rushing thoughts and you become more aware of your own thoughts. You become able to take a mental step back from that mental chatter and hear it like you are listening to a friend. I love the way that Ekhart Tolle explains it. He says that ‘a separation occurs’ rendering you able to watch your thoughts. Over time, you start to recognise mental patterns, to differentiate real problems from imagined ones and find it easier to decide what course of action to take, if indeed any is needed. You will feel a difference. You will feel less stressed.
You will become calmer, less prone to your mind continually running away from you, obsessing about the past and worrying about the future. You will find that you feel more present and you will enjoy life more as your mind becomes still enough to absorb what is going on around you.
This isn’t just woo-woo nor is it hippy hyperbole. There is real science behind this and an increasing amount of research into the effects of meditation, so if you like a bit of scientific proof, have a listen to this.
Researches have used EEG (electroencephalography) scanners to monitor the brainwaves of people who meditate. They have consistently shown an increase in alpha brain waves (our relaxed state of awareness) during meditation and a decrease in beta waves (our normal active brain state which increases in frequency with stress). This is neurological evidence that meditation reduces stress in our brains.
There are countless studies that have shown that meditation and mindfulness decrease levels of depression. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found 47 trials that suggested that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Georgetown University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry. conducted a study which was published in Psychiatric Research into the effect of meditation which divided 89 patients with anxiety disorder into two groups. One group took a stress management course and the other took an 8 week mindfulness course. At the end of the 8 week period, the meditation group showed a decrease is cortisol and in the levels of inflammatory proteins which can lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer amongst other things. There body produced evidence that they were less stressed.
There is another fascinating consequence of meditation which again shows that meditation can help us deal with stress differently. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt and it has been proven that the wiring of the brain changes as result of meditation. The ReSource Project 2012 – 2016 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany found that parts of the cortex associated with compassion had grown thicker in people practising loving kindness (metta) meditation. It also found that there was also an increase in the limbic system for meditators. The limbic system processes emotions and the anterior insula which brings emotions into conscious awareness. Mindfulness meditation has been found to thicken in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes which are linked to attention control and concentration and during meditation the left and right sides of the brain become connected. Meditation can make us more compassionate, more focussed and more balanced.
There are so many different kinds of meditation you can try. I don’t think it matters what kind of meditation you practice. All roads lead to Rome in my opinion and like shoes, you may want to try on a few and find one that fits you. Mindfulness meditation is the most commonly used form of meditation for stress and anxiety reduction and probably the most researched thanks to the genius that is Dr Jon Kabat Zinn. So maybe you would like to start there. I’ll post some mindfulness meditations in the future but for now look at the resources page for a couple of mindfulness techniques that you can try at home now.