How do you feel when you're really stressed or anxious? Perhaps the muscles in your neck and shoulders tighten, your palms sweat, your heart beats faster, and your breathing is quick and shallow. Maybe your mind feels like it’s racing at a hundred miles an hour. If you can relate, here is some news you can use.
These are all normal reactions when your mind perceives a threat and tells your body to get ready for fight or flight in order to survive. Interestingly, the brain has a tough time differentiating between psychological threats and physical ones. Constant or ongoing stress takes a toll on ‘non-essential’ bodily systems such as digestion or the immune system. This can make you more susceptible to stomach discomfort, reduced appetite and the adverse effects of bacteria and viruses. This is why it is so important to learn how to destress.
Mindfulness has been a topic of extensive research on the effects and management of stress and has found to have considerable physical, mental, and emotional health-related benefits. A major theme is the effect of mindfulness on mood-related disturbances and anxiety. Mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to reduce rates of depressive relapse, and a recent meta-analysis found that mindfulness meditation programs were associated with reduced anxiety, depression and pain.
Scientists have used MRI scans to find understand how the brain changes when people practice mindfulness, yielding some fascinating results. Research demonstrates that the grey matter in specific regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking grow thicker and stronger with mindfulness practice:
- The prefrontal cortex (anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex): interprets signals and resolves conflicting information; manages feedback categorization, performance monitoring, and task monitoring
- The hippocampus: assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The insula: involved with self-awareness, interpersonal experiences and emotional intelligence.
The research also showed that the amygdala decreased, which meant the fight-or-flight response, the reaction to threats, also decreased. The smaller the amygdala becomes, the better people react to stress. The decrease in the brain’s grey matter correlates with the changes in the levels of stress, as well.
So, give your brain a much-needed break and and let it work smarter rather than harder. Check out 4 Ways to be More Mindful in Less Than a Minute.