Stress, in the form of anger, depression, anxiety and generalized worry, shows up in our lives in different ways. We can have big stressors, like losing a job or a spouse, but day-to-day worries about our kids, jobs, parents and more can also get to us. Whatever the root of the stress, the hormonal and chemical response in our body is the same. It’s called the “stress response” and it produces an excess of adrenaline, cortisol and other chemicals.
Adrenaline causes our vessels to constrict, blood pressure to go up, heart to beat faster, breathing rate to increase and many more harmful effects in our bodies. We all know a time when we were so upset that we could feel the blood rushing to our heads – that’s adrenaline. Cortisol is a steroid that increases sugar levels, keeps abdominal fat from leaving our waists and hips, and shuts down our natural immune system.
There are settings where this may be an appropriate response, for example, in a state of true danger. More often than not, though, these chemicals are chronically released throughout our bodies under even low levels of anxiety or depression.
Meditation has been shown to help combat this stress response. Meditation releases the exact opposite chemicals that help our blood vessels relax and help our immune system to work again. Many studies have shown the benefits of meditation for improving blood pressure.
People often say to me, “I don’t know how to meditate,” or that they are intimidated by it. Remember that meditation and breathing exercises are personal and your own. There is no single right or wrong way to meditate.
Start with just five minutes a day. Often times picking a mantra like Om, Peace or Love can be helpful. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and take a slow inhale in and say the words “I am” when you breathe in. Say “at peace” when you breathe out. Your mind will wander because our brains are programmed to think about the future or past every 30 seconds. However, don’t be hard on yourself when this happens. It’s natural and, as you practice more frequent and longer meditation sessions, you will find that you are able to stay with the focus of your breath for longer periods of time.
The Good News
Life is stressful, but breathing and meditation can help relieve stress, enabling your heart and your entire cardiovascular system to work more efficiently.