Meditation: the Medicine for Chronic Stress
Nowadays, we all fall victim to the stresses of daily life for many reasons: work demands, home responsibilities, technology and self-neglect, just to name a few. Due to the very nature of today’s hectic lifestyle, we are finding ourselves more constantly in Fight-or-Flight mode rather than Rest-and-Relax. By understanding ways to instead activate your Parasympathetic System and decrease the response of your Sympathetic System, you can reduce the stress of daily life and the symptoms you have been experiencing as a result. Here comes in Meditation.
Dr. Robin Berzin, a functional medicine physician, shares a breathing meditation exercise you can give a try to decrease stress:
– To begin, sit still and tall somewhere comfortable. Close your eyes, and being breathing through your nose.
– Then, inhale for a count of two. Hold the breath in for a count of one. Exhale gently, counting out for four. And finish by holding the breath out for a count of one. Keep your breathing even and smooth.
– If the 2-4 count feels too short, try increasing the breath lengths to 4 in and 6 out, or 6 in and 8 out, and so on. But if longer breaths create any anxiety there is no need to push yourself. The most important thing is that the exhale is longer than the inhale, not the absolute length of the breath.
– Set a timer and breathe this way for at least five minutes! You will see a difference in your mood.
Perhaps you prefer a guided meditation with a little calming music in the background. I personally enjoy Dr. Nipun Aggarwal’s, 20 minute guided meditation.
More often than not, your body has a miraculous way of letting you know that it’s under chronic stress via your Nervous Systems. And you may not know, you have two major nervous systems: the Central Nervous System (CNS) and Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Though the CNS plays many vital roles in the body, I want to dive deeper into the ANS and how it connects to your body’s stress response.
Your ANS works independent of your CNS as it works automatically to manage basic body functions like breathing, digesting, pumping of the heart and pupil dilation and constriction and so on. All of these vital functions seemingly just happen, requiring little conscious work on your part. Your ANS can be divided primarily into two parts: the Parasympathetic System (rest and relax) and Sympathetic System (fight or flight). When you are under stress, your body activates the Sympathetic System and because of this, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Problems with digestion
- Dilation of pupils
- Feelings of nausea and nervousness
- Stomach ulcers and pain
- Adrenaline release
- Reduced sex drive
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Muscle tension
- Mood swings
- Increased glucose production
- A compromised Immune System
The tradition of meditation stems back several thousands of years ago in India, as recorded in the Vedas. Since then, MANY other forms of meditation have been established including those in Taoist China and Buddhist India. No matter what type of meditation you partake in, it is meant, in part, to bring attention to the physical sensations in the body. This allows your body to rest, the muscles to relax, breathing to slow/normalize and lets positive emotions to bubble up to the surface.
In a 2009 study, a randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults, researchers concluded that a “Transcendental Meditation program decreased BP in association with decreased psychological distress and increased coping in young adults at risk for hypertension.” However, this is just one of many medical studies that has been conducted on the effects of meditation on the body in relation to stress. Author Megan Lee of Harvard Medical School writes in her 2009 article, Calming Your Nerves and You’re Your Heart Through Meditation, that despite the lack of evidence, meditation “may bring us better peace of mind and help restore balance in the autonomic nervous system.”
Maybe those who lived BC were on to something? Either way, it’s up to you to truly discover what the benefits of meditation is in relation to your stress.
We can use meditation as medicine. Remember, just breathe!
We are also here to help! If you’re ready for support or want more information on meditation, drop us an email or give us a call at 877-293-9355 ext. 0!
– Casey Edmonds, CHC