In today’s world, with the constant innovation of technology and increased emphasis on efficiency, it seems that people are, ironically, busier than ever. We can get our coffee in less than two minutes, use our phones to hail a ride, and send emails on-the-go. In this age of instant gratification, why can’t we seem to relax?
This is where meditation can help.
Although it’s been around for ages, meditation may be a practice you’ve easily dismissed. Despite any past ambivalence to this alternative medicine staple, in recent years, meditation has slowly been inching its way towards the mainstream— and with good reason. Here are some ways that stress can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies and how meditation can help.
Problem: Two regions of the brain tend to play a special role in our mental health: the amygdala and the default mode network (DMN). The amygdala is the region of the brain that regulates concentration, memory and emotions, such as fear, anger and sadness. Although “feelings” aren’t inherently bad, they can sometimes go awry.
The other region, the default mode network, is the part of your brain that’s to blame for daydreaming and other distracting, wandering thoughts. Although daydreaming may seem fun and careless, when left untrained, our imagining minds may give rise to depression, anxiety and insomnia - not so fun or careless.
Solution: Establishing a daily meditation practice can decrease activity in these two regions of the brain, consequently calming our minds, thoughts and emotions. You may experience a sounder sleep, less anxiety and a more positive outlook on life.
Problem:When you’re having a stressful day at work or are overwhelmed at home, pesky “stress hormones” called cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released. These hormones charge forward, accelerating our heart rates and blood pressures and preparing our bodies for the perceived challenges coming our way, also known as our “fight-or-flight” response. This cardiovascular stress can lead to kidney damage, heart disease, heart attack and stroke—some of the leading causes of death in America.
Solution: Meditation activates our bodies’ “rest-and-digest” functions, which counteracts our “flight-or-fight” responses. Integrating the practice into a daily routine has been linked to lower heart rate and blood pressure, which may lower your risk of heart disease.
Problem: It turns out we truly can worry ourselves sick. When we’re feeling frantic, distressed or overwhelmed, all functions your body deems “unimportant” are abandoned in order to divert energy elsewhere. Unfortunately, your body seems to think many necessary functions are expendable, such as our immune, digestion, reproduction and growth systems.
Solution: Meditation can help halt these misguided messages. By practicing regularly, we can soothe our nerves and help our systems run as they should, rather than operate in a reflexive, stress-induced shutdown mode. Some physical health benefits of meditation include:
- Decreased inflammation
- Increased immunity
- Reduced symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Ease symptoms of arthritis
- Increased fertility
Although we can’t rid ourselves of daily stressors like laundry, unread emails and long commutes, there are ways to make the sailing a bit smoother. Meditation may provide the mental shift needed to equip you for life’s oncoming obstacles.
There are many different ways to meditate, such as mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, yoga and tai chi, so try not to grow frustrated after your first attempt. Find a practice that works for you and, remember, it’s practice. It will take some time to establish a routine and reap the benefits of meditation, but eventually, you’ll be on your way to living a healthier, more tranquil life.
Interested in learning more about Mindfulness? According to Penn’s Program for Mindfulness, “extensive research has demonstrated that mindfulness training improves mood and quality of life, increases working memory and resistance to distraction, and enhances emotional regulation.
More than ever before in our culture, people are turning to mindfulness and meditation for help with managing symptoms of stress in daily life. If you are interested in attending a class at Penn’s Program for Mindfulness, visit their website and experience what this practice can do for you.