One very effective way of dealing with stress is meditation. Scientists and researchers have been paying more attention to the benefits of meditation over the past 5-10 years, and have found that meditation increases the amount of grey matter in the brain in areas that deal with your senses, working memory, decision-making, emotional regulation, and empathy. Meanwhile, the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general, gets smaller. (For more information, check out this article, and this one.)
There are SO many ways to meditate. I suspect that is because all of us are unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Some people do walking meditations. Some people meditate while doing yoga. Some sit in groups and softly focus on a point on the wall (or a shadow on the floor, or a candle, or . . . ). Or they sit alone. Or count slow breaths (in and out). Some meditate while knitting, or doing another repetitive, non-dangerous activity. Some listen to calming music, or the even voice of someone talking.
One thing that appears to be central to successful meditation is mindfulness meditation. This “practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.” (Article here.) When a thought drifts into your head you notice it, then let it drift away again without dwelling on it.
When I first tried doing mindfulness meditation it was difficult for me — thoughts kept streaming through my head and demanding attention. Over weeks and months, my mind finally got the hang of noticing and letting go. What worked for me was listening to meditation music, specifically Caroline Myss’ Chakra Meditation Music. The sounds occupy the part of my brain that might otherwise be used for conscious thought. Thoughts still drift into my conscious mind, but it has become easier to let them drift out again.
Meditating is a bit like exercising — five minutes a day is better than nothing at all, but if you really want results more would be better. Forty minutes a day seems to come up as a good amount in most of the articles I read. But the authors of those articles also admit that their meditation varies from daily to once a week. If you want to give it a try, start with ten minutes, and then work up to more (if you wish). The amazing thing is when you realize how good meditation makes you feel, and you start craving more. It’s almost like a runner’s high. Meditation leaves me calmer and more able to deal with whatever happens in my day.
It’s taken me years to get to this point of craving meditation time. At the beginning I figured I would never get here. But the benefits of meditation are worth the continued effort, even for children. (Article here.) Think of it as something to play with. It’s worth a try. 🙂
PS Here is another take on meditation. I love the light-hearted way The Unusual Buddha writes. 🙂