We all know that a stress-free life probably means a healthy life (and may or may not include a hammock on some faraway tropical beach). In reality, however, most of us are living with recurrent stress, many of us living with it daily.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” (1)
I know, some of you may be wondering how we can relieve stress with meditation – isn’t meditation only for monks? Read on to find out how mindful meditation can literally change your life.
What Are Your Stresses in Life?
Whether it’s at work, at home or in relation to our health, stress is unavoidably part of our lives. Stress is a physiological reaction that is caused by an external stimulus.
Stress itself is not a negative reaction – in fact, the stress response in animals prepares the animal for life-saving maneuvers, fight-or-flight response.
In humans, however, the stress reaction unrelated to life-threatening situations manifests physically and psychologically, producing adverse effects. Palpitations, insomnia, digestive disorders, pain, anxiety and depression are some of the most common manifestations of stress, which often lead to serious chronic health issues.
Sometimes we cope by eliminating the stressor – leaving home earlier to beat traffic, getting out of debt, or mending a relationship with a hostile relative. Other times, however, the stressor is beyond our control and is there to stay whether we like it or not.
Getting adequate sleep, regular exercise and eating a clean diet all help with lowering stress levels. What is important to remember is that even though we may not be able to control the cause of the stress, what we can certainly control is our reaction to the stress, and that’s where mindfulness comes in.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is described as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thought and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” (2)
Mindfulness originally derives from Buddhist philosophy, but it is not a religion nor is belief in religion necessary to practice.
Mindfulness – Why It’s Worth It:
As we age, our brain grey matter atrophies, thus increasing our risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as the mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Mindful meditation has been shown to not only slow age-related grey matter atrophy, but actually increase the density of grey matter in those who practice, specifically in regions of the brain associated with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. (3, 4)
A study performed by Bower et al, published in the Cancer Medical Journal in December 2014, showed that women who partook in mindful meditation for six weeks after completing oncology treatment for breast cancer reported reduced depressive symptoms as well as a considerable reduction in perceived stress. Interestingly, the study also reported significant reductions in pro-inflammatory gene expression and inflammatory signalling, indicating that mindfulness not only improved psychological symptoms, but also impacted physiological signs relating to breast cancer and its treatment. (5)
Similarly, another study published recently in February 2015 in the Supportive Care in Cancer Journal found that cancer survivors who partook in an 11-week mindfulness-based day clinic for six hours per week reported significant improvement in physical, emotional, cognitive and social functioning. Additionally, cancer-related symptoms such as fatigue, pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression also improved significantly, resulting in cancer survivors’ enhanced physical and mental health, with improved satisfaction and coping styles. (6)
It should be also be noted that mindfulness not only improves the quality of life for cancer patients, but it also impacts the caregivers of these patients. In a study published by Van Den Hurk et al in the Journal of Palliative Medicine in February 2015, cancer patients and caregivers (partners) participated in a three-month Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training. Though no noteworthy changes in psychological distress were reported, caregiver burden significantly decreased following the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. (7)
For those suffering with chronic pain, it stands to reason that mindfulness may have an effect on pain tolerance and pain intensity ratings. A critical review of the literature, published in the Pain Medicine Journal in February 2013, found that Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) significantly decreased pain intensity for participants compared with control groups. Follow-up assessments also revealed that reductions in pain intensity were well maintained. (8)
Mindfulness was also found to be an effective psychotherapy treatment for those patients suffering with tension headaches. (9)
For those patients with chronic psychological issues, an article in the Community of Mental Health Journal published in January 2015 found significant enhances to psychological well-being in participants of a five-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) – results that were maintained up to four years after training. (10)
Another study published in Frontiers in Psychology Journal in January 2015 revealed that mindfulness training significantly reduced anger, anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia patients. (11)
As a side note, mindful meditation was also shown to improve sleep problems among older adults, thus improving sleep-related daytime impairment and impacting quality of life. (12)
Mindfulness was also shown to decrease the severity of those suffering from chronic tinnitus, as well as improve associated depressive symptoms. (13)
Mindfulness also appears to improve stress in the workplace. A study published by Duchemin et al in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in January 2015 included participants who worked in a surgical intensive care unit. The participants completed an eight-week group mindfulness-based intervention. The findings suggested that the program not only decreased reactivity to stress, but also positively impacted the risk of burnout. (14)
In conclusion, mindful meditation has been shown to be a promising intervention – non-invasive, accessible and inexpensive – that may offer complementary strategies for persons from all walks of life in managing, and improving, their daily stress.
Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Reverse aging of your brain
- Decrease stress, depression and anger
- Relieve pain, fatigue and insomnia
- Increase your pain tolerance
- Resolve work-place stress
- Improve your quality of life
Cost of mindfulness:
What do you think – is it worth it?
Want to find out more on mindfulness? Click here*:
- Mindfulnet.org in the UK
- The Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Ontario, Canada
- Center for Mindfulness in Massachusetts, USA
- Open Ground in Australia
When we are in control of our reaction to stress, we are in control of our lives. This is significant, imparting a sense of self-empowerment, inspiration and inner strength – all signs of a healthy life.
Yours in health,
- Oxford Dictionaries [Internet]. England: Oxford University Press; 2014. Stress; 2014 [cited 2015 Feb 21]. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/stress
- Oxford Dictionaries [Internet]. England: Oxford University Press; 2014. Mindfulness; 2014 [cited 2015 Feb 21]. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mindfulness
- Luders E, Cherbuin N, Kurth F. Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2015 Feb 21];21;5:1551. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25653628
- Holzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res [Internet]. 2011 Jan [cited 2015 Feb 21];191(1):36-43. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071182
- Bower JE, Crosswell AD, Stanton AL, Crespi CM, Winston D, Arevalo J, Ma J, Cole SW, Ganz PA. Mindfulness meditation for younger breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Cancer [Internet]. 2014 Dec [cited 2015 Feb 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25537522
- Dobos G, Overhamm T, Bussing A, Ostermann T, Langhorst J, Kummel S, Paul A, Cramer H. Integrating mindfulness in supportive cancer care: a cohort study on a mindfulness-based day care clinic for cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer [Internet]. 2015 Feb [cited 2015 Feb 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25711654
- Van den Hurk DG, Schellekens MP, Molema J, Speckens AE, Van der Drift MA. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for lung cancer patients and their partners: Results of a mixed methods pilot study. Palliat Med [Internet]. 2015 Feb [cited 2015 Mar 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25701663
- Reiner K, Tibi L, Lipsitz JD. Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain Med [Internet]. 2013 Feb [cited 2015 Mar 22];14(2):230-42. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23240921
- Omidi A, Zargar F. Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on pain severity and mindful awareness in patients with tension headache: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Nurs Midwifery Stud [Internet]. 2014 Sep [cited 2015 Mar 22];3(3). Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25699282
- Mitchell M, Heads G. Staying Well: A Follow Up of a 5-Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme for a Range of Psychological Issues. Community Ment Health J [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2015 Mar 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25595955
- Amutio A, Franco C, Perez-Fuentes Mde C, Gazquez JJ, Mercader I. Mindfulness training for reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2015 Mar 22];5:1572. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25628591
- Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med [Internet]. 2015 Feb [cited 2015 Mar 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25686304
- Roland LT, Lenze EJ, Hardin FM, Kallogjeri D, Nicklaus J, Wineland AM, Fendell G, Peelle JE, Piccirillo JF. Effects of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Therapy on Subjective Bother and Neural Connectivity in Chronic Tinnitus. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg [Internet]. 2015 Feb [cited 2015 Mar 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25715350
- Duchemin AM, Steinberg BA, Marks DR, Vanover K, Klatt M. A Small Randomized Pilot Study of a Workplace Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Surgical Intensive Care Unit Personnel: Effects on Salivary α-Amylase Levels. J Occup Environ Med [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2015 Mar 22];Epub ahead of print. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25629803
Disclaimer: For those readers with a history of serious mental health issues, the WHO recommends seeking assistance from a qualified healthcare professional for further management. Please feel free to explore the resources below*:
- Mental Health Support America
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- NHS Mental Health Helplines UK
- Mental Health Australia
*Healthy Life Hack from time to time, directly or indirectly, provides links to or accept links from Web sites of other parties for convenience. Healthy Life Hack does not control or maintain the material presented by other persons in their Web sites. The inclusion of any link on this Web site does not imply any association or relationship between Healthy Life Hack and the person sponsoring the linked site and does not constitute or imply any endorsement, approval or sponsorship of Healthy Life Hack by the sponsor of the linked site. The links do not imply legal authority to use any protected rights of others reflected in the links. Healthy Life Hack does not vouch for or assume any responsibility for the content, accuracy or completeness of material presented directly or indirectly in linked sites. If you use any of these links, you will leave the Health Life Hack site.