The Cure for Stress?

Life is stressful…for all of us.

Unfortunately for most of us, stressful events can cause an unconscious response in our “lizard-brains”…

amygdala The Cure for Stress?

The Amygdala’s response to stress

…leading to uncontrolled emotional states, anxiety, fear, depression, etc.

However, new research has uncovered how an eight-week beginners course in meditation can…

  1. Reduce activation in the right amygdala
  2. Improve your emotional stability
  3. Improve your response to stress

…which should lead to a calmer life, free of out-of-control emotions, fear, anxiety & depression.

And seeing as our lives don’t show any sign of slowing down & becoming more peaceful, this is some pretty important research.

The Science

The researchers studied the effect of two different styles of meditation.

  1. Mindful Attention Meditation
  2. Compassion Meditation
  • Three weeks prior to beginning the study, all participants participated in fMRI scans of their brains while “viewing a series of 108 different images of people in situations with either positive, negative or neutral emotional content”.

Meditation was not mentioned during this pre-experiment scanning session.

  • Three weeks after the scans, the participants were enrolled in one of two eight-week meditation courses – mindful attention meditation OR compassion meditation.
  • Three weeks after completing their meditation course, the participants returned for a follow-up fMRI scan.

As in the previous fMRI session, the participant viewed a a series of 108 different images of people in situations with either positive, negative or neutral emotional content while being scanned. Note – participants were not allowed to meditate during the scanning process.

Here’s what they found:

  • The mindful attention meditation group showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images – good, bad & neutral.
  • In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images
  • However, when negative images were shown to the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity increased.

From these observations, the researchers concluded that:

  1. Both forms of meditation provide “enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”
  2. “Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it makes sense that it could increase amygdala response to seeing people suffer.
  3. Since increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, they believe that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself.

Conclusion

  • To start getting the benefits of mindful meditation…the next time you find yourself with some spare time (waiting for the traffic light to change, sitting in the doctor’s office, riding in an elevator), focus on your breath…ignoring everything else…for just a few moments.

If you can do that…try extending the length of time…when you have the time.

  • And if you want to give compassion meditation a try (without signing up for a class), the next time you do a mindfulness meditation, try focusing on someone you love…and send out feelings of love out to them.

Kind of like a lot of us did as kids..

bedside prayer 255x300 The Cure for Stress?

Reference

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

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