Stress is as harmful as a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle to health. Seemingly non-physical, stress has a surprisingly destructive effect on physical health, not to mention mental well-being. Scientific studies show that mental and physical health are strongly intertwined. How, in the name of healthy bodies, can we eliminate stress from our lives? Many resources suggest avoiding stress-inducers, but avoidance is not always practical or feasible. The time-tested, health-promoting antidote to stress is mindfulness meditation.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation does not require yoga pants, a tranquil beach, or incense; mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime, in any attire. Meditation involves training the brain to experience the present, rather than react to it. By simply allowing yourself to experience and acknowledge emotions, sensations, and situations (both positive and negative) rather than judging and reacting, you detach from these experiences, reducing stress.
Several forms of meditation exist. Many easily incorporate into a modern lifestyle. Try using the following meditations to reduce stress on a daily basis.
This form of meditation calls for the meditator to clear the mind by focusing on the breath. You can choose to count each breath or simply focus on the way breathing feels. If you catch your mind wandering, simply acknowledge that you were thinking, and redirect your focus.
Performed inside or outside, during walking meditation, the meditator focuses on the act of walking. Being mindful of each movement, muscles required to make that movement, weight as it shifts from one foot to the next, and the feeling of the earth beneath your feet. A mantra is often repeated after a number of steps or at each turn when pacing.
Perfect for a stress-free lunch break, mindful eating requires the meditator to focus entirely on the meal, considering where the food came from, the farmers who grew it, and the delivery truck which carried it. Truly experience each bite. Smell the food, take a bite, chew, and swallow before the next bite.
Meditation is more easily described than performed. On auto-pilot, our brains automatically experience, judge, and react to situations, leading to joy or causing stress. Breaking the habit, takes practice. Be forgiving of yourself along the way; the practice of meditation itself should not induce stress. Begin by trying to meditate for five minutes daily, and work your way up to fifteen or twenty minutes.
PsychCentral (2014). How Stress Affects Mental Health.
Mayo Clinic (2014). Meditation, a simple, fast way to reduce stress.