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How Can Meditation Help When Dealing with Stressful Situations?

June 29, 2020 5 min read

Meditation is a very powerful way to connect with yourself again in the fast-moving modern world. Not only does it make you much calmer, but it also teaches you to take a step back and see a bigger picture of the situation you find yourself in.


There are many different ways one can practice meditation, and it does not have to be really connected with any spiritual practices whatsoever. It can simply be your way of dealing with stress. And it is a very effective way.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is both a practice and an experience people use to achieve mental clarity and calm state of mind. It is sometimes hard to define it since there are many traditions and different types of meditation that use various techniques to achieve these goals. 


Most often, meditation is connected with mindfulness, although it is not the same thing. We can reach mindfulness through meditation, for example. Mindfulness is basically our ability to be fully present at the moment, aware of what we’re experiencing, feeling, seeing, and not just impulsively rushing all the time, not knowing what’s happening around us.


Meditation is not stopping thoughts from coming. It’s about being present in a specific moment and seeing thoughts more clearly. When you are more present, you’re often also more relaxed and not overwhelmed with future events or past ones. So relaxation comes as a side effect of practicing mindfulness meditation.



How Does Meditation Help Reduce Stress?

When we are under stress, this causes an increase in the levels of the stress hormone, called cortisol. This increase in cortisol can have many harmful effects on our sleep, mood (such as increased anxiety), blood pressure, and overall psychological well-being. Mindfulness meditation, practiced for 8 weeks showed promising effects in reducing inflammation response caused by stress in our body.


There are many studies done on how mindfulness meditation affects the brain. Few studies found that meditation can change the structure of the brain - it affects the hippocampus, important for memory and learning, and amygdala, which is responsible for feelings of fear, anxiety, and experiencing stress. Participants reported decreased stress levels and improved overall mood after practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation for 8 weeks. [1]

Other Benefits of Meditation

Practicing meditation makes you feel better emotionally, but it also benefits our overall health - from lower blood pressure to controlling pain.


Other benefits of regular meditation are:

Improved Self-Awareness

Another type of meditation, called self-inquiry meditation, helps with knowing yourself better. One benefit of understanding yourself better is that you can start to incorporate positive changes into your life much quicker and better.


With meditation, you also build up kindness, which not only pertains to others but also pertains to yourself. That means that you become aware of your bad habits, but you also notice what you’re great at and are happy with it.

Improved Sleep Quality

Different types of meditation can help you combat insomnia and other sleep issues/disorders. Since meditation relaxes you and makes you calmer, it can also help you control your thoughts so you can fall asleep faster and sleep better. 

Improved Attention Span

One of the most short-term effects of meditation is increasing the endurance of your attention. To lengthen your attention span, you can check out focused-attention meditation. 

More Optimal Blood Pressure

Blood pressure decreases during meditation sessions, and it also reduces in the long term when practicing meditation regularly. 

Better Pain Control

You probably heard about the connection between your mind and feeling pain. When stressed out, your perception of pain can intensify. 


Research shows increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain in those who practiced meditation regularly. Moreover, they are also less sensitive to pain in general.

How does meditation compare to other stress-relieving strategies?

It certainly is true that incorporating one stress-relieving strategy in your ever-day life is better than practicing none. 


However, meditation, compared to other strategies, has some additional pros and also some “cons.”

Pros

  • Physical activity is often recommended for relieving stress; however, it is much easier to find a peaceful corner somewhere in your apartment, use your headphones and sit on the floor than going to the gym - especially if you’re not that much into working out for that cause or have some physical limitations.
  • Meditation is free and can be quickly learned through some free apps; you don’t need the specialized help of a professional for practicing simple meditation.

Cons


  • To feeling the real effects of meditation, you have to be disciplined and practice it regularly, so you make it a habit (usually, it takes somewhat 21 days to develop a habit). If you find it very difficult to create and maintain a habit, there are also some other relaxation methods available (we’ll talk about them in the next blog post - stay tuned!).
  • Since being able to control your thoughts is a skill that comes with practice, some people may have issues with that. It could be more complicated than practicing some other techniques for stress relief, such as physical exercise, using humor, writing about your thoughts, listening to music, etc.

How To Do It?

Don’t stress out about doing meditation the “right way.” Start following guided meditations in the beginning, and you’ll soon discover what way works the best for you. 

The most common ways to meditate are to sit down and get yourself as comfortable as it gets. Sit straight, so the air you’re breathing really fills your lungs and body. Throughout meditation, you try to focus on the breath - do you feel your breath most in your nose or belly? 

Follow it and try to gather all your attention around your breath.

There are also many tools that can help you meditate, especially in the beginning. 

Useful Apps to Help You Meditate

Some apps are free, while others paid. 

Look into them:

  • Insight Timer 
  • Headspace 
  • Calm
  • The mindfulness app 
  • Stop, breathe & think

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Maya Andoljsek

Head Of Nutrition At STAQ Performance

Maja Andoljsek, BSc in Sports Science and Nutrition, has been researching nutrition, supplements, and coaching people for years. As a certified coach and nutritionist, she has helped hundreds of people improve their cognitive performance, physical performance, and overall health.

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