How to use meditation for stress relief
In our increasingly hectic world it is no wonder that more and more people are attracted to meditation. In this article, we will look at how meditation helps against stress. What are its benefits? How does one meditate against stress at all? And can meditation also help against anxiety disorders and depression?
Let’s find out!
Meditation and stress
Whether meditation has a positive effect on stress at all, has been researched countless times at various universities. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University examined a total of almost 19,000 studies on meditation and published a report suggesting that meditation can help against mental stress, such as depression or anxiety. 2014 the medicine department of the Johns Hopkins University published its own research, confirming the previous result.
How meditation works against stress
Mental exercises (i.e. mindfulness and meditation) work through the autonomic nervous system, which our breathing and blood pressure. Meditating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which means: it dampens certain body processes such as breathing, heartbeat and muscle tension. That way, it ensures us to relax and recover.
In the same way that the body responds to stress with the typical fight or flight reaction, i.e. by increasing heartbeat and blood pressure, mental exercises can reduce the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Meditation can also lower the heart rate to a significant degree.
Besides reducing stress levels and fighting anxiety, meditation brings many other benefits that we would like to share with you.
According to another study on sleep, people who meditate have a higher percentage of REM sleep than those who do not meditate. In addition, the group of who meditated slept significantly longer and woke up less often during the night.
Meditation can help you to develop a better understanding of yourself and improve your behavior towards your fellow citizens. Through meditation, you will gain a greater awareness of your thinking habits and learn to direct them into more constructive patterns. Over time, your self-esteem increases and you develop more creative solutions to your everyday problems.
Meditation increases your attention span
Meditation helps to maintain your attention. If you meditate regularly, you can concentrate on a task for longer and better remember the details of your tasks. Non-meditators complain more often about wandering thoughts and difficulties to concentrate on a single subject. According to a study, meditating for about 20 minutes for four days is enough to significantly improve your attention span.
Meditation is good for your memory
Meditation has the ability to increase your memory and mental capacity. Studies suggest that meditation can counteract age-related memory loss and at least partially improve the memory of people with dementia.
Meditation for stress helps against pain
Under stress your perception of pain increases, which is why meditation can indirectly help you reduce your pain. However, many studies also suggest that brain centers for pain control in meditators are more active, reducing the person’s pain sensitivity. Both chronic and short-term pain can be relieved in this way. In any case, meditation makes sure that the person concerned can better cope with pain.
Meditation for anger management
Even a single meditation session can reduce the physical reactions associated with anger such as increased breathing rate or high blood pressure. Furthermore, experienced meditators usually show a consistently calm response to anger, even without having meditated immediately before the stimulus.
Meditation techniques for stress
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is one of the most effective relaxation methods that is also easy to learn. This technique helps with inner tension, nervousness and high stress levels.
The principle of progressive muscle relaxation is based on consciously tensing and relaxing your body and focusing on the difference between these two states.
The aim of progressive muscle relaxation is to train your muscle sense in such a way that you notice the first signs of strain in everyday life and enable you to take targeted action against it before your muscles tense up.
How to practice
1. Choose a quiet room and a comfortable position for the next 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Be it seated or lying down, it is essential that you always feel comfortable doing the exercises. Avoid tight clothing and remove everything that might disturb you. We would also recommend turning off the phone, while doing the exercise.
3. If seated, you should sit up straight, push your legs together, rest your arms on your respective thighs and put your feet firmly on the ground.
When lying down, you should lie comfortably on your back, place your head straight between both shoulders and put your arms next to the respective legs. Your hands and legs should lie flat on the floor.
4. Take a few deep breaths and let your body relax and become pleasantly heavy. Take your time until you feel completely calm.
5. Tense each muscle of your body one after the other for about 5 seconds, but only enough to feel a slight tightness.
6. Release the tension and consciously pay attention to the feeling of relaxation
If you do not feel the relaxation on the first try, repeat the procedure. While tensing the respective muscles, try to keep all other muscles as relaxed as possible and concentrate solely on the muscle area you are tensing.
Nothing helps against stress better than a few deep breaths. Pulmonologists agree that belly breathing is the better way to breathe, as it uses less energy than chest breathing, lowers blood pressure and supports the digestive system.
Unconsciously, we use abdominal breathing automatically, for example when we sleep or sit on the couch – in other words, when our body is completely relaxed. Conversely, you can use abdominal breathing in stressful situations to calm yourself down.
How to practice deep breathing
For deep breathing, all you have to do is breathe in through the nose and out through your mouth. Sit down comfortably and place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Now observe how your abdominal muscles slowly rise and falls again. Make sure that your chest moves as little as possible.
You can practice belly breathing several times during the day. Just one minute of conscious breathing can help you to keep a cool head in stressful situations or to relax after a busy day.
Guided meditation for stress
Guided meditation is ideal for beginners, as you do not need any knowledge of special meditation techniques and can start immediately. It often involves a kind of meditation guide, who leads you through the meditation using his knowledge and experience.
It does not matter if the guide is in the same room or if you listen to an audio recording. If you are unsure whether you are doing the meditation correctly, a practitioner who is physically present can of course give you better advice. For the beginning, however, recorded meditations will be perfectly fine.
Start with guided meditation
Watch various podcasts, videos, or audio recordings of guided meditation and decide which meditation instructor you want to start your journey with. The important thing is that you find the voice pleasant so that you can relax completely.
The art of Yoga includes much more than just graceful postures like the “sun salutation” or the “downward facing dog”. Yoga is primarily about aligning body and mind. The very word itself reveals the core of this technique: In Indian Sanskrit, the word Yoga means something like “unity” or “harmony”.
How to practice Yoga
If you want to learn yoga, you have two options: Either you attend a beginner’s course near you or you practice alone at home. If you choose the latter option, there are many resources available on the web to help you practice yoga successfully.
Before you start, you should invest in a soft fitness mat and comfortable, stretchy sportswear to avoid frustration and pain during the exercises. Otherwise, you should choose a quiet place where you can spend the next 20 minutes undisturbed.
Strictly speaking Tai Chi is a martial art. However, in addition to self-defense, it also includes numerous health and meditative aspects as well as the possibility for personal development. Nowadays Tai-Chi is primarily practiced to maintain health and increase well-being.
Practice Tai Chi
Tai-Chi schools and clubs are widespread and often offer beginners courses. While learning Tai-Chi in all its facets takes several years, you will notice the numerous health benefits of Tai-Chi after only a few weeks.
Hacks for instant stress relief
It may feel counterintuitive, but try humming in a particularly stressful situation. You will notice how your mind becomes calmer after a short time. The vibration of the vocal cords has a soothing effect, almost like an inner massage that runs through your entire body and can even lower your blood pressure.
Another great effect of humming: your body releases oxytocin. A hormone associated with more harmonious personal relationships and feelings of happiness.
Keep your hands under warm water
The feeling of warm water caressing your skin is one of the most relaxing things in everyday life. Unfortunately, we take this chance far too seldom after going to the toilet. For many of us, washing our hands has become an annoying routine.
Try to break out of your routine and use warm water and plenty of soap next time. Feel how good the bubbles feel on your skin and give your hands a gentle massage.
During this ritual your parasympathetic nervous system – the so-called “resting nerve” – calms down immediately and you automatically relax. Of course, washing your hands extensively will not bring you as much relaxation as meditation, but it will help you to pause for a moment and reduce your stress level.
Smile your stress away
That we express our happiness with a smile should be well known. That the entire concept works just as well the other way round is something few people know.
When we smile, happiness hormones are released after about 60 seconds. No matter how much you force yourself to smile at first, you will feel happier after about a minute. The released hormones break down the evil stress hormone cortisol in your body and you gradually relax into a calmer state.
More techniques for anxiety and stress
Would you like to learn more about the art of relaxing your mind? Download our e-book “Meditation for relaxation“ for free. All you have to do is sign up for our newsletter so that we can give you even more information about how to live a calmer life.