A Meditation For Working With Anxiety And Stressbob Stahl
Are Meditation And Mindfulness Practices Safe
Meditation and mindfulness practices usually are considered to have few risks. However, few studies have examined these practices for potentially harmful effects, so it isnât possible to make definite statements about safety.
A 2020 review examined 83 studies and found that 55 of those studies reported negative experiences related to meditation practices. The researchers concluded that about 8 percent of participants had a negative effect from practicing meditation, which is similar to the percentage reported for psychological therapies. The most commonly reported negative effects were anxiety and depression. In an analysis limited to 3 studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction programs, investigators found that the mindfulness practices were not more harmful than receiving no treatment.
Can We Fight Or Banish The Monkeys
The problem is, the monkeys are built into the very fabric of consciousness, they are of the essence and nature of the mind. Like the elements, they have always been there and always will.
We cannot banish them from our mind anymore than we can rid carbon or hydrogen from the earth.
Fighting them makes about as much sense as diving headfirst into a sidewalk to cure a cold, or roundhouse kicking a brick wall to eliminate athlete’s foot. The mind monkeys are part of you, they are part of us all.
Simple yet elegant, there is but one solution… They need to be tamed.
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How The Fight Or Flight Response Triggers Anxiety
The problem is, evolution has hard-wired our DNA to physiologically react in stressful situations our heart races, our breathing becomes shallow, our blood vessels clinch up, our pupils dilate, our muscles tighten, all in preparation to either fight or flee.
The good news is that your body has a built in stress-defense mechanism it’s called the parasympathetic nervous system. Your ability to stay anxiety-free is directly tied to activating this often elusive system each and every day.
Then, what’s the best way to wake up this sleeping giant? Meditation.
How Do Meditation And Mindfulness Work
Some research suggests that meditation and mindfulness practices may affect the functioning or structure of the brain. Studies have used various methods of measuring brain activity to look for measurable differences in the brains of people engaged in mindfulness-based practices. Other studies have theorized that training in meditation and mindfulness practices can change brain activity. However, the results of these studies are difficult to interpret, and the practical implications are not clear.
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How Meditation Deactivates This Anxious Caveman Brain Region
Researchers from Boston University and Harvard Medical School fMRI brain-scanned participants before and after a series of mindfulness meditation classes with staggering results.
In only 8 weeks, along with far fewer “distress signals” transmitted throughout the brain, the meditators’ brain imaging for “fear center” electrical activity had gone silent.
What surprised the scientists the most, however, was that their “anxiety engine” amygdalae somehow managed to physically shrink! This discovery has monumental implications.
Knowing that it is indeed possible to, like the light switch in your bedroom, turn off our primitive caveman brain hardware , we can put a variety of stress related physical, emotional, and mental disorders in our rearview-mirror.
The first stop on the mindful “highway to happiness” will quickly dump your truck-load of anxiety, no matter how full.
Yoga Meditation For Stress Relief
You can practice meditation on its own or include it as part of your asana routine. Meditation positions include sitting on a chair or on the floor. You can also do standing, walking, and lying-down meditation.
Experiment with a few types of meditation on your own or seek the guidance of a teacher who can help you create a structured, consistent routine. Once youâve established a meditation practice, stick to this routine for some time instead of changing regularly.
Yoga nidra, known as yogic sleep, is a guided meditation that you do in-person with a teacher or via a recording. It promotes deep relaxation, alleviates stress, and helps you sleep better.
Yoga nidra is a fantastic option when youâre too tired for an asana or seated meditation practice but still want to dedicate time to your yoga routine.
Yoga can be very effective when trying to calm your body and mind. To get the most out of your stress relief, remember these tips.
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Not All Stress Is Bad
For the most part in our human history, our strategic choices in stressful situations have been rather narrow. When, as a hunter, you happen to stand eye-to-eye with a tiger, either you dig your heels in and ready yourself for combat or you run for your sweet life.
That is the reason why we, as a species, have developed a fight-or-flight response to stress which prepares the body for either of these two options.
The physiological mechanism behind this response is actually quite fascinating. When we are under stress, a particular hormone floods our bloodstream and
- slows down the digestive system
- increases the heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels and
- switches off the prefrontal cortex of the brain and puts faster-acting, more primitive parts of the brain in charge.
This all sounds good for successfully surviving in the wild.
Pause: Connect With Your Breath
How Mindfulness Calms Anxious Feelings
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Breath Meditation: A Great Way To Relieve Stress
Simply observing the breath can damp down stress and open a door to a more healthy and mindful lifestyle.
Psychological stress has a devastating effect on health. Research shows that people with heart disease do worse over time if they don’t control stress, and stress seems to be associated with a higher risk for cancer. Stress is strongly associated with poorer memory and more aches and pains. However, reducing stress helps you sleep more restfully and control high blood pressure.
One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to simply focus your attention on your breath. It’s a form of “entry level” meditation that anyone can do. You’ll notice an immediate sense of relaxation that could help protect your health over time.
If you enjoy it, breath meditation can be a gateway to a broader practice of “mindfulness,” in which you learn to accept and appreciate what comes in life and stop fighting your own thoughts and feelings. “Many people take up mindfulness practices thinking they’d like to relax more, but where it leads is a very different approach to life and its inevitable challenges,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
Big Prefrontal Cortex Little Anxiety
A highly cited study published in one of the world’s top medical journals, “The Lancet” brain-scanned 17 anxiety & depression sufferers. What did they discover?
Kind of like that skinny legged guy at your gym who trains his chest and arms seven days a week, the participants “CEO” left prefrontal cortexes were extraordinarily weak when compared to other parts of the brain.
Scientists know that weakness or abnormality within the prefrontal cortex impairs decision making and brainpower while opening the floodgates to anxiety and depression.
Imagine if you could upgrade this amazing brain region, and in essence hack evolution! You can, through meditation!
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What Type Of Meditation Is Good For Anxiety
Any meditation will assist with anxiety, but mindfulness meditation is the best because of the specific way it impacts the brain. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of clearing and bringing your mind and body to a standstill. The goal is to keep your mind clear and focused with no thoughts or feelings. This allows you to get deeper into your consciousness to find the root cause of your anxiety.
Meditation Reverses Anxiety Through The Relaxation Response
By using meditation to simultaneously activate the parasympathetic nervous system while deactivating the body’s “fight or flight” stress mode, his patients reversed countless health issues, with anxiety often the first domino to fall.
Dr. Benson’s bestselling book, “Relaxation Response,” has sold millions of copies, providing great momentum to the mind-body movement, and stands as another solid example of hard science confirming age-old mindfulness wisdom.
Note: The relaxation response brings countless benefits above and beyond relieving anxiety and managing stress. The infographic below goes into much more detail:
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Meditation Beyond Stress Relief
Meditation can be a very powerful experience. As you meditate, allow yourself to feel sensations of love and gratitude.
If you would like, you can make those feelings the focus of your meditation. Send your feelings out into the rest of the world and promise to spread those feelings continuously.
As you come out of meditation, take note of your feeling of relaxation. This can help you hang onto that feeling for the rest of the day. It can also help you feel more confident in yourself.
Better Focus And Concentration
Mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the present, which can improve your concentration on other tasks in daily life.
A 2011 study from the Harvard Medical School examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain and found a connection between mindfulness and processing new information.
The researchers examined the brains of 17 people before and after participating in an eight-week meditation program. Brain scans showed an increase in gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotional regulation.
Additionally, a 2016 study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated how mindfulness meditation can improve concentration and decision making.
The study consisted of 35 unemployed adults looking for work. One group participated in a three-day relaxation program without mindfulness meditation components, while the other group participated in three days of mindfulness meditation. Brain scans before and after showed an increase in connectivity among parts of the brain that control attention for the meditation group.
“Research shows we can actually train our attention and our meta-awareness, and that this is a learnable skill,” says Richard Davidson, PhD, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds.
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Mindfulness Meditation For Stress And Anxiety
Stress and anxiety result when we feel we cant handle the pressures and adverse situations of everyday life. Its a simple question of supply and demand of available emotional resources.
Its not about whether the perceived stressor is valid or notwe feel a responsibility to respond to all of the pressures and demands. When we are stressed, the first question we need to ask is whether or not a response is truly necessary.
Try Out Different Types Of Meditation
Many people think of meditation as sitting down and closing their eyes. You can do this basic form of meditation. But feel free to experiment with other ways.
Guided meditation involves using mental images of relaxing places. You can do this with someone else, having them describe locations to you. You can also keep your eyes open and focus on an image you like.
You can combine meditation with yoga poses for anxiety. After a few minutes of quiet sitting, stand up and perform your favorite poses. This is good for people who want a little activity without too much exertion.
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How Technology Has Made Us A Stranger To Our Mind
After their morning shower, many folks shy away from the bathroom mirror because their reflection is not pleasant to behold.
Likewise, many people are uncomfortable with sitting alone in silence because they don’t like going face to face with their thoughts.
Anxiety is rooted in this fear, only made worse by our always on MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.
While our devices do have the benefit of connecting us in ways like never before, we need to pull back the reigns to avoid becoming a society full of neurotic, information obsessed basket cases. Technology is meant to be our servant, not our master.
Then, how does one solve this rubix cube? Becoming Amish or joining a Tibetan monastery would certainly solve the problem. But that would require leaving your friends, career, and family behind. Maybe not ideal.
Or you could find a way to master living in the real world, unshackling yourself from the emotional chains of technologically generated anxiety.
Breathing Exercises For Anxiety
Mindful breathing is part of the foundation of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. It involves diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, also known as belly breathing, which is very helpful in calming the body because its the way that you naturally breathe when asleep or relaxed.
How to Practice Mindful Breathing
It might be helpful to start off practicing mindful breathing for five minutes once a day and build it up from there. Maybe youll find that you can add a second or even a third 5-minute session, practicing mindful breathing at different times of your day. You can get additional benefit if you gradually extend your mindful breathing to 10, 15, 20, or even 30 minutes at least once a day. Let this be a part of your practice of mindfulness that you look forward to doing, a special time for you to center yourself and return home to your being. Feel free to use an alarm clock or timer you can that feature a pleasant sound.
Explore your breath:
- Take a moment right now to be mindful of your breath. Gently place your hands on your belly.
- Breathe normally and naturally. When you breathe in, simply be aware that youre breathing in when you breathe out, be aware that youre breathing out.
- Feel your belly rise and fall with your breath. Now take two more mindful breaths and then continue reading.
Does The Human Mind Love Fear
A recent study by the Media Research Center analyzed the ratio of “good” to “bad” news broadcasts for three mainstream networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS.
What did they find? A surprise to few, up to 85% of the stories aired were categorized as negative.
We know that all humans require food, warmth, water, and sleep. But, is it also built into human DNA to crave doom and gloom?
Is focusing our attention on natural disasters, war, terrorism, crime, incompetence, scandals, and corruption a function of our biology or did we get here through conditioning? Is it nature or nurture?
How Meditation Harnesses Your Cool & Calm Brainwaves
Incredibly simplified, we have outlined a few of the brainwave benefits of meditation here:
Alpha Brainwaves Will help you quiet your mind, boost your creativity, achieve deep relaxation, increase your happiness, instill self-confidence, and much more.
Theta Brainwaves Bring out your emotional intelligence, allow access to your ultra powerful deep mind, make you feel inspired, deepen your intuition, make you feel more open and connected, and much more.
Delta Brainwaves Magnify your awareness, slow aging, boost longevity, give you great sleep, restore your health, tap into your deepest level of consciousness, and much more.
As you can see, by tapping into these powerful states of consciousness, meditation’s Alpha, Theta, & Delta brainwaves open up a whole world of benefits far beyond having nerves of steel.
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Gaba & Serotonin: How Meditation Fills Your Tank
To illustrate how it works, what would happen if you put $15 of gasoline into your tank each morning, while using only $10 worth on your daily commute? Of course, your tank would eventually get full and stay full, basic supply and demand economics.
For your brain, meditation does the same, fillin’ ‘er up with the most purely refined GABA & Serotonin, replenishing far more high quality than stress can ever deplete.
When your tank is always full of these naturally calming, feel-good neurotransmitters, you become immune to the mileage which would otherwise have you on the side of the road calling for a AAA tow-truck.
Would you rather pop a side-effect ridden pill to feel calm and happy for a little while? Or fundamentally upgrade your biology to be forever “anxiety immune”? Tough call.