The bottom line - stress changes the brain.
Studies have shown that the part of our brain that helps process threatening situations, called the amygdala, can appear larger in people who are regularly stressed. Researchers have also seen that areas of the brain involved in rational thought and planning, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, can appear smaller.
Stress, it seems, can shrink the beneficial parts of our brains and enlarge the centres that dwell in stress.
Research has recently shown that the key to reversing these patterns in stressed people is meditation.
What do the brains of meditators look like? The exact opposite: more capacity for decision-making, less trigger-happy when faced with a perceived threat.
There have been hundreds of studies on mindfulness now and there’s very good evidence that it reduces stress and anxiety and that it reduces symptoms such as chronic pain and fatigue and that’s in healthy people but also in people with depression or people with serious illness. In addition, a regular meditation practice has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improves the body’s immune system, and increases serotonin—an immediate and effective mood booster.
It’s easy to build a meditation practice, too. Simply sit for 5 minutes and focus on your breathing. Let any thoughts float by in your mind and don’t get hung up on “perfection,”—in meditation, it doesn’t exist. As sitting gets easier, increase your time to 10 minutes, then 15 and beyond.
Meditation is a powerful tool in dealing with stress and is an exercise that doesn’t require any equipment or gym memberships. Resources are available in every bookshop, at your local library, and online to help you get started.