Stress: who is to blame?
Without taking much time to introduce the topic, it’s very clear that we all live with much more stress than ever before. We have seen the emergence of Big Food, Big Pharma and other big businesses that make us sicker, poorer and very stressed. What’s incredible, they do it at our expense too!
Yet it should be another way around. Inded, we are developing so many tools and human progress should allow us to live better. See our article on Evolution, Nonviolence, and Meditation if you want to learn more about this. Meditation for stress should be that ultivate tool how we can combat stress effectively. Let’s dig deeper.
Many so-called biohackers recommend using magnesium supplements to get a better night sleep. It helps to calm down that exhausted nervous system. In many cases, this does work really well. You can start with a very low dosage of magnesium (best to use is in the powder form), say 50 or 100 mg and then slowly increase up to 400-500 mg. It is safe to use but you will see how much is enough for you.
This is all great, but it falls down to a current healthcare approach. All it does is treating the effects, but not the cause.
What we need instead is to pay attention to what’s causing your stress and working on it. You sometimes cannot change the circumstances or actual events, but you can change your response to them.
We can rewire ourselves to be less responsive to everyday stress factors and choose to live a more serene life.
Why are we so stressed?
There are so many reasons why we are increasingly stressed.
A prominent Buddhist monk and author of a vast amount of books on meditation, Thich Nhat Hahn said that ‘having 6 sense organs, toxins can come not only through mouth’. According to him, we feel anxious or worn out being stressed because of devastation, cravings for possessions, sex or advertising – we are in contact with toxins.
Our issues with employment could be a huge stress factor. Unemployed job seekers showed reduced destructive self-talk that floods us with thoughts of hopelessness and depression. It means that the way how we relate to our gloomy self-talk has a direct impact on our health.
Prolonged exposure to stress hormones (especially cortisol) destroys healthy muscles, bones and cells. It also weakens the immune system. Julian Daizan Skinner and Sarah Blades in their ‘Practical Zen’ book have quoted the American Medical Association: ‘stress is implicated in 60-90% of physician visits’. This has been documented by Avey H. et al., 2003, ‘Health care providers’ training, perceptions and practices regarding stress and health outcomes’, Journal of the National Medical Association 95,9,833, 836-845.
It’s huge! Stress destroys your health and also a reason for the majority of your doctor visits.
Nutrition and stress
Our nutrition is another cause of stress. Let’s hear from Dr. Dean Ornish, who has conducted a lot of scientific research. He has helped many people to reverse diseases that were triggered by their lifestyle choices. He said that “for the last 36 years my colleagues at the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California have conducted research proving the power of a whole-foods, plant-based diet in combination with stress management techniques, moderate exercises like walking and love and intimacy. In addition to preventing many chronic diseases, these comprehensive lifestyle changes can often stop and reverse the progression of illnesses. This includes coronary heart disease, early-stage prostatic cancer, and type 2 diabetes”.
Have a look for some tips on how you can change your nutrition for the better in our Nutrition of Nonviolence course.
Have you also noticed that in this world of connected devices and the ultra-speed Internet, we are being really disconnected with each other? Chinese people actually celebrate Single’s Day. It became a big shopping event for them.
Loneliness spurs high levels of pro-inflammatory genes. Various stress reduction programs can not only lower these levels but also lessen the feeling of being lonely. (J.D. Creswell et al., “Mindfulness-based stress reduction training reduce loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized control trial” Brain, Behaviour and Immunity 26 (2012).
Is mindfulness meditation for stress effective?
One of the core benefits to meditation and mindfulness is an ability to cope with anger and manage the response to everyday stress factors.
Dan Buettner in his ‘Blue Zones’ book said that there is a theme amongst all people who live longer than 100 years. The key factors are a plant-based diet and effective stress management.
Meditation can also reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and resulting toxic belly fat. See Jennifer Daubenmier et al., “Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat Among Overweight and Obese Women: an exploratory randomized controlled study”, Journal of Obesity (2011): 651936.
One study even found that 8-week meditation class tripled the amount of weight lost by a group of elderly women when compared with those who did not use similar techniques. (Eirini Christaki et al., “Stress Management Can Facilitate Weight Loss in Greek Overweight and Obese Women: A Pilot Study” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 26, 2 (July 2013): Supplement 132-39). See more at “Meditate your weight” by Tiffany Cruikshank.
Meditation lessens your stress on a genetic level too
In research published in 2013, Benson and his team found that meditation doesn’t just change brain activity, blood pressure and reports of how stressed people feel. It changes the activity of certain genes. And it does it so within minutes. Even first-timers show an increase in the activity of genes involved in the function of mitochondria and secretion of insulin (which regulates blood glucose levels). There is also a drop in the activity of genes involved in triggering potentially damaging inflammation (linked to depression) and stress-related pathways. Benson investigated that the duration of individual meditation should be 10-20 minutes a day. (Taken from Emma Young book called “Sane”)
This is where we are coming to a very trendy topic of genetic research.
There is evidence that meditation practice even slows the effects of the ageing process. Mindfulness may have an effect on the length of telomeres which are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. It reduces stress and stress arousal. Meditation fostering positive states of mind may bring about hormonal changes, which may promote telomere maintenance. See more on this in “The rough guide to mindfulness” by Albert Tobler and Susann Herrmann.
Yet let’s not hide behind our genes. What we can do here and now if to become more compassionate and kind to ourselves. Meditation trains one really important mindfulness skill: loving-kindness and compassion. Just have a look what V. Burcha nd D. Penman wrote in their book “Mindfulness for Health”: “Cultivate self-acceptance and care towards yourself and others. This reveals the similarities and connections between us all, dissolving stress and reactivity so that life becomes warm and wholesome once again”.
How long do you need to practice meditation for stress?
We have shown already in our meditation articles and especially the one that describes the benefits of meditation practice that you will see changes just after a continuous daily meditation practice of just 15-20 minutes.
Doctors Goleman and Davidson insist that it needs to be regular. They said that a large drop in cortisol under stress seems to kick in with continuous practice. It means that it’s easier to handle life’s upsets.
In their book, “The Science of Meditation”, they have also provided why you should aim to make it a regular practice. They quoted a research paper that said that ‘the long term meditators achieved the best results in the reduction of cortisol levels’. The study observed long term meditators who all practiced vipassana and loving-kindness meditation over a period of at least 3 years. They engaged in a daily practice of at least 30 minutes and a few intensive meditation retreats. Each was matched on age and sex with a non-meditative volunteer to create a comparison group. They also gave saliva samples for cortisol levels. See more in Melissa A Rozenkratz et al., “Reduced stress and inflammatory responsiveness in experienced meditators compared to a matched healthy control group” Psychoneuroimmunology 68.
Holistic mindfulness to help with stress
Clearly, it is a matter of combining your efforts. You can do your body much better by switching to a plant-based diet. You can cultivate your mind and become more emotionally stable by means of mindfulness meditation. All of this enables you to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself, but also manage your stress better.
Buddhists were writing about it all along. Have a look at the work of Ajahn Amaro “A Holistic Mindfulness”. He said that Buddhism provides guidelines for behavior and speech that might help you to reduce stress and live more comfortably. He talks about holistic mindfulness by means of meditation and ethical living. You do not need to be religious to live like that. Simply extend your circle of compassion to all living beings (including yourself) and become disciplined in your daily meditation practice.