How Does Meditation Help Reduce Stress?
How active is your mind? What type of thoughts do you have? Are you a worrier or an optimist? Did you know that the amount of activity that goes on in your mind and the types of thoughts that you have can have an affect on your physical and emotional health and well-being?
It is estimated that we think approximately 50000 – 70000 thoughts a day. That works out at about between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute. The nature of the mind is that it doesn’t want to stay still, it consistently wants to think. Buddha described the human mind as “Monkey Mind”. He said that the mind was filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly, all clamouring for attention. Fear is an especially loud monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things that you should be wary of and everything that could go wrong.
The mind is a very powerful thing, it can be your best friend but it can also be your worst enemy depending on what you are thinking about. Just by thinking about good things it can bring on the production of those feel good hormones that race around your body, helping to relax your body and mind. However by thinking negative worrying thoughts you can bring on the production of stress hormones that cause the body and mind to become tense and stressed. These may be thoughts such as:
Upsetting memories from the past
Allowing your anger to run riot in the present moment
Worrying about something that may happen in the future
Constantly producing these stress hormones can have a detrimental affect on the body (see below).
Of course life can be stressful at times and there is no getting away from it sometimes but there are steps you can take to manage those thoughts and your stress levels so that it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your health and well-being.
To help quieten the mind and reverse the stress response you have to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. This is a helpful way to turn off all the stress hormones and return the body and mind back to a relaxed and calm state. When I ask clients what they do to relax they say things like “I watch TV”, “I listen to music” “I take a long hot bath”, “I have a nap”. And of course there is no disputing the fact that these are relaxing things to do but do they actually help you deal with stressful situations or stop you worrying about the past or the future once you’ve turned the tv off/stopped listening to music/got out of the bath/woke up? I suspect the answer is no.
To help you deal with those anxious thoughts whirring around in your head you need to be taking part in a daily practice that teaches you how to quieten the mind and stop those thoughts. After all you can’t change the past and you can’t do anything about the future so what’s the point of worrying about them? The only time that you can change is right now and you can learn how to deal with right now more effectively.
The idea is to create an empty mind rather than one that is busy with constant thoughts. There are many different techniques that can help to quieten the mind but the most obvious one is meditation.
Meditation is the practice of attempting to keep your focus on one thing such as your breath, a mantra, a sound, a fixed object e.g. a candle etc. If you have ever tried doing this it is really difficult to do at first; the mind will just keep wandering and wandering because that is what the mind. However, the idea with meditation is that as soon as you have noticed that it has wandered you bring it back to focusing on your chosen object. The mind will wander over and over again but the more you keep noticing and bringing it back to your chosen object the better you will get at it. I remember a meditation teacher saying to me that if you meditate for 10 minutes and only manage to keep your mind still for 2 minutes you will still benefit, so bear this in mind in your practice.
You will soon find that during the day as you are going about your normal business you start noticing when your mind has ventured into worrying about the past or the future and you are able to quickly bring those thoughts back to the present moment. You will most probably find also that the calmer your mind is the less you find to worry about in your day to day life. You may also notice that when you are faced with a stressful situation you are able to remain calm and deal with the situation in a more constructive and effective way.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation has been shown to have many benefits including:
Dramatic reduction in stress and anxiety
A greater sense of inner-peace and tranquility
Improved mental, emotional and physical well-being
Increased confidence and self-esteem
Better, more restful and refreshing sleep
Optimal focus, concentration and memory
More happiness and flow in your life
Watch this Youtube video for more information on how meditation can help with health and wellbeing.
And remember you don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to meditate and reap the benefits.
If you struggle meditating then you may find these ideas helpful:
Attend a meditation class
Buy/download a guided meditation audio recording
Find a guided meditation on Youtube that you enjoy
If you would like further help in managing your stress and anxiety please get in touch.