Stress or discomfort is something we all experience from time to time and in some situations can be a healthy response to our environment, such as preparing to sit an interview or make a presentation. On the other hand, when our bodies are subject to chronic stress, it can negatively impact many facets of our life, including our physical health, mental health, relationships, career and our overall happiness and wellbeing.
If you are battling with stress, you may have experienced some (or perhaps even all) of the following symptoms:
– anxiousness or feeling worried a lot of the time
– difficulty sleeping or insomnia
– a scatty or racing mind
– regular headaches
– feeling wound-up or restless, or tired and exhausted
– lacking motivation and/or feeling flat
– difficulty paying attention or focusing
– irritability and/or having a ‘short fuse’
– critical or judgmental of one self or others
– muscle tension and/or jaw clenching
– sweating excessively or skin changes, such as a rash
Fortunately, there are a number of natural things you can implement to combat stress, including the regular practise of mindfulness meditation. (For more information on ways you can handle stress naturally, please see our article ‘Eight Ways To Manage Stress Naturally’).
Mindfulness meditation, an increasingly popular form of meditation practised all over the globe, can be described as:
the practice of focusing the mind (meditation) on the present moment (mindfulness).
The essence of mindfulness meditation is bringing our whole and complete attention to the present moment before us (by a range of different means, such as concentrating on the breath), and not paying any immediate attention to things that have happened in the past or may/are due to happen in the future. By doing so, mindfulness meditation enables us to detach ourselves from feelings of stress and rather peacefully view our feelings “from above”. In this instance, we are able to view our feelings without judgement and can recognise that our feelings are feelings only i.e. they come and go, just like thoughts. Try considering this popular analogy:
Take a moment to imagine you are sitting, comfortably and relaxed, by the edge of a trickling stream. As you are sitting, stray leaves appear from upstream, float by you, and disappear again as they move downstream. The same can be said for our thoughts and feelings – i.e. they come.. and then they go on their way again.
By practising mindfulness meditation regularly, we develop a heightened awareness of our thoughts, and can thereby reduce the need to react to them quickly and with force. Now, let’s take a deeper look at some of the key benefits of mindfulness meditation for individuals suffering from stress.
The Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation For Sufferers Of Stress
Mindfulness Meditation Teaches Us To Focus On ‘The Here And Now’
When we are struggling with stress, it is often related to a situation or event that happened in the past or concerns surrounding something that is due to (or may) happen in the future. However, by engaging in mindfulness meditation, we can train our minds to focus on the present moment and what we can control, rather than stressing about the past or what could happen in the future.
Heightened Awareness Of Our Thoughts
By practising detachment from our thoughts through mindfulness meditation, we are able to take a step back from what we are thinking and (later) take the time to analyse why we may be thinking certain thoughts. Regular mindfulness meditation practice teaches us to become more aware of what we are thinking and more in tune with the needs of our body. This allows us to more easily and readily identify when (a) we are feeling stressed (both mentally and physically, where applicable), and (b) to take the relevant action(s) required to reduce those feelings of stress.
When we are feeling stressed, especially when we are anticipating a particularly difficult scenario, we often go over and over the scenario and its potential outcomes in our minds. This process is referred to as rumination.
By learning to focus on the present moment only and put aside everything else that is straining our minds through the practice of mindfulness meditation, we are less likely to worry over and over about a situation that occurred in the past or is yet to come.
Reduced Emotional Reactivity And Increased Ability To Adapt
During periods or moments of stress, it is not uncommon for a person to emotionally react to a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or fearful, before really thinking the situation through.
However, as we learn the skill of detachment from what we are thinking and feeling via mindfulness meditation, we are able to reduce the need to react immediately to a situation we don’t like, and instead think it through first. We learn to take a moment or two to stop and consider the most appropriate form of action and/or reaction before responding to a difficult situation.
Heightened Emotional Intelligence And Compassion For Yourself And The People Around You
Regular mindfulness meditation practice increases our emotional intelligence, as we practise the art of viewing our emotions without judgement nor reaction. What do we mean by ‘emotional intelligence’? Emotional intelligence refers to the awareness of our emotions, how we control them and how we reveal or convey those emotions.
Not only does mindfulness meditation increase the level of compassion we have towards ourselves, but also our empathy and compassion we have for the people around us. People who make mindfulness meditation a part of their daily life may experience fewer situations of conflict, increased relationship satisfaction and experience a greater sense of connection, as they become better able to (a) see another person’s point of view, as well as (b) control and express their own emotions.
Reduces Amygdala Activity And Cortisol Levels
Consistent meditation practice can help to reduce activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for activating our ‘fight-or-flight’ or stress response, referred to as the amygdala. Furthermore, individuals who practice mindfulness meditation on a regular basis are also understood to produce lower levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone released in situations of stress.
Increased Serotonin Levels
Residing primarily in the digestive tract, serotonin is a very important neurotransmitter (or ‘chemical messenger’) produced in the brain. Serotonin plays a significant role in a number of biological activities, including (but not limited to):
– mood regulation (especially important for sufferers of mental health illness, such as depression)
– sleep (serotonin helps to signal the body and mind when it is time to rest)
– cognitive function (learning and memory)
– appetite regulation and proper digestion
Serotonin is especially important for achieving high quality sleep, an important factor in the recovery process from stress. With adequate rest, we are better able to manage our day-to-day responsibilities as well as any stressful situations as they arise.
Can Help Us To Achieve Quality Sleep
Sleeping difficulties are prevalent on the journey for many people suffering from stress. Sleeping difficulties can include struggling to fall asleep, insomnia (waking several times overnight or for long periods) and in some cases, sleeping too much.
When we go to bed, our minds are often racing with the thoughts of the day. By practising mindfulness meditation as part of a regular sleep hygiene routine (i.e. habits you follow before you go to sleep, to ensure a quality night of rest), we are able to slow down our thoughts, relax and focus our minds on the present moment only (for example, by concentrating on the breath).
Strengthens Ability To Ignore Distractions And Focus On The Task At Hand
By strengthening our ability to focus on the present moment only and allowing our thoughts to come and go without judgement or reaction, regular mindfulness meditation practice increases our ability to ignore any distractions that come in to play and instead encourages us to focus on a single task at hand. The ability to concentrate on a single task at a given time is becoming increasingly difficult, in large due to technological advances in recent times. However, consistent mindfulness meditation practice allows us to complete a task more efficiently and effectively, leading to a feeling of satisfaction and ultimately, a reduction in stress, knowing a task is complete.
Increased Clarity When Investigating The Root Cause(s) Of Our Stress
It is no secret that by practising mindfulness meditation on a regular basis, you are likely to be able to think more clearly and coherently. This increased ability to think clearly is especially beneficial when taking the time to analyse the causes(s) of your stress, and can help you to calmly and systematically investigate why and how certain situations contribute to your feelings of stress.
Enhanced Ability To View Stress In A Different Light
By sitting back through the process of mindfulness meditation and viewing our feelings “from afar” (without judging or reacting to them), we have the opportunity to think differently about stress, and perhaps look at it as a somewhat positive thing, as opposed to a negative feeling only (i.e. by recognising particular feelings surrounding stress and later taking the time to investigate them, we are able to tune into our mind and body and discover where we may need to make changes in our life in order to feel our best). In this instance, stress may in fact be recognised as an opportunity for positive change and/or growth.
Can Increase Overall Health and Wellbeing
Making mindfulness meditation practice a regular part of our day-to-day lives not only benefits our mental health, but also has the capacity to improve our physical health. By reducing stress through mindfulness meditation, we may experience increased immune function and be less likely to fall unwell than during times of high stress. Additionally, regular mindfulness meditation practice may contribute to an overall experience of calm and serenity, as well as lower blood pressure. Feeling physically well may in turn further reduce feelings of stress.
Enhanced Coping Skills Regarding Chronic, Terminal Or Mental Illness
Mindfulness meditation can be a fabulous tool to strengthen one’s ability to cope with and manage terminal illness (e.g. cancer), as well as chronic illness (e.g. chronic fatigue syndrome) and mental illness (e.g. depression or anxiety) and may allow for an increase in quality of life as a result. Regular mindfulness meditation practice cultivates many wonderful benefits regarding stress (as discussed above), however the following benefits may be especially helpful for sufferers of terminal or chronic illness, including:
– focusing on the present moment
– decreased rumination
– heightened emotional intelligence, and
– reduced emotional reactivity and increased ability to adapt.
Mindfulness meditation may also benefit close friends and family caring for a terminally, chronically or mentally ill person, by reducing stress levels.
Consistent mindfulness meditation practice can enhance one’s ability to remain patient in stressful situations, as mindfulness teaches us to sit quietly and pay attention to the present moment, without judging any thoughts that present themselves throughout our practice. As a result, a person may find they experience less impatience when subject to difficult situations or situations of conflict, and instead are better able to think a situation through before taking action.
As you can see, the benefits of making mindfulness meditation a part of daily life for individuals suffering from stress are plenty. Mindfulness meditation not only largely benefits the mind in terms of how we process thoughts, feelings and stress, but also our bodies, with regards to reduced cortisol and increased serotonin levels, better sleep quality and often an increase in overall health and wellbeing. It is important to note that consistency is key when it comes to reaping the benefits of mindfulness meditation, and regular practice is a must.
Giving mindfulness meditation a go and reaching out to friends and family for support when you are suffering from stress is a great place to begin your recovery journey. However, in order to adequately recover from stress and manage as best you can in future stressful situations, it is best to see a professional for support. Contact us at Brain Wellness Spa today for support with your stress, to get you back to a happier, healthier, calmer you as soon as possible.