Mindfulness Meditation, Stress and your Health

Mindfulness meditation, stress, health

Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation - Fantasy or Fact?

"We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening and unfolding before us, day and night" ~ Jack Kornfield

So we all know that stress is bad for us and that research now shows strong links between chronic physical and emotional stress and poor health. You can read more about this in Chronic Stress and your Health

But what can we do about it?

The obvious thing is to avoid or get rid of whatever is stressing us out. Simple, right?


While that might work for the irritating person on the bus, many things aren't so easy to ditch. Most of us can't just quit our jobs or leave our families (one of the main causes of stress!) - and wouldn't want to either. And we can't change things that have happened to us in the past.

What we can do is change the way we react to the stress - both physically, mentally and emotionally.

Mindfulness Meditation

There are lots of tools we can use to do this - one that has risen in popularity over the last few years is Mindfulness Meditation. mindfulness meditation, nature, relaxation, health, calm

 There alway tends to be some scepticism around more traditional healing techniques as they are so far removed from western medical practices. Many people discount meditation as hippy nonsense, on a parr with tree hugging, the mere suggestion of trying a bit of meditation being met with an obligatory eye roll.

In spite of this, Mindfulness Meditation is one of the key tools I introduce clients to first. Here's why...

Mindfulness Reduces Stress - how does it work?

Stress, in this context, is any negative emotion that will trigger a Fight or Flight stress response, such as anger, fear, shame, guilt, sadness etc. Once this stress response is triggered, a chemical chain reaction is set off in our bodies (as described in my previous blog Chronic Stress and your Health) that leads to all sorts of problems if it's kept firing for an extended time. Poor sleep, recurrent infections, pain, skin problems, gut problems, fatigue, hormone imbalances...

 Mindfulness has been shown to help normalise our stress hormones [1, 2] and improve the function of our Parasympathetic Nervous System [3, 4, 5, 6]  that is responsible for calming our body down after a stressful event.

I find that Mindfulness gives someone a sense of control over their bodies and health which also help reduce a person's stress reaction. 

Mindfulness is therefore able to slow, or even stop, the Fight or Flight reaction.

If we can lower our baseline stress reaction, then our bodies are able to function the way they are meant to.

Increased Awareness

Mindfulness can be difficult for many people as they are simply not used to having to listen to their thoughts. They spend their lives avoiding them by keeping busy with work, family, social media. When meditating, there's no longer anywhere to hide. You may be surprised at which thoughts keep on popping up, you may be distressed by them initially. However, by watching them mindfully, you can increase your awareness of your thoughts, gain a better understanding of what's bothering you and deal with them afterwards if necessary.

Improved Self Esteem

I also find that giving someone permission to spend time doing mindfulness can be very liberating. Often people don't spend any time on themselves and feel guilty about doing so. Putting 10 minutes or so aside each day to spend on you starts to build feelings of self-worth and a more balanced out-look on life.

Health Benefits of Mindfulness - how can Mindfulness help you?

People who practice Mindfulness find:

  • they are able to sleep better which has whole host of benefits [7]

  • they feel more positive and less depressed [8,9 10,11]calm, relaxed, health, meditation, stress, mindfulness

  • their pain reduces [12]

  • their fatigue reduces [13]

  • their brain fog clears and they can concentrate better [14]

  • their skin condition clears [15]

  • their guts settle down [16]

  • their immune system works better [17, 18]

I'd love to say that Mindfulness cures all, but unfortunately it's not quite so simple. However, mindfulness is one of many tools that can work together to bring about recover, so it's a great place to start!

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an ancient practice and means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.

Mindfulness is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds smells - anything we might not normally notice.

Whilst the actual skills are simple, it is very different to how our minds normally behave. Usually we find we have thoughts whizzing round about the future or the past - thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we have done.

 Research tells us that our minds wander at least 50% of the time. While it's OK for our minds to wander, it's helpful to be able to notice e.g. when they've wandered onto things that aren't helpful, if we are aware then we we can choose where we put our focus, even for a short time.

People often struggle to start with but, like anything else, it gets easier with practice.

Mindfulness Meditation - how to do it

There are lots of different ways to be mindful, none are more 'correct' than any other. I advise to practice every day if possible.

Often people will say they don't  have time to do any mindfulness - these are usually the people who really need it! Just 5 minutes a day can start to make a difference and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't even miss the time.

Instead of going straight to your phone while you're waiting for the kettle to boil/ sitting on the bus/ waiting for the kids to come out of school, you could do a mini-mindfulness session.

Sensory Mindfulness

A good place to start is with sensory mindfulness. I like to do this outside but you can do it inside just as well.Nature, meditation, minfulness, gratitudes, relaxation, sensory awareness

  1. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes.

  2. Notice any sounds you can hear and focus on these for a few moments.

  3. Notice any sensations you can feel - clothing, wind, feelings inside your body, and focus on these for a few moments.

  4. Notice any smells and focus on these for a few moments.

  5. Open your eyes and notice what you can see - colours, textures, shapes, and focus on these for a few moments.

  6. When thoughts or emotions pop up, simply allow them to come and go without getting caught up in them and refocus on the sensory world you are in.

Mindful Breathing

Focusing on your breathing is a good way to be mindful. The aim is to develop a calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

  1. mindfulness meditation, calm, relaxation, stress, thoughts, beliefsSit comfortably with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.

  2. Direct your attention to your breathing. Feel the air passing through your nose and into your body. Feel your chest and abdomen filling with air and then the air gently leaving your body allowing your chest to fall.

  3. When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them space to come and go without judging or getting involved in them.

  4. When you notice your attention has drifted off or you have become caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that the attention has drifted and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing.

It's natural for thoughts to arise and for your attention to follow them and that's fine. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.

Mindful activities

If you're feeling you don't have time to practice Mindfulness, one way round it is to do activities mindfully. This is where you carry out a task mindfully, taking notice of every detail, every movement and sensation, being fully present in the moment without judging it. Ideas for this could be:

  • drinking a cup of tea or coffeesensory meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, mindful activity

  • having a shower or a bath

  • washing the dishes

  • going for a walk

  • eating your lunch

  • having a cuddle

Guided Meditations

If you need a helping hand to get you started, there are a range of apps and guided meditations online that many people find really helpful.

These are some of my favourites:

Head Space

A free mindfulness app

More Info

Calm

Meditation to reduce stress and aid sleep

More Info

Smiling Mind

Free mindfulness app for adults and kids

More Info

 So what are you waiting for? You've really got nothing to lose - oh, except your stress, anxiety, anger, sleepless nights, bad guts, low mood, arguments, poor skin....

Mindfulness meditation, calm, relaxation, health, stress

Chiron Fatigue Treatment

Connecting Mind and Body for Health

References

[1] Fan, Y., Tang, Y. Y. & Posner, M. I. Cortisol level modulated by integrative meditation in a dose-dependent fashion. Stress Health 30, 6570 (2013).

[2] Tang, Y. Y. et al. Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 1715217156 (2007)

[3] Tang, Y. Y. et al. Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 88658870 (2009).

[4] Ditto, B., Eclache, M. & Goldman, N. Short-term autonomic and cardiovascular effects of mindfulness body scan meditation. Ann. Behav. Med. 32, 227234 (2006).

[5] Thayer, J. F. & Lane, R. D. A model of neurovisceral integration in emotion regulation and dysregulation. J. Affective Disord. 61, 201–216 (2000).

[6] Creswell, J. D. in Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research, and Practice Ch. 23 (eds Brown, K. W., Creswell, J. D. & Ryan, R. M.) (Guildford Press, 2014).

[7] Ong JC, Shapiro SL, Manber R. Combining mindfulness meditation with cogntive behavioural therapy for insomnia: a treatment-development study. Behavior Therapy. Volume 39, Issue 2, June 2008, Pages 171-182

[8] Hilton L, Maher AR, Colaico B, Apaydin E, Sorbero ME, Booth M, Shanman RM, Hempel S. Meditatio for Post traumatic stress: Sytematic review and meta-analysis. 2017 Jul; 9(4):453-460.

[9] Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA. Meditation programmes for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68.

[10] Grossman P, Tiefenthaler-Gilmer U, Rayz A, Kesper U. 'Mindfulness training as an alternative for fibromylagia: evidence of postintervention and 3 year follow up benefits in well-being'. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2007, 76: 226-233

[11] Goldin PR et al, 'Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder' Emotion, 2010; 10(1): 83-91

[12] Kabat-Zinn J, 'An outpatient program in behavioural medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results'. General Hospital Psychiatry. 1982, 4: 33-47

[13] Surawy C, Roberts J, Silver A.  The effects of mindfulness training on mood and measures of fatigue, activity and qulaity of life in patients with Chronic Fatigue Sydrome on a hospital waitinglist: A series of exploratory studies. British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. Volume 33, Issue 1 January 2005 , pp. 103-109

[14] Holzel B et al, 'Mindfulness practise leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density'. Neuroimaging, 2011; 191: 36-43

[15] Khabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T et al, 'Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA)' Psychosomatic medicine, 1998; 60:625-32

[16] Gaylord S, Palsson OS, Garland EL, Faurot KR, Coble RS, Mann JD, Frey W, Leniek K, Whitehead WE. Mindfulness training reduces the severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in women: results of a randomised controlled trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology (2011) 106, 1678–1688 (2011)

[17] Witek-Janusek L, Albuquerque K, Rambo Chroniak K, Chroniak C, Durazo-Arvizu R, Mathews HL.  Effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction on immune function, quality oflife and coping in women newly diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Brain, behaviour and Immunity,Volume 22, Issue 6, August 2008, Pages 969-981

[18] Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli SF, Urbanowski F, Harrington A, Bonus K, Sheridan JF. 'Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation'. Psychosomatic medicine, 2003; 65(4): 564-70

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