Feeling Stressed Out? Why Meditation Could Be The Answer

Stressed Out? Could meditation be the answer to protecting and improving your mental health?

If you’re feeling stressed out, anxious or just a bit down in the dumps you’re not alone. This last year has been tough for everyone – and the latest lockdown has put an increased strain on the country’s already declining mental health.

So if you’re struggling to manage your emotions, finding it hard to relax and unwind, feeling overwhelmed or frustrated it’s really not your fault.

Studies show a significant correlation between stress levels and a decline in mental health – and let’s be honest – the nation’s stress levels are through the roof.

Months of uncertainty, fear and isolation have had a significant impact, with even the most robust people noticing a change in their stress levels, mood and ability to cope.

But why is stress such a big problem and what can you do about? That’s what we’re going to talk about this week.

What Causes Stress?

When you talk about stress, most people think of things like a difficult work situation, a bad relationship or a busy schedule. But there’s actually several different types of stress.

Emotional Stress

This kind of stress is related to your feelings – self-criticism, jealousy, grief, anger, sadness, frustration and fear can all contribute to this type of stress.

Psychosocial Stress

This type of stress is linked to our social lives and relationships with friends, family or partners. Things like isolation, the loss of a loved one, loss of employment and lack of social support all play a big part in this type of stress.

Physical Stress

Pretty much what it says on the tin, this type of stress is created by things that physically put a strain on your body. Things like illnesses and infections, substance abuse, dehydration, hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, pollution, surgery, injury and exercise.

Acute Stress

This is the kind of stress that your body feels from short, intense periods of fear or stressful situations. Think of the kind of stress you feel when something makes you jump, or someone pulls out on you when you are driving. Or you’re faced with a perceived “threat” such as someone yelling at you in the supermarket for stepping off your 2m sticker!

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is when your body gets stuck in a loop of stress responses. It could be from prolonged acute stress, emotional stress or psychosocial stress, such as problems at work, a difficult relationship or ongoing uncertainty in your life.

Chronic stress can also link back to your childhood and early adulthood, such as physical, mental or emotional abuse, being bullied at school, living in an unhappy relationship such as your parents fighting all the time. Your brain can get stuck in a long term state of stress.

Looking at the types of stress and what causes them it’s no surprise that people are feeling the strain of what 2020 has had to bring!

Many of us have had months of financial uncertainty (chronic stress), isolation (psychosocial stress), fear and frustration (emotional stress) and probably some physical stress too!

So if you’re mental health is feeling the strain, don’t worry. You’re certainly not alone – and there is a solution. It’s clinically proven, has been used for centuries and is completely free of charge… Meditation.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a simple practice that you can do at home that can help to reduce stress and improve your mental health.

The theory is pretty simple, although there are different approaches and techniques. The idea is to quiet the mind and stop the relentless chatter that goes on in your brain.

During meditation, you focus on your breathing. Slow, steady, deep, purposeful breathing helps to turn off the sympathetic nervous system. This is the fight or flight system that keeps us stressed and wound up. Meditation turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest system which relaxes our body. Practising meditation teaches us how to stay in the present moment. This helps to train our attention and awareness, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

How Meditation Helps Mental Health

Studies have shown that regular meditation can help people to feel less stressed and improve their mental health.

Positive effects of meditation include:

  • Improved health
  • Decreased anxiety
  • More focus and productivity
  • More creativity
  • More compassion
  • Better memory
  • Less stress

If you want to see more of this research then click here…

Sounds A Bit Woo Woo – Does It Really Work?

In a simple word, yes. There are tons of studies showing the positive effects of meditation on your emotional and mental wellbeing. But if that’s not enough for you, then you might be interested to know that meditation actually changes the brain physically too!

Regular sessions of meditation have been linked to larger amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain. Meditation has also been shown to reduce the effects of ageing and reduce the decline of our cognitive functioning as we get older.

So, physically and emotionally meditation is a win all round. But how do you do it?

How To Do Meditation At Home

There are lots of different types of meditation, but in this blog post, I am going to talk about mindful meditation.

If you’re new to meditating the simplest way to get started is to do a guided meditation – there are plenty of apps – such as Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer. You can find 100’s of websites and YouTube videos that can help you.

My favourite YouTube channels are:

But you don’t actually have to listen to anything or anyone. The process of mindful meditating is straightforward and easy: simply sit, breath and begin to practice.

All you have to do is find a quiet space, close your eyes, stay focused on your breathing. For example, breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, breath out for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 4.

Try to quiet your thoughts so you are no longer thinking of anything other than your breathing. As thoughts come into your head, acknowledge them and let them drift away whilst you come back to the breath.

Unlike other skills, this one can’t be forced. You don’t have to work hard at it or strive to achieve something. You just need to create a space of stillness where no effort is required of your body or your mind.

Take It Slow and Strengthen Your Meditation Muscle

We live in a world of fast-paced, constant stimulation so when you first ask your mind to participate in meditation it might not quite know how to do it.

If you have never meditated before, don’t expect yourself to sit still for an hour of meditation. Start off with just 5 or 10 minutes each day. You can achieve great benefits just by meditating for 10 minutes a day. It’s not an endurance competition, in fact, you are not in any competition, don’t put pressure on yourself to meditate for 30 or 60 minutes.

Even 1 minute of slow purposeful breathing can help your mind to relax and reduce stress. Who can’t find one minute in their day!

You may notice that some meditations come easier than others – that some days your practice seems successful and others not.

But there is no such thing as good or bad meditation. There is only awareness or non-awareness. Each practice is helping you to strengthen your mind and find some inner calm.

The moment you realise you’re lost in thought, that’s awareness. When you notice this just return to focusing on your breath.

Some practices will feel easy, others you might find you’ve more awareness than non-awareness.

That’s ok. The practice is the purpose.

So if you’re feeling stressed out, overwhelmed or anxious, try adding some simple meditation into your daily routine. We don’t know quite how long this lockdown will last. Or what’s to come in the months to follow, so make your mental health a priority. I’m sure your future self will thank you for it.

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