By Charles A. Francis
When I first began my mindfulness meditation practice, my primary purpose was to use it for stress management, and I figured that there were some health benefits associated with the practice. But I wasn’t sure exactly what they were.
When I started doing the research for my book, I realized that scientists had been busy over the last 10-15 years studying the health benefits of mindfulness meditation. Coincidentally, they were primarily interested in finding out how mindfulness meditation could be used for stress management.
Rising Stress Levels
The World Health Organization describes stress as “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” It is at the root of more than 70% of all visits to the family doctor. Elevated stress levels can have a variety of harmful effects on the body. It can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and even skin conditions. In extreme cases, stress can result in heart disease and stroke.
Stress can also be harmful when we engage in unwholesome ways of relieving it, such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. These substances only address the symptoms, and not the root causes of the stress.
If we want to deal with stress in a healthy manner, we need to do 2 things:
- Give our mind and body time to relax.
- Redefine our views about our needs.
Giving Our Mind and Body Time to Relax
When we are agitated, it is difficult for us to sit quietly and relax. We usually try to drown out the noise in our head with more noise. We often feel that we’re being unproductive if we’re sitting idle doing nothing. This only exacerbates the problem.
If we want to reduce the stress in our life, we need to be courageous and break the cycle of constant agitation. Even if it’s just 5 minutes of sitting still, it will have a tremendous impact if you constantly have your foot on the accelerator. By stopping and allowing your mind to settle down, you’ll be able to think clearly and more objectively. It will probably be the most productive 5 minutes of your day.
Redefining Our Views About Our Needs
Much of our stress comes from worrying about not getting, or losing, the things we think we need to survive or be happy. We often worry about losing our material wealth, and ending up on the streets with nothing to eat. Though this may be a reality for some people, it is not for most of us. In the worst-case scenario, we can go to one of the many homeless shelters available. There we can receive the food and shelter we need to survive.
Many of us grow up with certain ideas of what will bring us happiness. In the United States, the land of opportunity, this means having a successful career, a beautiful family, and a nice home and automobile. When we finally achieve all these things, then we begin worrying about losing them. In time, we realize that life was much simpler and less stressful when we didn’t have all the material belongings and accomplishments. If we are going to be free of stress and worry, then we need to redefine our views about what will truly bring us peace and serenity, and rearrange our priorities.
Stress Management with Mindfulness Meditation
One of the main areas where the research on mindfulness meditation is being applied is in the treatment of psychological disorders—stress related disorders in particular. Research has consistently shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and negative mood states, and improves mental and emotional well-being. It does this by reducing the levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. They found that patients who meditate are more serene, so they don’t experience stress-related disorders.
Psychologists are now recommending mindfulness meditation to their patients for stress management. In addition, many business organizations have incorporated the practice into their health and wellness programs to curb their rising expenditures in health care.
Those of you who have some experience with meditation know how well it works in helping your mind and body settle down. The challenge for many of us is to remain consistent and committed to practicing on a regular basis. One of the things that helps me is to remember that by being relaxed and focused, I can be more effective and productive in all my activities.
My meditation practice has also helped me change my views about what truly brings me happiness. I am fully aware that material wealth does not lead to inner peace. Only my spiritual development brings me long-term serenity. This realization has enabled me to redefine my priorities, and put my meditation practice near the top.
Now that the health benefits of mindfulness meditation have been confirmed, more people are using the practice for stress management and to avoid the negative health consequences associated with stress.
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