When you feel stressed, down, or anxious, can you find your way out? Can you ease your worries, or
do they multiply as pressures mount?
The way you handle stress, grief, trauma, and other difficulties can have a big impact on your mental
and physical health. Just coping with the daily routine of multi-tasking, deadlines, electronic devices, traffic, and financial pressures can stretch your mind to an unhealthy balance.
Relaxation practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga may help improve your mood and
mental outlook by calming the mind and lowering stress hormones, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin
family practice medicine clinic. When you face stress, your body braces for trouble by releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Your heart pounds, breathing quickens, and blood pressure rises to make you alert and ready to act.
Stress hormones help you deal with imminent threats, but they can become unhealthy if they are
continually engaged and not switched off. Chronic stress places unhealthy burdens on your brain, immune system, heart, and other organs by overexposing them to hormones and not allowing them to return to a calm, balanced state. Your immune system may be suppressed, for example, or you may develop high blood pressure and heart disease.
By lowering stress, you can help prevent or ease many disorders, including cancer, depression,
insomnia, ulcers, diabetes, chronic pain, and other issues. Over time, the deep rest induced by relaxation practices may help ease stress and positively impact blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption, several studies have shown.
Meditation is a way of quieting and focusing the mind through a variety of techniques. It can be done
on your own or with a group. Tai chi, for example, combines movement with breathing and focus, while transcendental meditation works by repeating a word or sound to achieve a focused state.
During mindfulness meditation, you tune in to present experiences of smells and sounds, breathing,
and physical sensations. The aim is to pay close attention to those sensations, rather than think about
random thoughts. Mindfulness can also be viewed more broadly as a state of increased awareness of your experience without judging it or dwelling on worries of the past or future.
Start by setting aside a few minutes each day in a quiet place. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Try to keep your mind focused on your breathing, an object, or a word.
Start slowly and keep your commitment to a few minutes, then gradually expand your practice time.
After just a few weeks, you may feel calmer and more positive. And with practice, you can learn to
meditate wherever you are to help rest your mind.
The longer you engage in relaxation practices, you more you may improve concentration, clarity of
thought, creativity, and also deepen your connection with your inner self and others. Some research even suggests that meditation practiced over time may physically alter the brain in ways that could positively impact memory, emotions, and the aging process.
Everyone responds differently to relaxation practices, so if one doesn’t seem to work it’s worth trying
another to see if it helps.
While meditation may be helpful for some people and disorders, it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for
medical care your doctor has ordered to treat specific conditions.
Dr. Lamy can help you decide the best way to incorporate relaxation practices into your life to improve
your health outlook.