The modern world and urban lifestyle is full of stress, pressures and demands. We live amidst constant stimuli and often struggle to keep up with the ever increasing pace of life and demands that we are subjected to. In such a life-state, stress becomes inevitable and balance becomes elusive, resulting in a tired mind in a tired body. Since sources of stress such as our jobs, families, education, finance and society are unavoidable, it becomes important to explore methods to relieve this constant stress that we accumulate and in doing so heal both our body and our mind. Meditation has emerged as one of the most holistic, natural and effective remedy for stress relief that has been passed on from ancient times into the present day.
Stress Related Facts:
- Number One Proxy Killer: The American Medical Association recognizes stress as the number one proxy killer disease today. Their research shows that it is the basic cause of over 60 percent of all human ailments and disease.
- 95 million Americans suffer from and take medication for some stress related symptoms every week.
- A 20 year long study by the University of London found that unmanaged stress was a bigger precursor/risk for cancer and heart diseases than either cigarettes or cholesterol.
- According to a survey of over 200 American Corporations, 60 percent managers felt that stress related illness was a major problem among employees and hampered productivity to the tune of 16 days of medical leave and $ 8,000 per employee annually.
Stress exists when the adaptive capacity of the individual is overwhelmed by events. Acute stress disorder may manifest as restlessness, irritability, fatigue increased startle reaction, and a feeling of tension, inability to concentrate, sleep disturbances (insomnia, bad dreams), and somatic preoccupations often lead to self-medication, most commonly with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants. – Stuart J. Eisendrath, MD, & Jonathan E. Lichtmacher, MD (CMDT)
It is difficult to define stress, yet we all feel and succumb to it at various points in our lives. In the simplest terms stress can be defined as our body’s response to changes that demand a physical, mental or emotional adjustment. Taking cues from studies of Hans Selye, who has spent a life-time studying stress (1982) and the Lazarus and Folkman research (1984) at the University of California at Berkeley investigating the stress disorders of college students, middle-aged whites, and health professionals we can conclude that depending on the source of stress, one can categorize it into:
- Work related stress
- Relationship related stress
- Education related stress
- Financial stress
- Attitude related stress
Although stress originates in the mind, it often manifests itself in the body in the form of physical illnesses and ailments. Stress plays a significant role in the regulation of our psycho-neuro-immunological processes and hence is the primary proxy cause of many psychosomatic diseases like heart ailments, hypertension, ulcers, diabetes and cancer. Although most people have heard that stress is dangerous, they often take it lightly and don’t do anything about it.
Stress Relief: Why Meditation over Medication
Researches indicate that billions of dollars are spent annually by Americans on stress relief by anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. In fact one research claims that people spend more money on a popular anti-anxiety drug, Xanax, every year than on Tide detergent. Most psychiatrists are quick to prescribe strong, mind altering medication for stress relief. These medicines are not only addictive; they also cause various side effects and worst of all improve the subject’s condition only on the most superficial level. They merely dim the over-all brain activity and processes, so as to subdue the external symptoms of stress. The root causes and thinking patterns remain just as before, and there is no improvement in the stress- tolerance or coping ability.
On the other hand many studies have indicated that the bet for treating stress and keeping it at bay is relaxation and attitude change. An overactive mind is the root cause behind stress; it is the main reason for experiencing stress beyond the usual levels.
Meditation for stress relief is targeted specially at the overactive mind and helps in making it still, calm and quiet. Meditation techniques enable you to recognize the thought patterns that cause the increase in your stress levels as well the attitudes that trigger stress reactions and decide how you deal with stress. Some techniques like relaxation target physical stress relief, while others work directly at the source of the stress and reinforce your spirit and elevate your life state. Meditation is an effective way of achieving both relaxation as well as attitude change. It works at the root of the problem and thus enables us to effectively deal and cope with stress causing situations.
Meditation for Stress Relief: Why it Really Works
Many studies including – Stilson, Matus, & Ball, 1980 have found that meditation has profound and long-lasting impact on both the body as well as the mind. Meditation helps us to mute the constant noisy chatter in our heads so that we can think much more clearly. Meditation surpasses all our expectations, self-demands and attitudes, and provides deep relaxation. Moreover, it cultivates mental discipline, where-in we can control our thoughts instead of being controlled by them.
One of the most important reasons why meditation is so effective for stress relief is because it teaches one to live in the now – the present. It inhibits our restless mind from carrying on our worries and anxieties to the past or the future, where we often spend most of our time. Meditation helps us become aware of the beauty of the present moment and its transience, leaving us contented and happy in the perfection of the present. This leaves no scope for stress or anxiety.
According to Dr.Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute under Harvard University which is associated with several Boston Hospitals, clinical studies have demonstrated that meditation for stress relief appears to induce a series of biochemical and physiological changes that can be collectively called- relaxation response. These include changes in metabolism, heart-rate, blood pressure, respiration and brain activity.
Moreover the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also affirm the benefits of mediation on stress relief by saying that, “Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body. Some meditations seem to work by affecting the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, which is responsible for our reaction to stress.”
Meditation Techniques for Stress Relief:
Many think of meditation as some complicated, mystical exercise; while there are others who consider lying on a couch, or introspection, as meditation. In truth it is neither of the two. Meditation is not passive, it is a conscious effort to relax your body and de-clutter your mind so as to focus on a single point for a sustained period of time. This point of focus completely occupies your mind, and all other thoughts and problems that cause you stress fade away. This helps you relax and rejuvenate; and also clear away all negative energy, thinking patterns and hormones that have built up and are causing stress. A parallel can be drawn between meditation for stress relief and the phrase -“stop and smell the roses”. Listed and explained below are some meditation techniques for stress relief that you can practice easily and inculcate in your daily life. Find the meditation technique for stress relief that works best for you.
There is nothing religious or mystical about meditation for stress relief. You can easily perform this simple meditation for stress relief on your own by following these listed steps.
Step 1: Find a quiet spot and sit down in a comfortable yet upright position
Step 2: Close your eyes and focus on the spot between the eyes
Step 3: Gradually and consciously relax your muscles. Start with your feet and progress upward to your eyes (You can use a Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique for this)
Step 4: Once the muscles are relaxed, focus on deeper over-all body relaxation. Imagine relaxing waves springing from your crown and flowing down your body. Imagine these cool, relaxing waves washing away and cleansing all stress from wherever they touch. Synchronize these waves with your breathing. Let these waves flow first over your head, then the neck moving down your torso, arms and finally the legs and feet. Feel the soothing effect of these waves on all the muscles of your body.
Step 5: Once in a state of deep relaxation, turn the focus to your breathing.
Step 6: Inhale deeply, using the diaphragm and not the chest. Count your breaths and vocalize the number of the breath as you gently and fully exhale, once again by relaxing the diaphragm. Concentrate on the number to maintain focus on the breath and avoid any other stray thought.
Step 7: If you find any other intruding thought or your mind wandering, consciously direct your mind away from that thought and back towards your breathing. This may be difficult at first and you might find your mind wandering away quite often, but with patience and practice you can overcome this and gain complete focus.
Step 8: Sustain this for 10 minutes when you start the practice and gradually try to increase the time.
Remember focusing on breathing and counting the breaths is just one way to hold your wandering mind during meditation for stress relief. You can also try different approaches for this, as follows:
- Focus on a specific object: Maybe a symbol, idol, candle flame or any other. Gaze at it during the entire meditation process, focusing on its details. Concentrate on its shape, texture, colors, shades or movement of that object.
- Focus on sound: You can try to focus on specific sounds that you can enunciate while meditating. “Om”, which is the Sanskrit word for creation and absoluteness, is a popular choice for this.
- Visualization or Imagery: You can create lovely and relaxing mental images in your mind and focus on lending details and perfection to these mental images. You can visualize a place, objects, people or deep wishes that give you inner peace and happiness.
- Affirmations or Meditation Scripts: You can even choose to focus on either self affirmation like “I am feeling relaxed”, “I am a peaceful and beautiful person” or listen to other meditation scripts that are easily available on the internet and often provide very helpful guided meditation.
Finally, no matter what technique or focus object you use, it is important to remember the central idea which is to divert your mind from all your worries, anxieties or tensions and sustaining a period of singular focus. It is important to exist and feel the wondrous “now” or present moment, and allowing all stress to flow out of your body and mind in order to enjoy perfect clarity and the full benefits of meditation for stress relief.