Do you have a clear way to manage your stress? When your stomach drops out and your adrenaline kicks in, what do you do?
According to a mountain of scientific evidence, stress erodes nearly every significant system in our body. That’s why it’s important to develop some conscious tools to help you mitigate the effects of stress on your mind and your body.
Fortunately, it’s abundantly clear that stimulating your relaxation response is one of the best ways to combat, and even reverse, the negative effects of chronic stress. Can you guess one of the best ways to trigger your relaxation response?
Exactly, it’s meditation.
These days, we are used to living with stress, but let’s break it down for a second. What’s actually happening when our stress response kicks in? And why does chronic stress lead to hypertension, headaches, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic low back pain, as well as heart disease, stroke and cancer?
Fight Or Flight
First, stress is built on the idea, real or imagined, of scarcity. You don’t have enough time. You don’t have enough money. You don’t have the resources you need to get the job done. Stress has the effect of shrinking your world down to the size of a pea.
In essence, once your stress response has kicked in, it’s easy to feel like everything is a problem. And it feels bad, like you’ve got acid running through your veins. You’re nervous system is racing and red-lining like a high-performance sports car with smoke spilling out from the hood.
There’s a good reason for that.
In response to a perceived threat, your biological system has kicked into primitive survival mode and flooded your body with the kind of stimulants—epinephrine and norepinephrine—that give you the strength to fend off enraged gorillas.
Consequently, your ability to concentrate is impaired. Your breathing is shallow, your heart beat surges, and your blood pressure spikes. At the same time, your immune system is severely compromised.
At the biological level, the executive function in your brain is shutting down and your primitive amygdala brain—the one designed to deal with lions and tigers and bears—has seized the steering wheel. Tranlation? Say good bye to short-term memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. So long to your social coordination too.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, your brain has also released an array of hormones and proteins that modulate stress by decreasing sleep and increasing alertness and anxiety.
Now here’s the problem. Most of us live with a measure of stress which is ok. But a lot of us live with chronic stress, and that’s not ok. In that case, the above scenario is happening as a baseline response to non life-threatening events, like criticism from your boss, bad traffic, or from watching the news.
See the problem?
The Relaxation Response
Now think of your relaxation response. It’s the opposite. Your mind is clear, calm, and centered. Your body is supple and relaxed. You’re grounded in the present moment and you feel a sense of abundance and expansiveness. The world around you is a creative and dynamic space of relationship and ideas. You’re happy to be alive and you feel that life is good.
Physically, your blood pressure normalizes along with your heart beat and breathing. Your body returns to a homeostatic state. Since 1971, when Herbert Benson released the landmark book, The Relaxation Response, there have been numerous studies on the relaxation response which have highlighted the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
- lower blood pressure
- improved blood circulation
- lower heart rate
- less perspiration
- slower respiratory rate
- less anxiety
- lower blood cortisol levels
- more feelings of well-being
- less stress
- deeper relaxation
How To Manage Stress With Meditation
For those of us who live in the West, stress is a normal part of our achievement-oriented culture. But is chronic stress an acceptable cost of our success?
In this episode of the OneMind Meditation Podcast, we discuss physical, emotional, and psychological costs of stress and some of the science around stress. Then we examine four mindful steps you can take to manage stress through meditation.
We explore stress in the context of:
- Stress Addiction
- Lack Of Focus
- Spreading Yourself Too Thin