One of the most common reasons people practice meditation or begin learning how to meditate is because they’re looking to reduce stress. This isn’t the purpose of meditation, but it certainly is a byproduct. The good news is that there are more and more studies every year that show the scientific benefits of meditation, including how it helps people manage and reduce stress. Understanding how meditation reduces stress is essential when starting to use meditation as a way to deal with the stresses of life.
When we know why and how meditation reduces stress, we’re better equipped to understand what kind of practices we should be implementing into our daily routine. We also know what parts of a meditation practice we should be focusing on to help us manage and reduce stress.
6 ways meditation reduces stress
Remember that stress reduction is ultimately a byproduct of a daily meditation practice. The goal of meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness is also the means to that end. When we practice mindfulness during meditation, we can be more mindful outside of the practice. This unlocks so much to us, including a healthier mind and reduced stress. Here’s 6 different ways meditation reduces stress.
1. Helps us focus on the present
How often have you caught yourself dwelling on the past or worrying about the future? I’d imagine more often than you’d realize. Meditation helps us become more grounded and focused on the present moment.
When you’re more focused on the present, you’re not as stressed. Most stress is imagined. Even when the stress is real, we make it worse by stressing about the stress. It happens in the mind when it’s ruminating on something that occurred in the past, or it’s worrying about the future.
With meditation, you’re not living in this waking-dream state. You’re living in the moment and not constantly lost in thought. While there are many ways to be stress free, getting out of your head is the quickest and easiest way.
2. Helps us breathe
Many types of meditation practices have you place your attention on your breath. Mindfulness uses breath as the anchor for attention, while specific breathing meditation practices have you focus on your breath. Either way, you become aware of your breathing, and it becomes a point where you can focus and clear your head.
The practice is simple. Get into a good meditation posture, close your eyes, and start with a few deep breaths. Watch the breath all the way from the inhale to the exhale. Notice where you notice the sensations of breathing most. You might notice it in your chest, stomach, nose, or lips. Pay attention to the breath and allow it to return to a normal pace. The breath is something that’s always there but we often don’t pay much attention to it until we’re stressed. Become familiar with the breath in a relaxed state so you know where to always return to.
When you’re under a lot of stress, you may notice that your breath is shallow and fast-paced. Meditation reduces stress by teaching you to come back to the breath when you’re feeling stressed.
3. Teaches acceptance
A useful concept to integrate into your life is the idea of your circle of concern and your circle of control. The circle of concern is all the things in life you worry about or are worried about. The circle of control is everything in life; you have control over or can influence.
The problem comes when we worry or have concerns over the things we can’t control. This is where a lot of stress is created. When we worry about things we can’t control, we can fall into traps. The real path to peace is acceptance. Not a complacent acceptance but a realistic acceptance. There are some things in life that you have no control over, and that’s okay. When you can deeply understand this you can learn how to relax your urge to control everything.
Meditation can teach us acceptance by using our awareness to notice the things that enter our consciousness (such as thoughts and feelings) and not judge or resist them. This is the primary thing you do during a mindfulness practice. When you’re out and about in the real world, you can apply this to things that happen to you or the world. No longer will you get annoyed when someone cuts you off. You won’t complain about the weather. You’ll find fewer things to worry about and thus lead a less stressful life.
4. Separates the story from the feeling
When we feel certain emotions, such as sadness and anger, we tend to attach a story to them. Instead of just feeling this raw emotion, we connect ideas, thoughts, and perceptions to them. When we do this, we tend to exaggerate, exacerbate, and even catastrophize. This adds more unneeded and unwarranted stress. Instead, we should see our emotions for what they are and use our reasoning to deal with situations that life throws at us.
With meditation, we can practice this every time we sit. When we notice a feeling or thought arise, note it as “feeling” or “thinking.” Catch yourself following any feelings or thoughts that arise with more thinking. Meditation reduces stress by allowing you to get used to separating the story from the feeling of stress and letting yourself watch stress come and go without adding more to the feeling.
5. See stress without judgment
Meditation teaches us to see objects that pass through our consciousness through a nurturing and non-judgemental lens. Thoughts and feelings that enter our consciousness are neither good or bad. They’re only good or bad because we make that judgment.
Stress can be looked at this way as well. When we sit and meditate, notice the feeling of stress enter consciousness and see if you immediately place a judgment on it. You can begin to become aware of just how often you add judgment to everything. With that comes the realization of how unproductive that is.
Take that with you when you’re in the real world. When something happens and begin feeling stressed, ask yourself how useful it is to feel this way right now. Ask yourself if feeling stressed helps you solve the problem, if the problem can even be solved by you in the first place. How meditation reduces stress is by giving you a new framework to see stress.
6. Changes the brain
Finally, a regular meditation practice can change the brain. There’s a lot of evidence that supports the scientific benefits of meditation, including increases in gray matter, changes in the amygdala, and an increase in the thickness of the corpus callosum.
These physical changes not only improve cognition, but they can make us happier human beings overall. And a happier human is one that doesn’t stress quickly or very often.
When you practice meditation often enough, you’ll find that you have better mood regulation, mental strength, and an overall better sense of wellbeing. Mindfulness changes the brain physically and also the mind itself.
If you’re already a regular meditation practicer, how does meditation reduce stress for you? Let us know in the comments below.