Everyone experiences stress from time to time. It’s what we feel when we’re under pressure. It keeps us up at night. It gives us that stomach ache. What causes stress completely depends on you and your own personal perception- and it can be internal or external. Whether it’s the sound of a dog barking, a crying child, or an angry spouse, what’s stressful to you may not be stressful to someone else.
Stress is your body’s natural reaction to challenge or threat. Your body’s defenses kick into high gear and into a “fight-or-flight” reaction, also knows as a stress response. It’s your body’s way of protecting itself. In proper doses, a stress response can help you be alert, focused and energetic. In an emergency situation, a stress reaction can actually save your life, giving you extra strength to defend yourself.
In stressful situations, your nervous system releases hormones which alert your body to an emergency. This causes your heart to pound faster and your muscles to tighten, which causes higher blood pressure, quicker breathing, and sharper senses. These physical changes boost your strength and energy, speeding your reaction time and strengthening your focus- which is the “fight or flight” response. Your body is ready for action. When in survival mode, these hormones can be life-saving, helping the body fight off attack or threat. At this time we see everything as a threat and can lose the ability of rational thinking.
Some amount of stress can actually be a good thing and can help you concentrate or study for an exam. But in higher and longer doses, stress stops being helpful and becomes harmful. While you may think that headache, stomach ache or the inability to sleep may be some sort of illness, the true culprit may actually be stress. Being able to recognize common symptoms of stress can give you a jump on managing them.
Effects of stress on your body can include a headache, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, upset stomach and sleep issues. Common effects of stress on your mood include anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability or depression. These may all contribute to overeating or under eating, anger, drug or alcohol abuse, withdrawing socially or exercising less often.
When we are stuck in survival mode, it’s impossible to keep a positive attitude. Our hearts aren’t open and our minds are focused on fear, not love or peace. It’s difficult to make clear choices and we feel overwhelmed. We live from crisis to crisis and bounce from one emergency to another. We become burnt out and lose the ability for happiness or to enjoy life.
This is why it’s important to find healthy ways to actively manage stress.
If practiced for as little as 10 minutes a day, meditation can help keep stress in check while restoring your calm and inner peace. This can benefit both your emotional well-being and overall health.
Meditation causes the opposite of the “fight or flight” response, resulting in a state of deep relaxation, where our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and metabolism are decreased. If we train our bodies daily to achieve a state of relaxation, we can control our stress, decrease anxiety, and improve our cardiovascular health.
Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to be a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears, and hopes. – Chogyam Trungpa
In fact, studies have shown that meditation was found to be as effective to treat anxiety and depression as an antidepressant drug.
“When there is too much stress or worry, look within” – Dalai Lama
According to Sarah Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, meditating can literally change your brain. Her studies showed that after just eight weeks of meditation for about ½ hour a day showed changes in the brain. Lazar says “Just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation also has some of those same benefits.” She also found that everyday meditation may also slow down the age-related atrophy of certain areas of the brain.
The benefits of meditation don’t end when your session ends. Meditation can help you through your day more calmly and help manage your stress. When you meditate, you clear out that build-up of emotional overload and open yourself up again to love and happiness.
If fact, over the last 10 years, studies have shown that meditation increases immune function, increases positive emotion, and decreases anxiety, depression, and stress. It can also boost your self-control and improve productivity.
With the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we can all take a moment to put some space between ourselves and our reactions to pause and breathe. Without the need for any type of special equipment, it’s about setting aside some time. Don’t worry about achieving a state of eternal calm, just stay in the moment and let your judgments roll by. And don’t criticize yourself for whatever thoughts may crop up.
This meditation focuses on the physical sensation of breathing and anchoring that sensation to the present moment. Although when practicing this you may find yourself caught up in thoughts, emotions or sounds, you can bring yourself back.
These few steps can help with a simple meditation to relieve stress and anxiety:
- Find a quiet and relaxing spot to sit.
- Cross your legs in a comfortable position on the floor
- Straighten but not stiffen your upper body
- Place your upper arms parallel to your upper body with your hands on your legs
- Gaze downward gently
- Feel your breath
- Let your mind wander and observe your thoughts. Gently bring them back to concentrate on your breathing.
- When you are ready, lift your chin and pay attention to your thoughts and emotions.
In an article called Fight Stress positively, the Dalai Lama offers these tips:
One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise, you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem.