More and more frequently the conversation of stress and our stress hormone, cortisol, comes up with patients. Patients are concerned about the effects of stress on their every day lives, and as their naturopathic doctor, I am concerned about the effects cortisol is having on their health and future health. Your body is hard wired to react to stress to protect you against threats from predators (ie. lions, tigers and bears!). These threats are super rate today, but that doesn't mean that life is free of stress. Each day we face multiple stressors (ie. trying to get your toddler to eat their breakfast or tackling that deadline at work while thinking about what's for dinner). Your body doesn't know the difference between day to day stressors and the lions, tigers, and bears! As a result, your body can stay in a state of what's called "fight or flight."
"your body can stay in a state of what's called "fight or flight."
Long-term activation of this stress response system (and the constant exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones) can affect almost all of your body's functions. This puts you at an increased risk for numerous health problems, including: anxiety/depression, digestive issues, headaches, sleep issues, weight gain and memory/concentration issues. Theses are just a few of the reasons why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.
Meditation is by far one of the best tools to help manage stress and balance your cortisol levels as the research is endless and constantly showing us the amazing benefits of incorporating even a few minutes a day of mindfulness. Here are some of the interesting research on the value to health, wellness and performance of meditation and mindfulness.
- practicing meditation decreases visits to healthcare professionals by 43%
- meditation reduces risk of death from all causes by 23%
- meditation reduces disruptive classroom behaviour and improves attendance in school-aged children
- meditation improves attention span in children
- meditation increases brain size, including areas responsible for learning and emotional control and slows down the "brain shrinkage of aging"
- a single, 20 minute meditation session results in increases in energy metabolism and decreases pathways associated with stress, inflammation and cancer
- meditation combined with exercise improves symptoms of persons with major depression
- meditation decreases an inflammatory marker related to cancer and autoimmune disease
What can't meditation help us with?
Basically there is no reason NOT to start a meditation practice, the health benefits are endless and more research is coming out every day touting improvements in health and wellness. While it's easy for me to list off all of these amazing benefits, and to push a daily meditation practice on all of my patients - it doesn't really do anyone any good if we don't know HOW TO DO IT!
There are so many online resources, youtube videos, meditation CDs, and smart phone apps that can help you get started. I typically recommend starting with something simple - find a quiet and calm environment with as few distractions as possible, sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Try to coordinate your inhale and exhale as you repeat a sentence or word (ie. "peace" or "I am relaxed"). If you find your mind wandering (that's absolutely okay!), just bring your focus back to your inhales and exhales. Meditation can be as simple as that!
The benefits of meditation can be seen at even 10 minutes a day!
O WELLNESS and it's practitioners offer a variety of resources and workshops to help get you started with meditation. Whether it's your first experience or you've been meditating for years and are looking for a deeper understanding - we want to help!