Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation and Stress Management

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Meditation and stress

buddha head encased in tree rootsOne of the most common reasons that people cite for wanting to learn meditation is to reduce stress.

Stress is of course unavoidable, and the point of stress reduction and stress management programs is not to eliminate stress from our lives entirely. Life is always going to be full of challenges, and a life without some turmoil is not only impossible but is also undesirable.

Many stress therapists, of course, recognize that regular meditation and relaxation can be of significant help in reducing stress to manageable and healthy levels, and relaxation and meditation exercises are now widely taught. Many therapists and psychiatrists are taking up meditation themselves, not only so that they can teach it more effectively to others but in order to deal with the very stressful demands of their own jobs, which can result in burnout.

A considerable amount of research has shown that meditation has benefits on mental health, including a reduction in proneness to depression, an increase in emotional positivity, and an increased ability to deal with life’s inevitable stresses.

People often think of meditation as being nothing more than relaxation, and there is a famous book on meditation and health entitled “The Relaxation Response.” Meditation, however, not only involves relaxation (the cessation of unnecessary effort) but promotes mindfulness, which helps the stress-sufferer to recognize unhelpful patterns of thought that give rise to the stress response, and also involves the active cultivation of positive mental states such as lovingkindness, compassion, patience, and energy.

This section explores how meditation can help you to deal with your stress, and gives information on a program called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction”, or MBSR, which is a program developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, and which uses the principles of mindfulness meditation to help long-term pain sufferers learn to deal with their afflictions.

Comments

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Comment from rags
Time: February 15, 2008, 7:01 pm

Which method of meditation is most effective in dealing with low self esteem?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 16, 2008, 4:53 pm

Hi Rags,

Without a doubt lovingkindness and compassion meditations are the ones I’ve found to be best at dealing with self-hatred. I actually want to write a bit more fully about that, and when I do (perhaps tomorrow, although I have some childcare issues that may get in the way) I’ll post a link here.

(Later). OK, I had some free time and wrote about a practice that I found useful in the past. Perhaps you’ll find it useful as well.

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Comment from rags
Time: February 26, 2008, 2:05 pm

Thank you for taking the time to address my question. I will attempt your method and hope for the best.

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Comment from charlotte
Time: July 30, 2008, 5:48 pm

im a writer and i suffer from a fair amount of stress and tension. this can make my head feel overloaded and prevents me sometimes from connecting with what i want to put down on paper. i think it also makes me procrastinate at times! what would be the best meditation to help me to focus and shut out other distractions?

thanks in advance for any suggestions you may have!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 31, 2008, 11:08 am

The two most common forms of meditation (both taught on this site) are mindfulness and lovingkindness.

Mindfulness of Breathing will help you to let go of unhelpful patterns of thinking that lead to stress and tension.

Lovingkindness meditation will help you feel more positive about yourself and help you to judge yourself less.

You also might want to read the book “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg — it’s about writing, and it deals a lot with the ways in which our inner critic can end up strangling our inner creator. She of course offers exercises that helps us to prevent this from happening.

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Comment from charlotte
Time: July 31, 2008, 5:11 pm

thats great, thank you so much for the advice, and for this great website – so handy to find so much information in one place.

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Comment from Jane
Time: October 29, 2008, 1:17 pm

Hi
I’m very new to this. I am a single mum with 3 children of 15,12&9. I work part time, have a very busy life and quite often feel overwhelmed with every day life. I so wish I could learn to relax. I worry what other people think of me and my situation and I wish I didn’t worry so much about how I may appear to others. Will meditation help and what type?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 30, 2008, 8:37 am

Hi Jane,

Meditating can certainly help you become more relaxed and cope with the stresses of your life. You’ll have to set aside a little time — maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day. The two main practices we teach on this site — mindfulness of breathing and development of lovingkindness — would both help you. I’d suggest starting with mindfulness of breathing; it’ll help you to calm your mind and to let go of thoughts that induce stress. The lovingkindness practice is great for becoming less concerned about what we think others think about us.

I know this might sound shamelessly self-promotional, but my first CD (Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love) teaches both these practices and gets good reviews on Amazon. The meditations are each about 25 minutes long. I have another CD (Guided Meditations for Busy People) which has shorter sessions on it — mostly 8 to 9 minutes — and you could maybe fit a couple of those in each day.

Good luck! Three kids: don’t know how you do it! One’s a handful for me.

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Comment from deep
Time: November 6, 2008, 12:02 pm

hi,
i cannot keep my mind concerted in any thing. when i am thinking about anything my thinking track will be changed.
so i am interested in medidation. by which medidation i can keep my mind concerted in any thing.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 7, 2008, 10:00 am

I’d suggest that you look not only at meditation but at how you live your life in general. Watch out for multitasking, which fragments the mind, and try doing one thing at a time. Allow yourself periods of quiet. Have contact with nature. Read real books and not just the web. Keep your attention in the body throughout the day. Meditation helps, but it’s not a lot of use if the rest of your life is what’s creating the problem.

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Comment from Sharmila
Time: June 29, 2009, 6:34 am

HI, Just came across your website,at this moment I am going through a very rough patch, a relationship of 8 yrs just ended,he just closed the door shut without giving an explanation also things snowballed because i left my job to start my own business.Now I am so restless and anxious that i cant sleep and suffer from griping stomach and shortness of breath. i have tried hypnotherapy but it hasnt helped can you suggest a meditation that would help me rise above the pain and be peaceful and relaxed in everyday life. Thanks in anticipation. Shar

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Comment from Sunada
Time: July 1, 2009, 10:30 am

Hi Sharmila,
I’m sorry to hear about all your difficulties. It does sound like you have many things going on that would cause you restlessness and anxiety. First of all, I’d like to say that the pain you’re feeling is a perfectly human and natural reaction to the loss of your relationship — there’s nothing wrong with it at all! Grieving is a necessary part of healing ourselves after a loss.

But I sense that things have snowballed for you because now you’ve become anxious about the anxiety as you try hard to make the pain go away.

I’m sorry to have to say this to you, but meditation will not make pain go away, nor will it make you peaceful and relaxed if the pain and grieving is real and necessary. It’s not an anesthetic, nor should it be. What it DOES do is help us to see into our minds more clearly — so that we can separate out what is real pain and grieving (that we need to work with directly) vs the added anxiety that we put on ourselves by worry about it. As such, there is no meditation that will make the pain go away in and of itself. The closest I can suggest is the mindfulness of breathing, which is simply about slowing down our minds enough so that we can see more calmly and clearly.

I do think your situation is very complex, and I don’t feel it can be fully addressed in a simple blog comment or a meditation practice suggestion. I would suggest that you seek professional help, such as a therapist. If you think it might be helpful to speak with a Buddhist life coach, I would also be happy to talk with you further. You can reach me through my website at http://www.mindfulpurpose.com.

My best wishes to you,
Sunada

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Comment from Sharmila
Time: July 2, 2009, 4:17 am

Thank you Sunanda.I will get in touch with you.

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Comment from Drew Basek
Time: October 27, 2009, 11:15 am

Hi:

I just came upon your web site today. Looks great. I was wondering what your thoughts were about using meditation to help with OCD (which as you probably know is an anxiety disorder). I’ve also heard that “Left nostril breathing” for 20 minutes a day is also beneficial (but difficult). Have you ever heard of such a thing (I understand it’s 15 seconds in, hold for 15 seconds, exhale for 15, then inhale for 15, etc)? And what would YOU recommend for OCD? Can I obtain it from your site?

Thanks very much for your help!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 29, 2009, 1:45 pm

Hi Drew,

OCD isn’t something I know much about, I’m afraid. (“That isn’t something I know much about” could be my personal motto!). Certainly meditation generally, and the kind we teach here (mindfulness of breathing and lovingkindness meditation) help with ordinary anxiety and also with impulse control, which I’m guessing is a component of OCD.

The technique you mention is something I’ve heard of and I believe it’s from yoga. I’m not confident it would be of much use. What we need in order to overcome anxiety is to become more aware of how the mind functions to produce an anxious state, and even more to find out how to work with the mind to produce non-anxious states). The two meditations I mentioned would help in that regard. Mindfulness of breathing isn’t a breathing exercise, but is a way of using an awareness of the breath as the center of our experience so that we can let go of unhelpful thinking (or investigate our thinking, if that seems necessary).

You don’t mention if you’ve tried any therapies, but there are “therapeutic modalities” that include mindfulness training. MBSR is one, and MBCT is another. I’ll leave you to Google those…

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Comment from Mona
Time: February 4, 2010, 5:37 pm

I am a designer and I would appreciate if you could help me what type of meditation I can use in oredr to overcome my stress?

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Comment from Sunada
Time: February 5, 2010, 12:37 pm

Hi Mona,

Have you look at the mini-meditation techniques listed on this page? http://www.wildmind.org/applied/stress/meditation-for-the-very-very-busy

Or if you’re looking to take up a more formal meditation practice, I’d suggest you start with the Mindfulness of Breathing. You can find instructions for that on this site, or you could also sign up for one of our online courses if you’d like the help of a teacher (that’s me) and the support of classmates.

No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we can’t do more than one thing at a time. And we can’t sustainably keep running all day long from one thing to the next. When we practice of mindfulness, we begin to learn how not to jump on every impulse of urgency. We can slow down and do things more deliberately, without all the extra baggage of anxious thoughts adding to our stress. Practicing mindfulness is a good place to start learning how to go about things in this way.

Best wishes,
Sunada
http://www.mindfulpurpose.com

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Comment from Sam
Time: July 7, 2010, 4:59 am

Hi,

I am wondering if there are any specific meditations that might help me overcome claustrophobia, I tried to do mindfulness of breathing , but somehow focussing on my breathing made my lungs and breathing feel more difficult, especially when having a claustrophobic attack. I guess it exaggerated my reaction?

Thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 10, 2010, 4:37 pm

Hi Sam,

You might want to take a read of this article: http://www.wildmind.org/mindfulness/one/breath-control. We’ve all had problems at times with controlling the breath, and this is what worked for me.

You could also check out the peripheral vision exercise that you’ll find embedded as a video on the following page: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/stress/meditation-for-the-very-very-busy

I suspect both of these might be helpful.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 10, 2010, 4:44 pm

I should say that I meant the approaches above as a way of dealing with controlling the breath. I don’t know much about claustrophobia as a condition, but the expansiveness of the latter exercise might be helpful. Lovingkindness meditation — especially the expansive fifth stage, might also help.

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Comment from Neil
Time: November 11, 2011, 8:26 am

I have struggled with anxiety most all my life. I have practiced mindfulness meditation for eight years now and that helps. I try to sit two to three hours a day. I have also found the lovingkindness meditation very helpful, but that does not help my anxiety problem. What would you recommend?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 11, 2011, 9:48 am

Hi, Neil.

It’s impressive that you manage to meditate for two to three hours a week.

I’ve certainly found that doing lovingkindness practice as I go about my daily affairs has a big effect on my anxiety levels. I find it’s impossible to be cultivating lovingkindness toward people and simultaneously be worrying about what they might think of me. I’m talking here not of sitting practice (which no doubt helps too) but of cultivating lovingkindness as I walk around, etc.

Making sure that you breathe fully into the belly helps as well. It centers our experience and slows the mind.

Self-compassion is a vital practice: notice that you’re suffering when you’re in a state of anxiety. Locate the source of suffering in the body as specifically as you can. Send it thoughts of lovingkindness: “May you be well, may you be happy, etc.”

We have a couple of recent articles by Rick Hanson that you might find useful. One on Noticing that You’re Alright Right Now and another on Using Appreciation to Generate Inner Nourishment.

Along the lines of “Noticing that You’re Alright Right Now,” one thing I’ve been doing recently is to count my blessings. As a meditation practice, I become aware that I am in a building, safe and protected from the elements, and I say (inwardly) to the building, “Thank you.” I notice that I have plumbing, and electricity, and internet access around me, and I say (inwardly) to all these things, “Thank you.” I notice that my body is whole, and basically functioning, and even if there is illness present I know my body has the resources to heal itself, and I say to my body, “Thank you.” I notice that my senses are intact, and I say “Thank you.”

It’s important to actually make the sound of the words in your head. There’s something about articulating gratitude in the form of words that makes the emotion of thankfulness more real.

By focusing on what’s right in our lives, we take our awareness away from the things that we image to be wrong, or that we imagine could go wrong.

By there are many forms of anxiety, and sometimes they’re very specific and can be addressed with very specific antidotes, so it would help if you could identify your core anxiety. What is it that you most commonly fear? What’s your worst-case scenario? (For me, I used to suffer anxiety when giving talks. My fear was that people were bored with what I was saying. My worst-case scenario — nightmare scenario, really — was that people would start chatting amongst themselves, or would get up and walk out! I found ways to avoid that fear arising.)

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Comment from Neil
Time: November 11, 2011, 12:24 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa,

You are right – practicing lovingkindness helps me cultivate compassion for myself, my circumstances and others. My anxiety is the kind of anxious attachment…the fear of loss, abandonment and betrayal. That feeling has been with me since childhood and has never left. As Rick Hanson points out anxiety is the fear the bad things will happen in the future. The fear of the future.

Yes a portable or walking meditation practicing lovingkindness with deep belly breathing (my anxiety is located in the belly) is a good suggestion. Thank you for that. I will breath in the lovingkindness in to my belly.

I must confess that my anxiety seems more like a spiritual problem. Learning to let go of the persons and things I love most. Learning to hold them more loosely.

And yet the key to life is not to be more spiritual, but rather of human…more kind, more compassionate, more gentle, more loving.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 13, 2011, 11:54 am

Hi, Neil.

I think that to be more spiritual is to be more human and more compassionate. Otherwise what’s the point of spirituality?

Reflecting on impermanence full-on can be a very valuable thing to do. Research shows that when people reflect very directly on the death of those they love, they experience more love, kindness, and patience. When we only acknowledge death “out of the corner of our eye,” so to speak, we experience fear.

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Comment from Jessica T.
Time: December 30, 2011, 3:52 pm

Thank you for this great article. I try to meditate on a daily basis and it sure gives me a feeling of calmness and control and being balanced. It sure reduces stress and tension and things that used to irritate me just does not seem that important anymore.

Jessica T

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Comment from cookie
Time: June 18, 2012, 12:10 pm

Hi – To outsiders, it may seem that I lead an accomplished and exciting life. I almost always get the jobs that I want, am in a marriage of 20 years with 2 gorgeous children, travel a lot… In being honest with myself, I know that I am not the person that I want to be, not the mother or wife that I am capable of being, not the always colleague or partner that brings peace. I am dreadfully fearful of feeling regret in my life (I already do) for not getting to the bottom of my underlying anxieties and fears, often related to money issues. I’ve seen therapists before but I never feel that I am capable of really getting to the core of the issues that I need to tackle. I attack the surface, but not the core and so these feelings return upsetting not only the truth that I seek in myself but my marriage as well. Could meditation help me, finally, to put certain anxieties behind me and become the person that I really want to be?

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Comment from vishal
Time: June 25, 2013, 2:29 pm

I am 27 yrs old.
I am suffering from excessive anxiety ,OCD and Phobias.
I get tensed if i read any newz regarding ,robbery,murder,rape, etc . and starts thinking about this issues and get tensed about thinking that what i will do when such things will happen to me or my dear ones because i am very fearful person and afraid of qurraling with other thinking that they will kill me…Please kindly suggest me some mediation on this issues, i am becoming very sensitive and all this thing are ruining my life.I feel like commiting suicide…Thank you very much

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 25, 2013, 3:19 pm

Hi, Vishal.

A classic antidote to fear is lovingkindness (metta) and joyful appreciation (mudita). We have an extensive guide to lovingkindness practice on this website, and if you check out the posts listed on this page, you’ll find some teachings (including videos of guided meditations) from days 51 to 76.

This really works, and helps us to focus more on the good in the world, rather than what’s wrong.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from vishal
Time: July 2, 2013, 5:36 am

Respected sir,
Thank you very much sir for your reply.
sir i also want to know that is it possible to change fearful nature of a person like me to brave person.
In other words can we make a feary, very poor confidence person to brave and confident person.Is it possible through mediatation??
Thank you

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 2, 2013, 8:35 am

Moving from being a fearful person to a confident person is very common. Apparently Gandhi himself was so fearful in his early life as a lawyer that he was almost unable to speak in court. I’d suggest looking at Amy Cuddy’s TED video, which shows how we can change our hormones and emotions by changing our posture, and in that way increase our confidence.

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Comment from Ray
Time: July 17, 2014, 12:42 pm

I havew been strugling with PTSD. Most of the current thoughs on PTSD do not connect meditation with symptom relief for PTSD. I have been trying to meditate, but seem to get caught in thoughts. Any advice would be helpful.
T

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 19, 2014, 11:13 am

Have you tried using the search function on this site, Ray? We’ve covered at least ten news stories about the use of meditation to help with the symptoms of PTSD, and those might give you some encouragement, and possibly some leads to resources.

I’m hesitant to give advice, because PTSD isn’t something I’m familiar with. In general, though, meditation offers us an opportunity to reassure the more emotionally reactive parts of the brain. Lovingkindness practice can, in particular, be a powerful way of taking care of the parts of us that are suffering. More specifically, though, I’d suggest the practice of self-compassion. I recently participated in a webinar on that topic, and you might find that useful.

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Comment from Antonio
Time: July 30, 2014, 4:11 am

Hello, Bodhipaka
I have a bit of an unusual problem regarding anxiety that has proven to be a challenge in my meditation. I am fairly easily startled and very self-conscious about it, so many guided meditations that use a not-so-gentle noise to signify the end, that that’s what my mind locks into. My chest tightens, heart rate rises as I anticipate the noise. I know that I should sit with this feeling and examine it, but so many times the anxiety pulls me down under the current with a flood of negative thoughts that I’m not able to be mindful of it like I should. This isn’t something that just comes up in meditation. During the day, the fear or anticipation of a loud, sudden noise can sometimes take me out of the moment I’m in. Should I meditate on the anticipation of such things? Sometimes I fear that doing so would fuel the fire that is already burning. I wish I didn’t have this pride that makes me so afraid of showing weakness around others.

Best wishes,
A.R.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 30, 2014, 2:13 pm

Hi, Antonio.

Given that you’ve used an obviously fake email address, you’ll probably not receive any notification that I’ve replied, and so I’m probably wasting my time because you’ll never see this. What’s that about anyway? “I trust you to help me with my meditation practice, but I think you might be a spammer”?

Anyway, on the off-chance that you do see this, I’m sorry to hear that you experience such anxiety over noises. I’d be curious to know if this is something you’ve always experienced, or whether it’s something that’s grown over time. Some people have a strong startle response from childhood, and I suspect that although that can be toned down, it’s a more entrenched habit than a startle response that’s been learned in adulthood.

Generally, though, yes: do try noticing your anxiety as you anticipate the bell. See if you can notice the first signs of discomfort, notice as best you can where they are in the body, and send that part of yourself love and reassurance. You can say things like: May you be well and happy. Or: Let me feel this. It’s OK to feel this. Or: It’s OK. We’ve been through this before. We can handle this.

Any emotional reassurance is likely to be helpful, and using your thinking in this way will make it less likely that your mind will be hijacked by thoughts that create worry.

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Comment from Antonio
Time: September 24, 2014, 5:16 pm

It’s nothing personal, I don’t give out my email unless absolutely necessary. Thank you very much for your thoughtful response, Bodhipaksa. The startle response has always been there to some degree, but I think it has become a negative habit/obsession in adulthood. I know that everyone’s experience is unique, but I am overcome with feelings of isolation and guilt when these anxious feelings arise because of how absurd they seem.

Thanks again,
A.R.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 24, 2014, 11:20 pm

I’m glad you got the response. Sorry if I sounded snippy!

It’s wise to consider that although these anxious responses may be maladaptive and unhelpful, there are reasons for them taking place, even if we’re not sure what those reasons are. And it’s certainly not that you’ve decided to have them, so there’s really no need for shame.

Have you tried putting the advice I gave into practice? I find that self-compassion is a very powerful practice.

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