Meditation as an Anxiety and Stress Management Skill
In an age of rapid change, it is difficult for the average person to keep up with life's many demands. Good self-management skills are the key to preventing burnout.
Stress and anxiety are often given a bad press, but without the human beings would be unable to accomplish anything. Nature has equipped the average person with all the necessary tools to ensure survival and well-being, but people continue to experience damaging levels of stress and anxiety. Can anything be done about this?
What Is Emotional Health?
In a nutshell, emotional health equates to positive self-awareness. People with good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Over time they have learned healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with life's stresses and anxieties that are suitable for them. People with good emotional health generally feel good about themselves and have positive relationships and support networks. They value themselves and extend positive feelings towards others.
In many instances, when people feel unhappy, stressed, anxious, or going through a major life crisis or change, they will look for prescriptive ways of coping. There is a vast industry of specialists trained and equipped to provide a variety of services to cater to these needs. This is well and good, but for many people, this can be expensive, time-consuming, and not always appropriate. Doctors and therapists cannot prescribe happiness or contentment.
A Natural Way to View Stress and Anxiety
As a response to stress and anxiety, nature has provided human beings with 'hard wired' neurological pathways that determine our responses to stressful or anxious situations. Broadly speaking, there are two extreme involuntary reactions in any given threatening event – fight or flight. Within these broad parameters, certain neurological pathways will have been laid down by psycho-social factors such as culture, upbringing, personal habits, and attitudes and beliefs, for example. Excess levels of stress and anxiety could be the result of a largely unconscious cumulative process, that only manifests in crisis.
Someone with good emotional health skills will recover quite rapidly from a serious life crisis event, for example, while others with poorer skills will struggle to cope. People with unrealistic expectations of themselves, or of relationships, often 'beat themselves up when they fail to realize their goals, unaware that they are conditioned to behave and react in this way. As soon as this is realized, however, they are free to see things afresh and act differently. This is a matter of self-awareness, and self-awareness is a self-management skill.
Even your nutrition influences your well-being. So you should try to eat healthy food. Consciously try to include foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and seeds that nourish your body and build resilience to stress. You can research the best supplement options as well.
While people are conditioned by their environment, biology, and chemistry this does not mean that they are the victims of circumstance or genetics. If people are to be victims, it is only through their lack of knowledge and understanding. But this can be improved. Training, for example, can result in new skills.
What Meditation Can Do?
Meditation can act both as a means of defense, and as a remedy against the worst effects of stress and anxiety. It can help reduce high blood pressure, combat insomnia, aid relaxation and concentration, support digestion, improve breathing, and very importantly assist in the maintenance and repair of the autonomic nervous system.
From a neurological perspective, the relationship between calmness and activity is mirrored in the way in which the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems function as part of the autonomic nervous system within the cerebral cortex. When we react to emotional stimuli, when we become angry, shocked, or afraid for example, the sympathetic nervous system is in a state of high activity; when we are relaxed, happy, or asleep, then the parasympathetic system predominates.
Each acts as a check upon the other maintaining a healthy degree of equilibrium. The autonomic nervous system is a self-regulating mechanism and cannot normally be affected by the conscious will. But it can be affected by high levels of stress and can become acutely deregulated with serious physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Insomnia, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and so on, are just some of the symptoms that result from its deregulation.
In an increasingly pressurized environment, the sympathetic nervous system bears more than its fair share of the “shocks that flesh is heir to.” Regular meditation training can help reduce the ill effects of anxiety and stress by maintaining the autonomic nervous system in a balanced condition and contributing to good emotional health.