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Relieve Tension with Meditation


Fit in some mindfulness to help alleviate stress


By Brittany Doohan


You don’t need to go on a weeklong meditation retreat to help calm the effects of stress and anxiety. Research shows that even a fairly short mindful meditation practice may make people more resilient when they’re under mental stress.

In a study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, one group of participants was asked to perform simple breathing exercises and keep their attention on the present moment — for just 25 minutes a day, for 3 days. Another group was asked to analyze poetry for the same amount of time, to help improve their problem-solving skills. All of the participants were then given stress-inducing speech and math tasks. The group that had practiced mindfulness reported that they felt less stressed before these tasks, which may show that the exercises helped them be more resilient in the face of psychological tension. 

Ready to give it a try? Start with a mix of these calming activities:

  • Focus on your breathing. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy. Then, take a deep breath in through your nose, ensuring your diaphragm (the muscle above your belly), moves enough to make space for your lungs to stretch. The goal: 6 to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute, for 10 minutes each day.
  • Envision a ball rolling up your body. Sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Visualize a glowing ball at your toes. With your mind, move the ball slowly up your body, letting it massage you. Focus on each body part and how the ball feels on that body part. Eventually work your way up to the top of your head (don’t forget your arms and fingers!). When you’ve covered your whole body, imagine the ball bursting into a million tiny balls that trickle down your skin and disappear once they hit the floor. 
  • Appreciate the present. Got 5 minutes? Instead of checking your Facebook page, look out a window and express gratitude for everything you see. Does the sky look particularly beautiful? Are you grateful for the weather today? Giving thanks helps you appreciate what’s good in your life, and can help transform your whole experience of stress.

If you have a chronic condition and because of it your stress is more intense, research shows mindfulness can help with that, too. A 2010 Australian review of studies revealed that following a structured meditation program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) helped people with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease cope better with their symptoms, enjoy a better quality of life, and even have better health! Learn more about MBSR.


Published on April 21, 2016. 


Brittany Doohan is a health and lifestyle writer and editor living in San Francisco.

Dmitry Berkut/iStock/ThinkStock
Reviewed by Shira Goldenholz, MD, MPH on April 14, 2016.
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