Meditation for Stress Reduction

When I first tell people I use meditation to help business teams, the response I get is generally along the lines of, “Awesome, we could use that. We have a lot going on here and people are totally stressed."

Yes, people are stressed. And yes, we can help with that.

Many people notice as they increase their time meditating, and especially during guided sessions, that it can be a relaxing experience. (You might also notice your first attempts aren't super relaxing. Don't worry - that's why we're here.)

If you do begin to find yourself more relaxed, you're not alone. When people talk about unplugging, resetting their brain, decompressing, on and on, this is what they're talking about. Taking time to get back in touch with our minds and bodies is sorely needed in today’s world of constant stimulation.

While our aim is to go deeper than simply relaxing with our clients, relaxation and stress reduction are real and important benefits of meditation work. In fact, a key ingredient in helping teams to be great at what they do is teaching them to handle the stress they feel each day.

Take Advantage of Neuroplasticity

Our brains are constantly changing, creating and altering pathways in response to our environment and habits. If we’re always stressed, our brains will eventually react to being in that state, and the results aren’t pretty.

By now most of us are familiar with the hormone cortisol, often nicknamed the 'stress hormone'. Cortisol is a primary actor in our fight or flight response to stress, and helpful when we need to react quickly to something dangerous. But when cortisol is is our blood over the long term, it changes our bodies and brain — resulting in elevated blood pressure and damage to our brain’s neurons.

Basically, prolonged stress shrinks our brains and makes us dumb.

Thankfully, meditation can help not only reverse the negative effects of stress on our brains but help us react better during stressful situations and reduce their impact in the moment. And it doesn't take years of practice or sitting for hours a day, either.

Researchers at Harvard found that meditating consistently for just eight weeks produced a measurable increase in brain density in the areas of the brain related to learning, memory and empathy. Furthermore, there were measurable decreased in areas associated with anxiety and depression.

Meditation helped participants’ brains grow to better equip them to learn and work with others, and to be less inclined to become depressed.

Marines Meditate for Stress

Marines have been using meditation for years. As people who are put in the most stressful situations imaginable, stress management is vital to survival and success. Through their work, they have found measurable reductions in stress during combat, faster recovery after stressful training and improvements in mood.

As a bonus they found meditation helped produce physical performance improvements during field tests. It turns out that learning to handle stress is a powerful performance enhancer. Not convinced? Think about professional athletes who choke versus those who are clutch players. The difference isn’t physical ability, it’s their emotional reaction to a stressful moment.

How it Works

Meditation helps induce something called the ‘relaxation response’, which triggers the body to lower blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce perceived anxiety. It’s the antithesis of the fight or flight response, and needs to happen consciously in order to take effect. Mindfulness meditation teaches us to accept our current situation — feelings, thoughts, emotions — fully and without judgment. As a result, the anxiety we feel when we want to escape a stressful situation falls away. We’re fully immersed in the moment without trying to change it.

We can’t escape stress — it’s a part of being alive. But we can better deal with stress by accepting it, rather than trying to run.