Getting back to balance is easier than you might think.
For a long time, I was a stress ball. I bite my nails, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep, and I felt like every day I was battling a creature inside me. I call those days the “dark nights of my soul,” and I can say that stress made my pain, my anxiety, and my bladder symptoms worse. Every day felt like I was battling myself, and it left me feeling defeated. I felt like I was failing my family, my daughter, and my clients. I felt like a faker because I was recommending a certain lifestyle yet in private my life was falling apart.
Out of desperation and wanting to feel better, I went full out and tried the anti-anxiety drugs my doctor told me would help me. Guess what? These drugs didn’t help me at all. When I was on those drugs, I felt disconnected from my emotions like I was living in a dull world. Everything felt dim like my life had lost its shine even more. I knew I had to find a way to deal with my stress and anxiety. I wanted to feel like my old self again. I wanted to be there for my husband, my daughter, and for you, my SuperstaRR Queen.
If you also feel paralyzed by stress, you’re not alone. According to the 2019 United States of Stress report , which surveyed 6,700 Americans, 57% of its participants said “they are paralyzed by stress,” while 47% said “that their response to stress is to take it out on themselves.” I did this for many years so I get this. Blaming myself and feeling inadequate was my good to dealing mechanism. One day I had chest pains so I went to the emergency room and they checked me for a heart attack. Guess what? I didn’t have a heart attack; it was a stress attack. The truth is that 90% of doctor visits are stress-related, there is definitely a stress plague in the country.
Too many people feel overwhelmed, and turn to the common solution of medicating themselves into functioning. That’s what I did:( This is easy to understand. We all want to take care of our families, make a good living and contribute something positive to the world. There’s a better way to let go of stress and have everything you want in life. It’s called meditation. I know this may sound like woo but there’s actually a ton of research to support the benefits of meditation. Meditation is serious medicine that’s so easy to practice that I created a whole program dedicated to meditation and mindfulness.
What Happens to Your Body When You’re Stressed
Before diving into this easy solution, let’s explore where we are in the present for a moment because stress has a very real, physical impact on your body. When you feel stressed, your body gets the sense of an emergency situation, so it creates physical changes inside you to prepare you to either fight the emergency or to flight, to run away.
Stress hormones get released to your bloodstream, awakening you mentally. Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure increases, your perspiration increases, your five senses sharpen, and blood gets transferred from small muscles to large ones, like your arms and your legs, to enable you to save yourself.
Of course, all this is very useful if you face a bear in the wilderness, but if you are constantly stressed over bills, your spouse or your boss, you’ve got all this happening inside you 24/7. Your emergency stress response is “on” all the time. No wonder you feel so overwhelmed. And the longer this goes on, the more your brain gets rewired to adjust to this feeling of non-ending danger, the more vulnerable you become physically, and the more it’s challenging to leave anxiety behind, even if you are not clinically diagnosed.
If you feel stress has turned into ongoing anxiety, it’s always smart to consult with a doctor, but if you confirm that you’re healthy, it’s possible that you just need to take a moment and breathe.
Yes, I’m talking about meditation.
The Life-Changing, Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a breathing practice that enables you to be present in your life and create better peace. There are many ways to meditate, and many of them come with hidden physical benefits that help you take your new stress-free, calm and happy self to brand new levels.
Meditation Leads to Deeper Sleep
40% of people in the US get less than seven hours of sleep every night, and it’s only getting worse. “Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night, down more than an hour from 1942,” and the medical world recommends 7-9 hours, according to Gallup[ii]. The percentage of people who met this standard has gone from 84% in 1942 to 59% in 2013. Similarly, 43% of Americans in 2013 said “they would feel better if they got more sleep,” reported Gallup.
As work connectivity and social media usage continues to increase, it’s getting more challenging to disconnect, both physically and emotionally, and we’re all getting less and less sleep, let alone quality sleep. Meditation can help with that, as it’s been doing for years.
Back in 2009, a study brought together 11 people with chronic primary insomnia and divided them into two groups. One group got educated about health and sleep, the other practiced meditation. According to Science Daily [iii], “results indicate that patients saw improvements in subjective sleep quality and sleep diary parameters while practicing meditation. Sleep latency, total sleep time, total wake time, wake after sleep onset, sleep efficiency, sleep quality and depression improved in patients who used meditation.”
Meditation Increases Productivity with Sharpened Focus and Memory Abilities
One of the reasons we’re stressed and can’t sleep is because our to-do lists seem to have a mind of their own. They keep growing, keep requiring mental functioning abilities of us, yet the time we have to do them keeps shrinking. Thankfully, meditation can sharpen our focus and memory abilities, so we can get more done in less time, and have the peace of mind to sleep.
One study compared cognition abilities of people who went through four sessions of brief meditation training versus people who listened to a book in four sessions. Meditation won. “Brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning,” reported Science Direct[iv], indicating that “4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”
But meditation also improves your reading comprehension, including helping you concentrate on what you’re reading, which can also boost productivity. In a different study, two weeks of mindfulness and meditation training “improved both GRE [admission test for grad school] reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distancing thoughts during the completion of the GRE and the measure of working memory,” reported Psychological Science[v].
Meditation Fosters Better Leadership and Decision-Making Abilities
“The popularity of meditation… is… growing among CEOs and senior executives,” shared Emma Seppala, co-director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project, faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at the Yale School of Management, and science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, on Harvard Business Review[vi].
As she pointed out, meditation builds resilience, boosts emotional intelligence, improves your relationships and your creativity, and help you focus – all of which make a great leader. She talked to multiple business leaders, who explained how the benefits of meditation help them make better business decisions and drive better business results.
Alak Vasa, founder of Elements Truffles, for example, benefited from meditation when she was a stock market trader. When the market crashed and everyone panicked, Vasa was able to keep her “composure and propose solutions to reduce the impact of the market crash,” she told Seppala.
Research confirms that meditation helps you make better decisions, especially when your decisions might be impacted by past choices. For many of us, it’s hard to cut our losses, so we keep reading a book we don’t like, stay in a bad relationship we’ve already invested five or 20 years in, continue with medical treatments or business strategies that no longer serve us well, even if they once did. That’s very common and, according to the Association for Psychological Science[vii], even has a behavioral science name – sunk-cost bias.
Of course, as the leader of your company, family – or just the leader of your life – you want to make the best decisions based on current, not past, reality.
The answer here, too, is to meditate. Not even for a long time. Even 5 minutes can make a difference. In an online study, participants were asked to read 10 “sunk-cost” scenarios and report on what they’d do. According to the Association for Psychological Science, “participants listened to a 15-minute recording made by a professional mindfulness coach. For one group of participants, the recording led them through a focused-breathing meditation that repeatedly instructed them to focus on the sensations of breathing. The other group of participants listened to a recording that asked them to think of whatever comes to mind, a practice that is not a form of meditation.”
In the end, the meditation group was more resistant to the sunk-cost bias. They had less negative emotions about letting go of something that no longer served them, which made making the best decision for the present moment easier.
Meditation Gives You Improved Creative Intelligence
As you read above, one of the benefits business leaders told Seppala they found through meditation was increased creativity. And sure, if meditation leads to greater sleep and greater focus, your brain is freer to get creative. But turns out the science is deeper than that.
One of the most amazing things about meditation is that it strengthens and enlarges something called the corpus callosum, which is the thin white strip that literally connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The longer you meditate the larger the corpus callosum “giving you better focus, deeper thought, super creativity, excellent mental health, enhanced memory, and clearer thinking just the start (viii).”
What if You Just Don’t Have Time to Meditate, or Don’t Want to Sit in a Lotus Position?
As you can see in some of the studies, long term meditators gain a lot of benefits, but many of these benefits are accessible to brand new meditators who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. You can start with five minutes a day, wherever and whenever you can. No need for special equipment or apps, or to sit in pre-required positions, like the famous lotus position.
You can meditate on the train, on your way to work, looking out the window. You can meditate as you walk – that’s how I do it. You can meditate by counting your breaths in the kitchen before you start cooking. Or you can meditate while lying down in bed. I meditate every morning before I get out of bed for 15 minutes by simply focusing on my breath. These are just a few examples.
Meditation has so many benefits for your health. Don’t overthink and stress about the perfect way to do it. Just take three minutes today and start focusing on your breathing. Just three minutes.
It won’t be long until you rewire your brain, create health and creativity, and find it easier to feel happy and excited, and go after your dreams. I recommend you check out my Healthy MInd Workout and use the exercises and sound healing in this program to unstressed yourself so you feel like your old self again.
[i] The United States of Stress 2019 – Everyday Health
[ii] In U.S., 40% Get Less than Recommended Amount of Sleep – Gallup
[iii] Meditation May Be an Effective Treatment for Insomnia – Science Daily
[iv] Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training – Science Direct
[v] Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering – Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara via Psychological Science
[vi] How Meditation Benefits CEOs – Harvard Business Review
[vii] Mindfulness Meditation May Improve Decision Making – Association for Psychological Science
[viii] Harnessing Neuroplasticity: 9 Key Brain Regions Upgraded Through Meditation- Eco Institute