4 ways mindfulness meditation helps with stress
by Rachel Long.
Feeling stressed is awful.
Whether it’s the morning traffic, an argument, a deadline, or an unwanted medical diagnosis; the body-mind’s response to the stressor is always the same. Stress hormones flood the body, the heart beats faster, breathing becomes shallow and quick, muscles tense, and digestion shuts down as the nervous system goes into flight or fight mode to defend a life-threatening situation.
Even though many of our day-to-day stressors are not life threatening, our ancient brain wiring reacts as though they are. When the fight or flight mode of the nervous system is repeatedly aroused, chronic stress occurs. Chronic stress is most concerning because it leads to heart problems, immune system deficiency, digestive issues and interferes with brain functioning. There is even research to suggest that chronic stress speeds up the aging process by shortening DNA telomeres. (1.)
You may not be able to revert your medical diagnosis, leave your job, skip the exam or do anything about the morning traffic, but you absolutely can do something about how your mind responds to stressors. Mindfulness meditation uses the mind to change the brain and nervous systems response to stressful situations. Here are just 4 ways mindfulness meditation helps reduce stress.
Examining the way the view our life
Why is it that what is stressful for one person, is not necessarily stressful for another person? It often comes down to the meaning we give to these events. With the light of awareness we can ask if the stories we tell ourselves, the judgments we make and the labels we impose are really true? With mindfulness we can explore looking at it from another perspective.
Awareness of thoughts
Self compassion researcher Dr Kristin Neff has found that when we engage in negative self talk or self criticism, the stress response is activated in the body. The nervous system responds as though there is a threat to one’s physical existence. In mindfulness training we work with changing the negative self talk to kind and compassionate self talk to reduce the level of stress experienced. (2.)
As awareness increases we become more sensitive to the information our body is giving us. By listening to these messages early on, we can appropriately intervene before illness takes hold, before we injure ourselves, or before we hit the wall from exhaustion. We also become more attuned to the early warning signs of stress building in the body and again have the opportunity to do something about it, before the feeling of stress escalates.
Less stress reactivity in the brain
Fascinating research by neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed mindfulness meditation practitioners, even after just 8 weeks of practising, had a reduction in amygdala activity (3.) The amygdala is the part of the brain which acts like the nervous system’s alarm bell, when it sounds, it sets off the entire stress response. In Lazars study the change in amygdala size was also correlated with a reduction in stress.
For training in mindfulness meditation and stress reduction check out the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course commencing Tuesday 23rd October.
About the writer:
Rachel has immersed herself in the study, practice and teaching of mindfulness-based practices for over 15 years. She has honed her craft by teaching extensively in a range of settings, such as retreats, teacher training courses, workplaces and community classes. As a trained counsellor, Rachel has also taught mindfulness in clinical settings and trauma sensitive populations.
With over 15 years of teaching experience, Rachel knows exactly what the obstacles and pitfalls to learning mindfulness are, and is expert at facilitating an easy, enjoyable learning experience.
Rachel teaches the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at Manly Yoga. You can find more information about this course including term dates by following this link
- Wolkowitz, O. M., Mellon, S. H., Epel, E. S., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Su, Y., … Blackburn, E. H. (2011). Leukocyte Telomere Length in Major Depression: Correlations with Chronicity, Inflammation and Oxidative Stress – Preliminary Findings. PLoS ONE, 6(3), e17837. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017837
- Neff K.D., Dahm K.A. (2015) Self-Compassion: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Relates to Mindfulness. In: Ostafin B., Robinson M., Meier B. (eds) Handbook of Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer, New York, NY
- Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., … Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11–17. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsp034