Meditation 101: Managing Stress with MeditationPosted by Medicare Made Clear
(Part 1 of a 4-part series)
Meditation has come a long way in mainstream American culture. Once seen by some as a little “out there,” meditation is now viewed as a valid health intervention offered by some of the leading medical institutions across the country.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, reports that meditation may be practiced “to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.”
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reviewed 47 meditation studies involving over 3500 participants to assess whether meditation provides health benefits. Their findings, published in the March 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that meditation may help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain.
Stress and Stress-Related Illness
You’ve likely heard how important the stress response was for our hunter-gatherer ancestors in their eat-or-be-eaten world. Their bodies released hormones that prepared them to fight, if they had to, or flee if they could. We still have—and need—this natural fight-or-flight capability today. It gives us the strength and wherewithal to protect ourselves from harm.
Fear is one of the primary causes of the stress response. It’s easy to understand fear in the face of a man-eating animal. But some other fears that may cause stress are not as apparent, and many of these are psychological rather than physical.
Regardless of the cause, any level of fear triggers a stress response in the body. For example, anxiety about going to the doctor, trepidation about moving from your home or concern about money may trigger the body’s stress response. Any number of normal life situations may cause this reaction—and these are different for different individuals.
When you’re stressed, you become tense and your heart beats faster, your blood vessels dilate, your breathing increases, and your metabolism slows down, among other things. If the stress passes and the body can regain equilibrium, then all goes back to normal. But the physical effects of prolonged stress can be harmful. For example, long-term stress may worsen or increase the risk of stress-related conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
Meditation may help relieve stress and, in the process, may help prevent health problems. Maybe it’s worth looking into.
What is Meditation?
Meditation may be defined as deep, conscious relaxation. It’s conscious because, far from “zoning out,” the meditative state is when the mind is silent, calm, and completely aware. The meditator’s intention is to be fully present in each moment.
It’s normal for awareness to drift and for thoughts to enter the mind. The mind may take you away for seconds or minutes before you notice. When you do notice, your awareness has returned.
A regular meditation practice is meant to help train the mind to focus on the present moment rather than dwell on the unchangeable past or the undetermined future. This may help you maintain a state of ease and increase your ability to address the life’s curve balls with composure.
Other articles in this series explore common myths about meditation, offer tips on how to meditate and more. Read other articles in this series.
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