Using Mindfulness to Combat Stress

Learn how mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress in your life by focusing on breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices.

Using Mindfulness to Combat Stress

Stress is a common problem in today's society, with the Centers for Disease Control finding that 66 percent of American workers stay awake at night worrying about the physical or emotional effects of stress. Stress has been linked to many health problems, including obesity and heart disease, especially among low-income Americans. It can also affect those around us, especially our children. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat stress, and one of the most popular is mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation has been used by Buddhist monks for more than 2,600 years as a pathway to enlightenment. In the 1980s, mindfulness hadn't yet become a buzzword, but today it is one of the most popular products in the wellness universe. Mindfulness meditation involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. It can also help interrupt the stress cycle to leave room to respond rather than react.

A study by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and assistant psychiatry researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, was the first to document that mindfulness meditation can change gray matter in the brain and brain regions related to memory, the sense of self and the regulation of emotions. Richard Davidson, researcher and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that mindfulness increases the rate at which the amygdala falls from high alert status after a perceived threat. Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways. When walking or rolling, pay close attention to breathing, body movements, and the environment.

You can also practice mindfulness while doing regular exercises such as yoga, focusing on physical sensations when starting and maintaining each posture. To practice mindfulness meditation, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Notice the coolness when you inhale and the heat when you exhale. Thoughts will try to divert your attention away from breathing; look at them but don't judge them.

Gently refocus on your breathing. Some people count their breathing as a way to stay focused. Harvard University offers several mindfulness and meditation classes through their Center for the Promotion of Wellness and Health. Companies are also making it easier for people to try guided mindfulness meditation through apps. If you're looking for a way to reduce stress in your life, mindfulness meditation may be worth exploring.