A Guide to Reducing Stress. Meditation Tools That Can Help
Are you feeling stressed? Can you imagine, for a moment, regaining your equilibrium? That’s were meditation comes in. Let’s face it these are stressful times. A world pandemic. Millions out of work. A difficult president (in the USA). Increasing climate change problems. In addition, many are experiencing personal stress caused by money, job, relationships, traffic, not having enough toilet paper.
Let us take a look at stress and what we can do about it, a handful of ways to lessen stress and feel better as a result.
Meaning of Stress
According to Wikipedia phychological stress is “a feeling of emotional strain and pressure. Stress is a type of psychological pain. Small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance. It also plays a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. Excessive amounts of stress, however, may lead to bodily harm. Stress can increase the risk of strokes, heart disease, ulcers and mental illness such as depression, as well as aggravate a pre-existing condition”.
We all experience stress in this hectic world we live in. Small amounts of stress keep us motivated and sufficiently reactive to the world around us. Too much of it can cause us harm. Unfortunately, the latter is often the case and does do us harm, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The result is the psychological pain that Buddha spoke of when he said, “Life is suffering”.
A Good Example—My Son
I look at my 30 something son these days and think, “It’s no wonder he gets stressed out”. He’s got a high pressure, management level position which requires that he coordinate with his fellow management team members and his staff by video conference to keep the company afloat. He has two very active and inquisitive young sons, who are at home 24/7. His wife is fabulous, works part time, and is at the center of his world. He plays in and co-manages a band that he’s trying to keep together by performing on Zoom. He’s in the middle of a remodeling project on his 1930s bungalow. They have lots of friends with whom stay in touch by text, these days.
Sound familiar? Except for the details, some of which are related to his age and his personal interests, this list could be yours and that of most of the people you know. He manages all of these activities amazingly well but having so many balls in the air takes its toll. A toll many of us can relate to.
The Impact of Stress
The impact of stress on our lives penetrates all aspects of our existence, as I chronicle in my book The Amazing Benefits of Meditation. Quoting Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, “It’s hard to think of an illness in which stress and mood don’t figure,” Raison is quoted as having said at WebMD. “We know stress is a contributor to all the major modern killers:
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Heart disease
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
- New (or new strains of) infectious diseases (vulnerable to weak immune systems)
- Intentional self-harm (suicide)”
According to author Hanna Braime, in her book, From Coping to Thriving, , “Stress and anxiety wreak havoc with our immune system, leaving us susceptible to all kinds of nasties—particularly during the winter. Developing a regular meditation practice reduces the amount of stress-related chemicals in our body, and also leaves us less likely to turn to unhealthy coping strategies to deal with the stress.”
The Problem We Face
Unfortunately, most of us do not know how to deal with stress very well. Humans have always had to deal with stress going back to when we lived in caves and didn’t have many defense mechanisms other than our problem-solving skills. Stress was constant and became “hard wired” into our primitive brains. We became very good at surviving to stay safe.
Even now as the dominant species on the planet, we still frequently act out of fear of some real or imagined circumstance, often caused by our fellow humans. Few of us are ever trained when we are growing up in stress management. Certainly not by our parents, teachers, friends, acquaintances or workplaces (although a few forward looking companies like Google have begun to train employees to help their performance and well-being).
This where meditation comes in. Practiced for many centuries as prayer in the West and sit-down or mindfulness exercises in the East, meditation is increasingly being taught in schools, yoga and meditation centers, and, as mentioned above, in a few businesses.
Tool Number 1—Sit Down Meditation
Dr. Raison, mentioned above, led a study that indicated that meditation improves both physical and emotional responses to stress. In the study, people who meditated regularly for six weeks showed less activation of their immune systems and less emotional distress when they were put in a stressful situation. Physiologically, it appears that one of the reasons for the improvement in these areas is that meditation “….reduces cortisol (the body’s natural stress hormone) levels in the body”, which leads to lower levels of stress and higher levels of a sense of well-being.
We only have to examine the substantial increase in the use of anti-anxiety medication in recent years for proof of the impact of stress on the U.S. population and the use of potentially harmful drugs to cope with this “epidemic” caused by modern lifestyles. On the other hand, Stanford University researcher Emma Seppälä, notes that, “Meditation allows people to take charge of their own nervous system and emotions…. Studies have shown improved ability to [permanently] regulate emotions in the brain.”
This type of meditation, usually practiced sitting in a chair, or on a meditation cushion, can be done almost anywhere, at any time. In its simplest form, sit-down meditation is done by observing the breath as it comes in and goes out for and short or extended period of time. While this sounds easy, it is not. Why? Because the human mind is a chatterbox, constantly in motion and commenting on everything we experience, and seems to buzz loudest when things get quiet. As a result, most meditation trainings concentrate on mind training as a central focus of their meditation process.
An alternative is a new process called Higher Consciousness Meditation. It’s a simple, easy, quick and effective method I have developed (see my book Higher Consciousness Meditation), that is suitable for beginners and experts.. It focuses, instead, on a technique that focuses on direct Soul Contact, bypassing and transcending the mind. Meditation 2.0.
Tool 2–Mindfulness Techniques
A companion practice to sit-down meditation, is the practice of mindfulness meditation, which can be done in as little as 6 seconds, as I describe in my newest book, Six Second Mindfulness Meditations: Exercises to Transform any Moment. Mindfulness can be done as easily as taking a deep breath, saying “Peace, Be Still”, and pausing to feel the effects of the exercise, often a lifting of the spirits and a relaxation into the moment. I use both, a sit-down session in the morning and in the evening, and mindfulness techniques which I’ve designed for almost every situation, as brief pauses throughout the day.
John Cabot Zin, former researcher at the University of Massachusetts, is an expert on mindfulness meditation’s impact and has through the scientific method, has lead the understanding and use of mindfulness meditation. For years, he and his colleagues, pushed out the boundaries of the field into new discoveries and validations of the efficacy of mindfulness.
While their steps seem slow and incremental, at times, they have laid the foundation for what I think is a transformation in the way we as humans experience our lives. A transformation that is evolutionary and will allow us to grow into our new selves as people and as a species.
This latter point was brought home in a report that was highlighted on an episode of the CBS Evening News. CBS News confirmed what we have all heard. Religious services continue to be attended less and less by the U.S. population. More and more people are saying “I’m Spiritual, not religious”.
The most interesting thing that was said in this piece is that 5 years ago about 53% of adults in this country said that they experienced peace and well-being at least once per month and that today the figure is 60%. Largely because of some form of meditation practice. I was amazed. I would have thought the percentage to be closer to 20 than 60. Lots of folks are having at least a glimpse into what I like to call Five- Dimensional Reality, that Place that we all know, where peace and well-being reside. Where the experience of peace and well-being is a common occurrence.
Why Meditation Works
The beauty of meditation is that it can decrease the severity and the frequency of stress, and the resulting feeling of internal discord that accompanies stressful situations, large and small. Why is this? Here are some of my non-scientific thoughts:
- For some period of time, however brief a time of meditation we might undertake, the body/mind/personality disconnects from the three-dimensional reality that is our human lives.
- This pause allows us to return to our natural state of peace and well-being before returning to the stress inducing world each of us lives in.
- A mere 6 minutes, twice a day, as outlined in my Higher Consciousness Meditation process, is a sufficiently long enough period of meditation to successfully disconnect and to cultivate the experience of peace and well-being. The HCM process is a fabulous way to begin your day in the right frame of mind before the anxiety of getting out of the door and off to work or before traffic madness takes over.
- Meditation is a coping mechanism, pure and simple. It is a way to greatly help combat the incidence of stress and its effects.
This indicates to me that we are in fact evolving as a species, and perhaps faster than any of us are aware. Evolving into a new species increasingly comfortable with the higher vibrational experiences: love, peace, joy, happiness and the like that meditation can foster. More and more people are learning and using meditation techniques. Through meditation there may be hope for us as a species after all, with these two tools for relaxing in a meaningful way to relax and learning to live with a degree of inner richness and mastery.
What do you think? Does these ideas resonate? What’s your meditation practice like? Any concerns? Comment below.
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