How Meditation Helps Your Brain When You’re Stressed, According To Experts
Whenever I'm feeling hella anxious and stressed, meditating always makes me feel better. This is because after a stressful day, meditation helps reduce "negative dimensions of psychological stress" in the brain, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. What's more, experts tell Bustle that the magic of meditation is that it grounds you in the here and now, which helps eliminate worry related to the past and the future.
"The practice of meditation aligns us with the present moment. When we do this after a stressful day, we are giving ourselves a space of transition from what was to what is. By focusing on 'what is,' we align with the present moment, and away from the chatter of the mind," Michelle Zarrin, an inspirational speaker, meditation teacher, and author of the book From My Heart to Yours: Based on a True Story, tells Bustle.
"[Meditation] organically calms us, and also allow for solutions to come to us, if our day required that. A new way of thinking, hence solutions, cannot come from the old way of thinking. In order to have clarity, we need to provide space within our mind. Meditation becomes a profound tool to reach this state," Zarrin explains.
Personally, little things bother me much less when I am meditating regularly. In addition, because my mind if free of clutter, I am much more creative. Meditating is kind of like tidying up or KonMari-ing your brain.
"Some reasons why meditation helps us view stress differently are that it allows us to gain a new perspective, helps us reduce negative emotions, aligns us with our inspiration and creativity, and increases self-awareness so we are less impulsive and respond with more of an intention," Zarrin says.
If you're new to meditation, there are plenty of apps to help you get started. My favorite is Insight Timer because it has eleventy-million free meditations that range from a few minutes to a few hours. If you're coming home from work or school stressed more often than not, commit to spending five minutes meditating as soon as you walk in the door.
Over time you can work up to longer meditations, and you'll notice that your brain is experiencing stress differently. You'll spend less time worrying about the past and the future and more time being present in your life.
"During a stressful day we can get caught up in all sorts of regrets fears and worries. We regret something we did ('I can't believe I did that!') and worry about the future ('will I get the project done, will this upcoming meeting go well,' etc.)," Neuroscientist Dr. Jud Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center, associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University, and author of the book The Craving Mind, tells Bustle.
"Getting caught up in the past and future activates a brain network called the default mode network [responsible for the wandering mind]. Meditation helps quiet this network down. Experienced meditators are better at deactivating their default mode network, and even show that this network talks to other brain networks differently." Dr. Brewer adds that mindfulness meditation can even help people quit smoking.
It's also important to note that even though most pictures you see of meditating — including the ones in this article — show people sitting in certain poses in beautiful environments, you can meditate anywhere in any position.
If you want to lie down, go for it. If you want to close your eyes and do a quick meditation in an Uber or on the subway, you totally can. You can even do a walking meditation. A lot of people resist meditating because they think it's difficult or requires special skills. It doesn't. All you need to meditate is the desire to do so.
"Anyone can practice meditation. It's simple and inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special equipment," the Mayo Clinic noted on its website. "And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office, or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting."
Meditation works because it grounds you in the present moment and encourages you to observe your thoughts, feeling, and emotions instead of judging them. It might feel difficult at first, especially if you tend to be hard on yourself. But it gets easier over time, and it will help change your relationship with stress. Still skeptical? You have nothing to lose by giving it a try. I resisted meditating for years, but now I'm a believer.