The Ultimate Hack to Less Stress, Better Life.
It’s no coincidence that the world’s most successful people often credit meditation as a primary tool for performance. The best part of all is that meditation is scientifically proven to provide astounding physical benefits for your body, like reducing stress, and—it’s totally free.
Stress is a well-known culprit that cultivates free radicals within your body, which causes disease. According to the Harvard Gazette, “Studies say that eight in 10 Americans experience stress in their daily lives and have a hard time relaxing their bodies and calming their minds, which puts them at high risk of heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.”
We all know everyday causes for stress—a move, a demanding job, a pregnancy, a wedding, a divorce—but before we can fully understand how meditation relieves stress, let’s first understand how our bodies interpret stress.
When we encounter stress or a sudden threat, we are wired to answer with a characteristic “fight or flight” response. The resulting ”adrenaline rush” is the release of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine, which causes increased blood pressure and pulse rates, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to the muscles. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD details these changes in her article, Meditation May Reduce Stress, Improve Health.
But through meditation stress has met its match. There are many forms, however, what’s essential is achieving relaxation for at least 10-minutes or more a day—typically in stillness and quiet place. As a researcher who has studied the health effects of meditation over the course of 30 years, cardiologist Herbert Benson MD explains, “Any condition that’s caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through meditation.”
How is this possible? Quite simply, the body’s relaxation lowers blood pressure, decreases metabolism, and improves heart rate and breathing, according to Benson. There are countless anecdotal accounts of this dating back to ancient times but increasingly more studies are being done that scientifically prove the healthy changes in brain patterns as a result of meditation.
One such study was conducted by Desbordes’ in 2012 who used MRI technology to take pictures of the brain in subjects who learned to meditate. Before and after pictures indicated that their meditative states held steady, even when they were not meditating and performing everyday tasks. This suggests that non-stress levels can be reached and maintained throughout the day with the regular practice of meditation.
Also, earlier in 2018, U.S. Army Research Laboratory researchers wrapped a project in which they spent a year collaborating with a team of scientists from the University of North Texas to develop a new data processing technique that uses heart rate variability as a sensor to monitor the state of the brain. A summary of their Frontiers in Physiology article cited the study’s documentation that the long-term practice of meditation has the effect of making permanent the meditation-induced physiologic changes. Moreover that meditators showed stronger executive control, that is, the ability to carry out goal-oriented behavior, using complex mental processes and cognitive abilities.
This brings me to another point. Like the mention of increased executive control, meditation has been revered for benefits beyond stress management, although that was our focus here. Meditation has been noted for other benefits like increasing attention spans, reducing memory loss, improves sleep and helps control pain. Just to name a few.
In summary, stress can deteriorate your health from the inside out but you don’t have to let it. Meditation is a tool that is readily available and can shift the impact of stressors. In my own life, in addition to meditation, I alternate between a stillness practice, mindfulness, yoga, exercise and other relaxation tools that reduce stress. I also use an herbal supplement that rids the body of oxidative stress, which forms disease. You have to figure out what works best for you but trying any of these methods is worthwhile. In just minutes a day, you could take the first step in joining the ranks of successful people around the world that use meditation as a key life hack to success.