Using Meditation to Reduce Stress

The Stress Response

The American Psychological Association states that a greater number of Americans are reporting extreme levels of stress. As researchers continue to understand the ability for stress to precipitate physical ailments, the importance of research-backed stress reduction strategies increases. Stress can at times be beneficial - it can motivate us to study for a test and it helped our ancestors survive the threat of dangerous wildlife. However, no matter what the situation is, the ability to return to a parasympathetic, calm state once the stressor is over, is a leading component of good health.
The Challenge to Return to Calm
The inability to return to a parasympathetic nervous system state is the critical message reported by Americans. This can have significant consequences on health, having the potential to bring about high blood pressure, stroke and circulatory complications. It is estimated that $30 billion/year is lost from work-related stress, with work being the largest source of stress. Although people seem to be aware of their high levels of stress, the biggest obstacle to change is noted as a lack of money, energy or confidence to improve.  

Natural Alternatives to Alleviate Stress

The use of meditation to reduce stress has been demonstrated in its ability to change perception and build resilience to stressors. In a population of student athletes, one review assessed three intervention studies - each included 7-12 mindfulness sessions, around an hour in length, over a few weeks. They summarized that mindfulness reduced perceived stress and negative thoughts. Another study analyzed the effects of an eight-week mind-body program. Results showed that compared to the control group, the meditators had improved resilience and emotional intelligence. Evidence is demonstrating that a regular meditation practice may increase awareness of emotional responses and improve one's stress response, reducing the ability for stress, and its debilitating effects, to overcome you. This was noted in a group of ER nurses, a population known for having high amounts of stress due to a high-pressure job. After using our biofeedback meditation program for four 30 minutes sessions over one month, the nurses reported significant improvements in their ability to manage their stress.  

Take Charge

It’s time for us to take control of our emotional responses to difficult situations. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the best way to reduce stress may not be to work harder and push through it. By acknowledging the overwhelming feeling stress can cause, and removing oneself from the situation, we can take time away and return to the task with a different perspective. Using this time out to establish a regular meditation practice may be one important solution to improve our quality of life.