How Meditation Helps Relieve Stress (Simple and Fast Improvements)
When we’re faced with unexpected or challenging circumstances that we don’t have the resources to handle, stress arises. The stress response occurs on a physical, mental and emotional level. Our heart rate and breathing quickens and our sweat glands activate. We may have self-defeating or judgmental thoughts along with emotions such as fear, frustration, irritability or panic.
But stress isn’t always negative. When we have the resources to cope with stress, the release of adrenaline can be beneficial. Stress can be motivating and might even encourage positive emotions related to confidence, clarity and alertness.
The difference between the two isn’t just based on external circumstances. Stress requires the cooperation of our minds. A regular meditation practice makes it far more likely that we’ll feel sufficiently resourced when stress arises. Incidents of stress become less overwhelming, and can be prevented all together.
How Meditation Helps Relieve Stress
Meditation helps reduce stress on several levels. It softens our reactivity to our experiences, lets us view things from a new perspective, and provides us with the coping skills and resiliency which can prevent stress in the first place.
- Reduced Reactivity
Meditation enhances mindfulness. It teaches us to differentiate between the source of our stress, and our reaction to it. Whether we’re concerned about climate change or our neighbor’s fence, typically, it’s not our external circumstances but our reaction to them that’s the cause of our problems. This is good news, because it means the solution is also within. And it’s our inner state of mind that’s changeable. Improved mindfulness keeps us from repeating old habits that turn each of our challenges into stressful events.
- A Change in Perspective
Not everything is worthy of a stress response. The spaciousness we create in meditation lets us see that our emotions are fleeting and we are not what we think. Our true identity is more akin to the stable and spacious ground of awareness from which our emotions arise. Meditation and mindfulness teach us to view stressful situations as if from outside of them versus trapped within. From this perspective, anything that comes our way seems more manageable.
- A Stress-Free Mind
With the spaciousness and perspective that meditation grants us, we’re less likely to perceive stress in the first place. Not because stress is the water we swim in, but because situations once labeled as stressful now feel manageable. When strong emotions do arise, we can recognize them, allow them to be present, and in doing so, give them space to dissipate.
The Research on Meditation and Stress Reduction
So how does meditation reduce stress? There’s ample research on mindfulness, meditation and stress reduction. These studies offer insight into the physiological changes that keeps us calm, even when we’re not meditating.
- Meditation softens the stress response
Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts the brakes on our stress response. A regular practice lowers blood pressure, slows our heart rate, and helps us breathe more evenly. These physiological changes keep the autonomic nervous system balanced, reducing the impact of stress.
- Meditation alters brain physiology
Consistent meditation shrinks the amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for fear, stress and anxiety. It shifts activity from regions that keep us self-centered, taking things personally, and increases activity in areas that offer protection from anxiety. In studies on meditation for stress relief, meditators report less negative thinking, rumination and emotional exhaustion.
- Meditation increases positive virtues
Certain types of awareness meditation help cultivate virtues, such as patience, that protect us from stress. Studies show an increase in self-compassion and empathy in particular are related to greater resilience. Offering ourselves kindness during hard times, and recognizing the universality of our emotions can soften the impact of whatever challenge we’re facing. Meditation also cultivates wisdom, the ability to see and accept things as they are. Allowing for negative emotions and accepting adverse circumstances puts us in less conflict with the realities of life. The wisdom that arises from meditation helps us recognize that no situation, no matter how challenging, will stay as it is forever. This too, will pass.
- Meditation improves subjective well-being
We often think of happiness as a superficial or fleeting trait, but it’s possible to connect to an inner happiness and joy that’s with us all the time, despite our moments of suffering. Even happy, joyful people can experience fleeting moments of stress. This may seem hard to believe at first, but regular meditation practice resolves our doubt as we experience this truth first hand.
How To Meditate To Relieve Stress
For meditation to be effective as stress prevention, we need a consistent meditation practice. Just 15 minutes each day can calm the parasympathetic nervous system, create lasting change in the brain, and reveal the positive virtues and wisdom that keep us at peace, no matter life’s challenges. Learn how to apply meditation to life’s stressful situations in our online course.