The problem: feeling stressed much of the time?
Looking for help with stress? Do you find yourself feeling stressed a lot of the time – without even knowing why? You are not alone. The fact is, living in the 21st century is extremely stressful. But why exactly is that?
To find the answer, we need to return to prehistoric times.
We have an inbuilt survival mechanism called the ‘fight or flight’ response, which evolved to help our species stay alive. If a hungry tiger or an aggressive neighbour came our ancestors’ way, the only option was to fight like mad or run like hell. If they didn’t, they would be somebody else’s lunch.
As soon as any threat was detected, an alarm would sound in the nervous system and this would feed into an area of the brain called the amygdala. The internal alarm systems would go into hyperactive alert. A flood of hormones and steroids such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline would be released, and every system within the body would gear up to deliver a short, sharp burst of survival capability.
Under this response, breathing quickens, the heart beats faster, and the veins, arteries, and capillaries in the body’s peripheral regions constrict to divert much of the oxygen and nutrient flow to the legs so that they can be the engines of survival.
It must have worked. After millennia of fighting and fleeing we get to us, the humans of the modern world. The very fact that we are here means that our ancestors were the ones who were most responsive to such stimuli. We are the evolutionary masters of stress.
But what has this response – which was designed to help us survive emergencies – got to do with why so many of us experience stress so often? And can this help us learn how to combat stress?
I have realised that I was suffering from chronic stress which was affecting the way I lived and experienced life. Things are different since I have learned - much easier and enjoyable. Everyday I meditate I know it's going to be a good day.
Why does this happen?
The problem is that the ‘flight or fight’ response is now being activated by many of the more harmless aspects of our modern, 21st-century lives.
And not just on an occasional basis, but all the time. Our world has sped up into something we are just not built for and our brain’s alarm system, the amygdala, is responding to all sorts of everyday stimuli as if they are potentially life-threatening scenarios.
It might be things as familiar as waking up to an alarm, rushing to the office, missing a train or getting stuck in traffic, staring at a computer all day, having a deadline, going to the gym, watching an action movie, rushing to the next social engagement, or going to bed too late.
All manners of everyday circumstance are taking us beyond the stress threshold and setting off the cascade of physiological and neurological changes that define this survival response. The result is that all of us in the industrialised world have a degree of what is known as Chronic Background Stress. It means our nervous system is permanently on alert and, as such, our mind and body are rarely, if ever, afforded the luxury of true relaxation, rest and repair.
This may perhaps be why 40 million people in the UK now report frequently feeling stressed, and why so many of us are actively looking for help with stress.
I'm far more relaxed than I used to be and stay calm in situations that normally would have triggered a not-all-that-calm reaction.
Anika, Marketing Executive, Munich
How is all this stress affecting us?
Instead of being our principal means of survival, our over-activated stress response is slowly but surely wearing us out. It is leaving our energy stores depleted, all our bodily systems out of balance and making us less physically and emotionally stable.
It is one of the reasons why so many of us are so tired at the end of each day.
If we take a moment to look around the world and consider all of the conditions that are ailing us, we can see that the majority of them have their roots in the hyperactivation of our stress response.
According to research, 75% to 90% of all hospital admissions either directly or indirectly have their roots in stress.
The disruption caused to our cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, digestive, skeletal, cellular repair, reproductive, and endocrine systems – as well as many of our key brain functions – is unrelenting.
And it’s not helped by the fact that most of us aren’t getting enough sleep. A hundred years ago, we averaged nine hours sleep a night. Now we’re down to seven and a half hours and falling.
Meanwhile, as our world gets busier and more demanding with each passing decade, so the demand side of the equation is vastly outweighing the supply side of sleep nourishment.
And it is not just the quantity of sleep we are lacking. Our quality of sleep is poorer due to the hours we keep, the time and nature of the food we eat, the floods of artificial light that keep our retinal cells activated after sundown, and the sheer volume of unprocessed noise and stress chemistry in our nervous system.
And while this overabundance of stress chemistry creates major long-term damage in all of our cells, tissues, and organs, it isn’t just physical consequences that are ailing us, but neurological and psychological ones too.
Researchers have suggested there are at least six different ways in which psychological stress can kill you.
The stress response plays havoc with the brain. The stress hormone cortisol kills brain cells and leads to cognitive decline. Additionally, there are a class of stress steroid hormones called glucocorticoids produced in the adrenal cortex which may save your life when faced with a tiger, but will slowly wreak havoc when too frequently let loose.
The stress response also has an impact on our emotions. The amygdala, the engine of ‘fight or flight,’ releases neurotransmitters that bring about the sensation of anxiety, and the ‘fight or flight’ branch of our nervous system activates the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), leading to tendencies of negativity, defensiveness, and sadness.
Alongside this, all sorts of other hormonal mischief are taking place, and the end result may be a lack of emotional and psychological stability. It starts to make more sense as to why “One in four of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives,” as The Guardian pointed out in January 2014.
Many of us will indeed feel psychologically stressed during our day. Others of us feel fine mentally but end up storing it up physically. But all of us store it somewhere, and eventually, we get sick (frequent colds, headaches, and migraines, or more serious conditions including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and IBS.
All along the way, we are nowhere near achieving our optimum. We rarely have as much energy as we could. We are far from our best, far too often.
Worse still, because we are all carried along by the same tidal wave of stress, many of us think it’s relatively normal and natural. Practicing Vedic meditation quickly proves that it is not.
It matters little whether we are permanently under stress, or if we only have four or five instances of stress throughout the day. The disruption it causes is pernicious, especially over the long term.
I now feel very relaxed, connected and totally stress free which is an amazing experience. Life no longer feels like a struggle but a more like a great adventure. I am literally flying and feel unstoppable and I never felt so clear, confident that this is what I was meant to do, there is no more room for doubts.
How to combat stress with Vedic meditation
Vedic meditation for stress achieves an unwinding of the stress response on a number of important and complementary levels to deliver a real change in the way we respond to, and engage with, the world.
Firstly, by allowing our mind, body and nervous system to rest to such profound levels (33% deeper than the deepest point in sleep), our innate intelligence is able to recognise the imbalances within our systems and begin to correct the distortions.
Our cellular repair functioning is able to repair damaged tissues much more efficiently, and our nervous system becomes so rested it is able to break through the hyper-stimulated programming that we all experience.
We begin to settle down to a more harmonised way of being, not just during the meditation, but throughout our day.
Our mind is able to build new, more intelligent, inter-neuronal pathways that begin to free us from negative patterns and tendencies. At the same time, the amygdala, the seat of our stress reaction, begins to calm down.
The nervous system becomes cleansed of all our toxic memories and emotions, and we move in the direction of always responding appropriately to the challenges of life.
Our levels of cortisol and other key stress chemicals fall by 25-35%. Our production of happy hormones increases. Our vagus nerve, so essential to keeping us calm and relaxed, is more regularly stimulated. We are much more resistant to unnecessary stress, and our recovery times are much faster.
In short, Vedic meditation for stress brings our bodies back into balance so that physically, neurologically and emotionally we are operating properly again.
We feel energised, inspired and ready to live life to its full. If you’re searching for how to combat stress, look no further than Vedic meditation.
It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
Hans Selye, Austrian-Canadian Endocrinologist
What's the proof?
Vedic meditation produces physiological and biochemical changes that are the exact opposite of the stress response. These counter-balancing effects are at least 200% stronger than eyes-closed rest.
People practicing Vedic meditation have demonstrated an average reduction in the stress hormone cortisol by 33%.
People practicing Vedic meditation recover from stress events much more quickly.
Studies on those practicing Vedic meditation show greater levels of relaxation and mental alertness in day-to-day living.
The high levels of brain state coherence that are associated with Vedic meditation have been found to correlate with mental development, emotional stability, self-awareness, self-development, and with lower levels of anxiety.
Meditators are consistently found to be happier, calmer, more energised, more creative and more productive.