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Feeling Stressed? Learn How to Meditate

August 16, 2020 7 min read

At a glance

Stress can affect anyone. Whether it’s unexpected life events or work stressors, feeling overwhelmed can happen at any stage in life. When difficult feelings arise, try using meditation to recenter yourself to decrease stress levels. Silencing your mind through meditation can increase concentration and bring inner peace during challenging situations. Using meditation practices can help brain functions and your state of mental and physical well-being by allowing the body and mind to be harmonious. From a healthier, stronger immune system to better sleep, keep reading to find out how meditation can improve youroverall health (1)

What is meditation?

Meditation is a free, powerful activity that can be practiced anywhere to improve your happiness and outlook on life. It’s a mind and body practice that has a long history of increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness and enhancing overall well-being(2). Mediation is also a way to recharge your mental batteries during difficult times. 

Practicing meditation can influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions and promote global regulatory changes in behavioral states such assleep (3).



What are the types of meditation? 

There are 5 common types of meditation(4)

1. Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”(5). This style of meditation can help you recognize when your “autopilot” is taking over and when you’re not fully present in the moment. 

Our minds run on “autopilot” an estimated 95 percent of the time because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our sensory response, which allows us to function in a hectic world. Because the brain signals are so efficient, it can cause us to relapse into old behaviors without realizing it, which is why mindful meditation is important to help you get out of autopilot and enjoy life in the present moment.

2. Body scan meditation

By mentally scanning yourself from head to toe during this mediation style, you’re able to bring awareness to every part of your body. This can help bring attention to any aches, pains, tension, or discomfort you may be feeling but were too busy to recognize. This mediation helps you stay present by bringing relief to your mind and body and improving your relationship with pain, aches and discomfort. Body scan meditation trains the brain to become accustomed to pleasant and uncomfortable sensations.

3. Walking meditation

Performing walking meditation can help sync your body and mind while you’re walking. It can be done anywhere and at any pace you prefer. If you have a busy lifestyle, this meditation is a great way to squeeze in some quiet time and exercise simultaneously. Whether you like to walk in the city, rural areas, or even just around your house, you can participate in walking meditation. 

While you’re walking, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and remain safe. If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, position them in the most comfortable way for you, which could be letting your hands and arms hang by your sides, holding them in front or behind you, or hugging your body.

4. Loving kindness meditation

Loving kindness, meditation also known as Metta Bhavana, is a method of developing compassion and cultivating love. It comes from the Buddhist tradition but can be practiced by anyone. This mediation can strengthen your feelings of kindness and connection toward others. Without self-love and love for others, we can’t practice the essential art of gratitude. 

To perform loving kindness meditation, you’ll need a minimum of 15 minutes of silence to repeat positive phrases and mantras to yourself. The best way to do this is to sit in a comfortable position in a safe area indoors while closing your eyes. Relax your whole body and keep your eyes closed throughout the entire mediation session. 

5. Sound bath meditation

This style of meditation relaxes the body using bowls, gongs, and other instruments to create sound vibrations that help focus the mind and promote peace. Sound meditation can improve mood levels, anxiety, pain and spiritual well-being. According to a study conducted on sixty-two women and men, sound meditation can reportedly reduce tension, anger, fatigue and depression(7)

Sound bath meditation can be enjoyed at home, online or at a mediation studio. To experience the process at home, find a comfortable cushion to sit on and surround yourself with several crystal bowls. You can even light a candle to increase spiritual energy in the room. Get cozy and allow yourself to freely produce sounds and vocals that relax you the most. 

Meditation patterns

Regardless of what your favorite type of mediation is, most mediation sessions have the following in common: 

  • A quiet location with limited distractions 
  • A comfortable posture. Try a position that is most comfortable for you such as sitting, lying down, or walking 
  • An ability to focus through mantras or breathing routines
  • An open attitude. During mediation, odd or uncomfortable thoughts may cross your mind and you have to let those thoughts pass without focusing or engaging with them  

What are the benefits of meditation? 

The ancient act of mediation is important because it helps control the mind, which leads to self-discovery and better self-control in life. Meditation helps you pay attention to your breathing as it goes in and out while acknowledging when the mind wanders from this act. Meditation helps us center ourselves in the present moments with a purpose and without judgment.

Meditation can help you to do the following:

  • Find happiness
  • Improve focus
  • Identify pain
  • Lower stress
  • Connect better
  • Reduce brain clutter 

Meditation isn’t just essential for mental health. From better sleep to decreased muscle tension, meditation is a healthy activity that can help improve your body inside and out. Here are the health benefits of meditation: 

  • Better sleep. Sleep is essential for our cognitive functioning. We spend about one-third of the time sleeping and without it, your body can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that allow you to learn and create new memories, which makes it harder to concentrate and respond quickly(8). Meditation enhances rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and increases levels of melatonin, helping you get better sleep(9). During the REM sleep cycle, the brain’s thalamus is active, sending the cortex images, sounds and other sensations that fill our dreams. 
  • Improved concentration. Meditating daily can help you keep a clear mind and increase productivity levels(10)
  • Decreased depression. Stress can increase depression and anxiety. Meditating can help avoid burnout by controlling or reducing the impact of the ongoing stimulation of the “fight-or-flight” response in the face of chronic psychosocial stressors(11). Experiencing burnout, a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, can increase depression. 
  • Less physical tension. Daily meditation and mindful breathing can relax muscles and decrease overall muscle tension(12)
  • Stronger immune system. Stress can have a major negative impact on the immune system(13). Practicing mindful meditation by paying attention to the present moment allows your body to naturally respond by calming down and releasing stress. When you practice meditation regularly, it disrupts your tiring cycle of stress and exhaustion from everyday life. 
  • Decreased irritation. If you’re easily bothered by little things or frequently aggravated, meditation can help you stay in the present moment and learn to detach from meaningless issues. 
  • Overall better health. Studies show that meditation can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure,decrease inflammation, alleviate anxiety and reduce symptoms of health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis(14,15).  

How do I meditate?

To a beginner, sitting down and remaining silent during meditation may feel strange, even daunting, but that’s normal. Over time, meditation becomes easier. Here’s how to start:

  • Find an area. This should be an area where you will be undisturbed whether that’s a room in your house, a spot in nature, or an area where you can walk peacefully. 
  • Play music.  Put on soothing music or guided meditation audio.
  • Set a timer. You don’t have to start your meditation journey with thirty-minute long meditation sessions. Try starting with five minutes. Go at your own pace. 
  • Get comfortable. Prepare your mind and body to be still for a few minutes or to walk slowly. The goal is to simply focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply.
  • Focus on your breathing.Focus on the breath moving in and out of your nostrils or on the rise and fall of your chest and stomach as you meditate.
  • Make it a habit. Add meditation to your daily schedule for the best results.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. Meditation isn’t about “shutting” your mind off. It’s important to understand that the concept of meditation is about observing thoughts unobstructedly and allowing them to pass without fixating on them. When you first begin meditating, it can be frustrating if you try to completely block out your thoughts (which isn’t the goal of meditation). Over time, you’ll get more comfortable with the process and learn to stop fighting your thoughts. 

How often should you meditate?

Like any skill, meditation requires practice. To reap the most benefits from meditation, you’ll need to practice daily. Try adding a few meditation sessions into your schedule at a time that is convenient for you. You’ll need commitment, patience and an eagerness to practice. The more you meditate, the more your mind will learn to become less distracted by stabilizing your awareness. 

What are the best meditation resources?

Meditating has become so popular that many free resources are offered. Try using free meditation apps like Headspace, Smiling Mind, 10% Happier and Stop, Breath & Think. YouTube offers free sound and guided meditations. If you’re able to pinpoint exactly what’s causing you stress, you can search Youtube for specific issues such as mediation for letting go or meditation for cutting ties with toxic people. 

In summary

Meditating is easier than you think once you develop a regular meditation practice to reap its many benefits. Meditating can reduce stress, alleviate anxiety and depression, increase your attention span,decrease pain and significantly improve youroverall health (16). Meditation is an effective way to help you change the way your brain functions, your view on life, and how you connect with others and the world(17)

Laura Tolliver - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice