Monday, 1 June 2015

Guest Post: The Origins of Stress & Anxiety and How Meditation Can Help

Happy June Everybody!!! 

I thought I would start this month with a guest post all about meditation which is something I think I should definitely think about doing, my job isn't highly stressful but it can be very tiring a little stressful at times and getting out of the busy mind would help me but I never seem to have the time which is just an excuse really! 

The Origins of Stress & Anxiety and How Meditation Can Help

Contrary to popular belief, stress is amazing. It’s a wonderful piece of evolutionary design that’s essential for our existence. Without it, none of us would be sitting here. It enabled our ancient ancestors to fight their way out of trouble, or if the threat in question had very big teeth, to run away with flailing arms whilst screaming “help” in the Paleolithic language. The evolutionary origins of stress were vital for our survival.

Fast-forward 150,000 years and the same threats have largely disappeared. We live in the relative safety and comfort of our homes, rarely facing the same dangers of great, great, great, great grandpa Adam. The modern world has evolved at an alarming rate, much faster than any of us could have imagined, and certainly much faster than our biological evolution.

Yet we still harbor the very same fight or flight responses from all those years ago. When triggered it causes a cascade or chemicals to flow through our body that fundamentally alters the way our brains and bodies behave. Deadlines, work pressures, emails, alarms, traffic jams, financial pressure, relationships and social commitments are the modern day saber toothed tigers. On their own these new social pressures are typically manageable, add them all together on a regular basis and it’s really no surprise that so many of us finding modern life overwhelming.

There’s been a wealth of research and hypotheses on the mismatch between our stress response system and modern life. While life for our ancient ancestors was not without its challenges, the periods between stressful events were longer and they arguably had more time to recover. The stresses themselves were also very different from today, more physical than mental. The demands, commitments and goals we all place on ourselves ensures that we can often live in a near permanent state of stress.

However, it is possible to combat stress with meditation. The effects of persistent stress are counteracted when we meditate, even down to a hormonal level. For example the hormone cortisol which can cause all kinds of mischievousness is reduced by up to a third in meditators. It also soothes the part of the brain that tends to blare in panic whenever a challenging situation arises, which not only helps in the short term but means that generally meditators recover from stressful events more quickly and are calmer in the face of them.

By providing a deeply profound rest in which your body rebalances itself, meditation can be very restorative. The state of stress that your body has grown used to and even perpetuates is lessened, as your brain learns to respond more appropriately to anxiety-causing, but not life-threatening, situations. It is also a good way of showing yourself self-care, and devoting some time to you. Now more than ever it’s important to be kind to ourselves, to take time out, even if it’s just for a short period every day. By remembering what our bodies were initially designed for, we can hopefully re-address the demands of the modern world and occasionally travel back in time.

Holly Ashby is a writer who currently works at Will Williams Meditation, a meditation centre in London that aims to improve people’s health and happiness through the practice of Vedic meditation.


Do you meditate?