Why mindfulness & co is useful in stress management?

There are different techniques and ways to cope with stress and they depend on the individual preferences and circumstances. In general, it can be said that directly and consciously preventing, managing and releasing stress in a healthy way is recommended for physical and mental health. For some people it may be having a walk outside, for others it may be other activities they enjoy.

However, the techniques related to mindfulness have outstanding benefits that are especially helpful for personal stress management. We need to consider that our body and mind are very connected, and thus, influence each other. This is the main aspect to use specific tools to contribute to a better mental and physical health. I especially refer to – and by conviction regularly practicing – breathe work, yoga, and meditation. 

So what are their benefits? I listed 3 pluses the practice of the techniques have.

 

  1. Breathe Work:
  • Our breath automatically adjusts to different circumstances. If we are excited, angry, or stressed we breathe faster. If we are relaxed and sleepy, our breath is automatically slower. Reversely, breath work can directly change our current physical and emotional state (energizing, neutralizing, or calming) because we can consciously activate the sympathetic or/and parasympathetic nervous system which has a great effect on it.
  • Adults tend to develop wrong breathing patterns that do not allow them to fully release stress when it occurs. Constant stress levels are a threat for our immune system -  plus, due to the current COVID-situation our immune system may be already affected more than usual. And a weak immune system is a base for inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and other health issues. Being stressed implies higher oxygen levels, as we automatically breathe faster. Breathwork can help to consciously and actively release stress by controlling the oxygen levels in the body, and thus, boost the immune system.
  • Breathwork can influence concentration, focus, and productivity because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system regulating the autonomic response. When we feel productive our body releases dopamine – the „rewarding“ neurotransmitter. In return, we feel pleasant and motivated which contributes to a decrease in stress levels. It results in lower anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output


Yoga:

  • Further, yoga can contribute to a better (sitting) posture, as people usually develop a wrong posture when sitting for longer hours. A wrong posture can lead to malfunction of inner organs, deformation of the spine, a slipped desk, and many other physical problems. In return, this affects the mental and physical stress level.
  • Yoga can activate the sympathetic area of the hypothalamus (part of the brain). This part optimizes the body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli and restores autonomic regulatory reflex mechanisms associated with stress.
  • When we are under constant stress our cortisol levels remain high. Regular yoga practice increases serotonin levels – our mood stabilizer – which can promote a decrease in cortisol levels. 

 

Meditation:

  • Normally stress brings us into the survival mode „fight-or-flight“ which is our body’s automated stress response – increasing the adrenaline and cortisol levels and shutting down secondary bodily functions, such as digestion. Meditation affects the body in the opposite direction – it triggers the body`s relaxation response. We are in a calm state and stress levels decrease. This state is crucial in order for the body to repair itself and do allow the bodily functions to work properly.
  • Regular practice contributes to a better reflection of the automated and impulsive stress reactions which we mostly do not control. Meditation affects our prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex which brings clarity in our „default“ reactions so we can respond to stress differently – in a more controlled and healthy way. Thus, we can additionally prevent chronic stress.
  • Meditation can improve attention control, emotion regulation, self-awareness, and self-regulation which    in return can lead to a decrease in stress levels. 

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