There are two types of stress: there’s the good kind, which motivates you and can help you stay focused in an emergency. The “fight or flight” response is considered good stress because it launches your body into survival mode when you need it.
Then there’s the bad kind of stress, which negatively affects your health and may cause headaches, stress eating, irritability, bowel problems and elevated blood pressure.
Meditation serves as a powerful antidote to bad stress. Mindfulness meditation, the practice of having increased awareness of living in the present, proves particularly helpful in stress management.
A Brief History of Mindfulness Meditation
Evidence of meditation dates as far back as 5000 to 3500 B.C. in the region where India is today. Over the centuries, all major world religions have incorporated some form of meditation into their beliefs. Meditation made its way to the U.S. through Paramahansa Yogananda, who is largely credited with bringing yoga and meditation to the entire Western world during his travels and work in the 1920s and 1930s.
There are many types of meditation, each with a deliberate purpose and ideal outcome. With mindfulness meditation, the optimal outcome is awareness. It’s designed to help you become aware of the moment and live in the present without any judgment of yourself or thoughts, which can be difficult when you’re busy with family, friends, work and/or school.
Mindfulness meditation ensures that you allocate time — whether it’s five minutes or 45 minutes — for you to accept yourself for who you are at that very moment. It allows for self-reflection, which helps reveal wisdom you’ve always had yet hadn’t been able to see or understand clearly.
The Science Behind Mindfulness Meditation and Stress Management
A study published in Biological Psychiatry in February 2016 found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the brains of normal people and possibly improve their health. Until recently, there had been little proof that meditation contributes to a healthier physical state. More research is necessary, but this study showed the long-term effects of meditation on the subjects’ brain and blood samples and has suggested that meditation reduces inflammation, which in turn improves physical health.
Mindfulness meditation works as a stress management tool because it allows you to accept your stress — your thoughts, feelings and sources of stress — without judgment. It stops the cycle of trying to escape the discomfort or pain of stress through avoidance and helps you calmly and clearly observe your present state.
Benefits of mindfulness meditation include:
- Stress management
- Stress reduction
- Improved self-confidence and self-esteem
- Improved relationships with your loved ones
- Healed emotional wounds from the past
The University of North Carolina (UNC) offers mindfulness courses for stress and pain management as part of its Program on Integrative Medicine. The course challenges it students to deeply commit to mindfulness meditation to experience its fullest health and healing potential.
How to Meditate
You can find plenty of YouTube videos explaining how to meditate, yet meditation is most effective when you use other tools to help it become a part of your daily life. Form the habit of using mindfulness meditation for stress management by:
- Using technology — Mobile apps can help you manage other areas of your health, including diet and exercise, so why not use one for stress management? Here’s a list of apps that are specifically designed to guide you through mindfulness meditation. To learn how you can use technology to manage or improve your health, register for a class at Lifestyle Medical Center.
- In-person with a health care professional — If your goal is overall health and lifestyle modifications, working with a health care professional is a great option. A trained professional can teach you techniques for mindfulness meditation and help you make it part of your plan to get and stay healthy.
- With a group — You don’t have to practice mindfulness meditation alone. Meditation groups meet specifically to develop, enhance and maintain meditation practice and its benefits, such as stress management and spiritual growth. You can find mindfulness meditation groups in Raleigh, and there’s at least one group that meets through the networking website Meet Up in Durham.