What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to an external or internal sense of threat. A good example is the fight or flight response mechanism that is programmed into our DNA.
During an experience where we feel in danger, the body will instantly flood the system with hormones to give us the necessary energy to “fight” or “run away” from the danger.
This useful tool has helped humans to survive and evolve over time. The issue is that our bodies haven’t exactly caught up with the current times we are living in.
We are still hardwired as hunter/gatherers cavemen-types but living in a technologically advanced era.
How do we deal?
We as humans have reached new levels of stress that were thought never to be possible.
Some common causes of chronic stress include:
- Difficult relationships
- Soul-crushing jobs
- Financial challenges
- Health-related issues
Our ancestors had a nice way of dealing with stress so it did not fester into a chronic issue.
They would run.
Physically running away from a threat would give the body a chance to process and remove the adrenaline and cortisol added to the bloodstream that momentarily puts us into superhuman mode to avoid being injured or killed.
Since most of us are no longer living on the plains being chased by tigers, we have found new ways to be stressed, but no new outlets to relieve the stress once the situation has ended.
This is what causes the stress to become chronic.
Symptoms of chronic stress:
- Poor diet choices
- Short temper / irritability
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Getting sick often
Common medical disorders caused by chronic stress include:
- Severe anxiety disorders
- Heart Disease
- Skin irritations
How Can Meditation Reduce Stress?
Research shows that breathing and mindfulness techniques such as meditation can have a positive impact on anxiety, stress, and depression.
Meditation gives the body the exact opposite feeling that stress causes. By quieting the mind we are able to diminish the stress-causing thoughts that keep our bodies in this fight or flight mode long after the stressor has disappeared.
A study by Yale University shows that utilizing the mindfulness meditation technique decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), which is the network in the brain responsible for mind-wandering a.k.a., monkey mind.
When our mind is left to its own devices it will begin wandering from thought to thought, reflecting on the past and worrying about the future. This is a completely natural state when we are not actively present and allow our subconscious mind to take over.
A non-observed (monkey) mind is associated with being less happy overall. If we sit and allow our mind to wander incessantly, we open ourselves up to undue stress brought about from our own thinking.
By actively engaging the mind with meditation we can begin to quiet the DMN area of the brain. The more we flex this muscle the easier it is to snap out of mindless & damaging thought patterns that keep us in a constant state of stress.
6 Ways Meditation Reduces Stress
- Increased focus & productivity. With better focus, you can complete the tasks at hand with ease. This will give you a sense of accomplishment, which will reduce stress-causing thoughts.
- More time spent in “The Zone” or “Flow State.” Operating at a higher proficiency on a constant basis will relieve your body of stress. You will feel much more in control of the variables in your life.
- Heightened levels of compassion. You will become gentler with yourself, which will relax the body’s active stress response. Empathy will have space to grow and caring about others will become increasingly more important. There is no greater feeling than serving others.
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”- Winston Churchill
- More time to react. You will no longer feel the need to immediately respond to stressful situations. Meditation will give you space and clarity you need to think critically for the best outcome.
- Be more present in the moment. As you become more aware of yourself and your surroundings, your attention will be pulled away from your incessant thought patterns into the here and now.
Greater awareness of your thoughts. This gives you space to observe the situation and see it for how it truly is. You will have then have the conscious choice of how to react to the stressor.
Reduce Your Stress Levels Right Now
To immediately reduce stress levels, follow this simple formula made famous by the Iceman Wim Hof.
- Close your eyes
- Take 30-50 deep breaths
- Expand the belly as you breathe
- On your final breath inhale as deep as you can and hold it for as long as you can.
- Exhale slowly and you will feel like a completely new, unstressed you ready to take on the day.
This easy technique can be repeated a few times a day for people in high-stress situations to help calm and focus your attention on the things that matter.
If you have the time and would like to go deeper into meditation to reduce stress I suggest a guided meditation.
The best thing we can do for our body and mind is to prevent the stressor from causing such a heightened response from our nervous system.
By training the mind with a daily meditation practice, we can be better prepared next time an external force is threatening us. With a steady mindful attitude we are able to control our reactions resulting in less cortisol & adrenaline being pumped into the bloodstream.
Let’s not forget about the body. Through regular exercise, the body is able to produce more endorphins, which boosts our mood and reduces stress.
Watch how much sleep you are getting. Sleeping too much or too little can negatively affect our brain chemistry. A good rule of thumb is to always shoot for 7 to 8 hours and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Maintain a healthy diet. The simple choice of what we are going to eat for breakfast can make or break the rest of our day. Pick up something light, healthy, and nutritious and you set yourself up for a great attitude throughout the day.
Some of the best foods that help enhance our mood include:
- Herbal tea
- Dark chocolate
- Citrus fruits
- Dark leafy greens
Stress is a Part of Life
The last thing I want is for people to get stressed out over not being able to overcome their stress.
Understand that short-lived stress is an important part of daily life. Without it, we wouldn’t have survived the millions of years of evolution that have gotten our species to where we are today. When we allow the stress to become chronic and overtake our life is when we have a problem.
If these techniques are not working and your stress is becoming overwhelming, you should seek a healthcare professional.
Our aim is not to eliminate stress altogether but to reduce it to a manageable level. The techniques outlined in this article are to help you create a strategy for dealing with the stressors of everyday life.