Meditation To Reduce Stress

Meditation

By Kristi Ketz

"I don’t like coming and going….I like being.”

What a profound quote!! Don’t ya think? Sounds kind of nice. Is it possible to drop into “being” while still coming and going? That is what I’m trying to do. Because as a multi-passionate entrepreneur, helper, and mom of two awesome little girls, I do a
lot of coming and going. Wait! Back to the quote. Who said that? ME at age 10!!! Apparently I said this on a 12-hour car trip to Florida during our annual family beach vacation when I was 12. I assume I was pretty miserable in the car when I said that! My dad thought it was so
clever that he sent my quote to the Christian Science Monitor where it was published. I must have had a little voice inside all of those years ago that knew the focus on going and coming took away the peace of being. Since that time I have done ANYTHING BUT BE. It was only until I was much older and in my late 30s that I discovered meditation. My first serious introduction was a nine-day mindfulness meditation retreat/training with Jon Kabat-Zinn in 2008. He is largely responsible for brining mindfulness meditation into Western medicine. I
later attended another nine-day retreat/training with his associates from the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Program. I have seen the research and have reaped the personal benefits of using meditation to reduce stress and even lowering my blood pressure throughout the labor process with my second daughter. As much as I believe in meditation to reduce stress (and the many other benefits), I
continue to have a really hard time “being”. I still don’t enjoy “going and coming” but that is where I seem to stay much of the time. To-do lists, plans, goals, routines, time management, stress, busyness, feeling frazzled, and on and on. I say I want “to be” but if you looked at my life much of the time you would see a person frantically running from one thing to the next. You would see a person who says “yes” to too
many things. You would see a person looking scattered and unorganised. I claim that I love to relax and slow down but when I do I either feel bored, worry about all of my to-dos, and/or feel guilt for not being productive. I know that I’m not the only one who knows the value of meditation and has difficulty incorporating it into their daily life.

Meditation & Stress

My Meditation Practice and Barriers to Practice
Do I meditate daily? No? I really have been trying. And it helps. It makes a huge difference in my feeling of calm and peace. So, I’ve been meditating much more regularly in the last few months. It is AMAZING how even two minutes can change my mood, outlook, and how my body feels (immediate relaxation, decreased heart rate when stressed, less muscle tension). It really is a quick fix when I use meditation to reduce stress.

With these benefits, why would I have a problem regularly meditating? I don’t think I’m unique. I’ve neglected meditation because “I’M TOO BUSY!!” I’m on a time crunch and have these phone calls, emails, and texts I need to address. There are dishes in the sink and laundry on the couch. These tasks have a visible outcome - I can see the checkmark on my to-do list and know that I am moving forward. The problem is as I check one thing off the list, then more things get added. The list will never end. I have learned that I can spend my days being a slave to the never-ending list or I can take time for myself and my mental and physical health. As I heard Tony Robbins once say, if you don’t have 10 minutes a day you don’t have a life. Good point. If I don’t have 10 minutes a day to use meditation to reduce stress, then I’m really in trouble. So, I’ve been trying.

The Science Behind Meditation to Reduce Stress
I love the science behind meditation. In the past, I saw it as woo woo but there are physical and physiological changes in the body when we meditate. Like……

1. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital Study showed THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE FOLLOWING MEDITATION. Wow!!! Here’s what can change….there is thickening in the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, and executive decision making. Who doesn’t need a boost in these areas? Also, certain parts of the brain get thinner (the amygdala in particular). This is an exciting finding to me because the amygdala is associated with threat, fear, and anxiety. I’ve dealt with enough anxiety for a lifetime, so if that part of my brain can change in the right direction, I’m all for it.
2. A study from the University of Wisconsin showed a shift in activity in the pre- frontal cortex in locations related to the processing of emotion when under stress. The group that meditated had shifts in activity from more right-sided activity to left-sided activity. Prior to this study, it was thought that the right/left activity in this part of the brain was a fixed trait and that by adulthood you were who you were….nervous or calm. So thankful that does not turn out to be true!!
3. The same study found that those in the meditation group had a better immune response when given the flu shot. As someone who has historically gotten sick after times of stress, wow!! I am all for meditation to reduce stress! I am. I really am. Despite my trying to find every reason in the book to do something else.
4. There was another study with patients with psoriasis who had to have light therapy (which can then lead to skin cancer). The study found that those who meditated during treatment healed four times faster and therefore were able to discontinue the therapy sooner and thereby decreased their risk of skin cancer.

So, How Do I Meditate to Reduce Stress?
In my meditation training, I have learned that in addition to formal meditation there is informal meditation. Informal meditation is what I work toward in the hours and moments that I am not sitting doing a formal meditation. It’s a way of life. A way of being. It is not natural for me. It’s basically being 100% there in the present moment. So, if I’m folding laundry. I’m folding laundry….not thinking about what I am going to do next or what I didn’t get completed today. If I’m watching my girls’ favorite t.v. show with them, my eyes and ears (and brain) are also on the show and not on my phone scrolling Facebook. I’m not reviewing my to-do list in my head while appearing to be paying attention to the show. The more I can do this the more relaxed and calm I feel. I work on awareness of where my thoughts go and repeatedly bring them back to the moment. The thoughts are what are stressful. Either a sad memory. Or a big project that feels overwhelming. Anxiety about something in the future. This letting go and returning to the moment isn’t easy. It feels like a magnet pulling my mind down the rabbit hole of old, persistent thoughts. It is difficult to pull away from those thoughts but is becoming easier with mindfulness meditation. In our fast-paced world we feel we need to be doing, doing, doing. To get ahead. Or sometimes just to stay above water. But, in actuality, it is a pretty well-known fact that if we can “do” less and recharge ourselves, we can then accomplish more in less time. This also applies to multi-tasking. Mindfulness meditation has taught me that by focusing on one task and staying present, I have less stress and am able to complete the task sooner than doing several things at once (like writing an article, working on laundry, and doing the dishes all at once).

So, How Do You Start Using Meditation to Reduce Stress?
As hard as I’ve made it (and I know I’m not alone), meditation is very easy to start. You don’t need any equipment, just the willingness to sit down, be still, and continually redirect your thoughts to the present moment. There are various free apps that provide guided meditations. Feel free to message me for my favorites. I also have a free one available on my website. You can also just set a timer on your phone for as long as you want. One minute to one hour. It doesn’t matter. During that time, just sit down or lie down and pay attention to where your thoughts go and return them to the present. For me, the breath is the easiest anchor point. It’s OK when your mind wanders off because it will. I was taught that being dead is the only way to keep your mind in one place. So, don’t be disappointed when yours doesn’t
stay there. The benefits come from RETURNING your mind to the present not KEEPING it in the present. So, each time you catch it “out there”, congratulate yourself and return it to the present. I’d love to hear from you and see how your practice is going. I’m happy to answer
any questions as you practice.