If the last 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is the new norm. And with so much going on, self-care has never been more important.
It’s been challenging to build consistency and reassurance into our daily work, finances, relationships, and routines. So, it’s no wonder so many of us feel disheartened! One of the few silver linings during the pandemic has been the explosion of interest in self-care. Here’s why we should practice it, and how it can improve our overall well-being.
So What is Self-Care, Exactly?
Well, self-care looks like different things to different people.
Self-care can look like this:
- Getting a massage
- Take five minutes just for you in the morning as you sip your coffee
- Watercoloring, painting, making art
- Working out
- Focusing on your breath
- Taking a warm sudsy bubble bath
- Singing your favorite songs
- Reconnecting with a close friend
Self-care can even look like having a Risky Business dance montage as Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock n’ Roll plays in the background!
Really, self-care practices are quite broad! They range from personal hygiene or nutrition to socializing with friends or taking time to reconnect with yourself. Ultimately, it’s a practice of tuning into your needs and finding a practice that helps you achieve those needs. This might seem simple, but in practice, understanding your needs can be the most challenging part for some of us.
Muse’s Recommendation for Self-Care
It should come as no surprise to anyone that our favorite form of self-care here at Muse is meditation…duh! Meditation is key for developing inner clarity and helps us learn skills to reduce stress and anxious thoughts. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of research to back it up.
Before exploring how meditation supports anxious thoughts and stress relief, let’s quickly review how chronic stress and anxiety affect our health.
Stress & the body
When we’re stressed or anxious, our body enters fight or flight survival mode and releases a hormone called cortisol. When maintained for short bursts, our body is able to quickly recover and return to normal, balanced functioning.
But when we get stuck in a cycle of chronic stress, our body gets stuck in flight or fight mode. Left unchecked, chronic stress leaves our bodies out of balance. Over time, certain systems can become stuck in hyperarousal.
At the same time, other “non-essential” systems (like the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems) suffer from diverted resources. When left unchecked, we can feel unfocused, emotional, and withdrawn .
Because stress affects so many biological processes, chronic stress can also contribute to :
- Decreased immune system function
- Type II diabetes
- Heart disease
- Addiction (alcohol, substances, food, gambling, etc.)
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
So if you’re wondering if prioritizing stress relief is worth it, you’re on the right path. Stress is something we can only ignore for so long until it forces us to stop and pay attention. Luckily, you can avoid these negative consequences of chronic stress and anxiety by making self-care a staple of your routine!
Why Choose Meditation for Stress Relief
Research has finally been catching up with what anecdotal evidence has suggested for years. Meditation is a restorative practice that can offer quite a number of benefits. Research suggests just five minutes of meditation a day can benefit you!
For instance, consider one study that set out to explore how short meditations could impact mental health professionals. They found that just one five minute session seven days in a row led to significant decreases in stress . Another review published by Johns Hopkins University found that mindfulness meditation programs showed moderate improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain .
How does meditation help with stress and anxiety management?
Most of us recognize the popularized benefits of meditation — greater focus, self-awareness, clarity, inner peace, and stress relief. This is because meditation actually alters our brainwaves to cultivate different mental, emotional, and physical experiences.
For example, a state of anxiety or stress is typically associated with increased beta brainwaves and decreased alpha brainwaves. When we learn to notice these mental states, we’re better able at tapping into them. Which makes it easier to transition from stress to relaxation.
Additionally, meditation can actually change your brain chemistry and how your brain responds to stress!
5 Reasons Why Meditation Should Be a Staple of Your Self-Care Routine
1. Meditation helps us respond better to stressful situations.
A Muse study found meditation paired with neurofeedback training led to reductions in anxiety, stress, mental fatigue, and anger. Additionally, participants experienced increased efficiency in information processing!
2. Meditation preserves brain health as we age.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles decided to explore whether brains differed between expert meditators and non-meditators. In their work, they found that meditators actually had greater volumes of gray matter . Gray matter loss is a natural aging process that is associated with cognitive decline and loss of fine motor skills. It’s also linked with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, making meditation an attractive preventative method to preserving your brain’s health.
3. The effects of a meditation practice rival those of antidepressants.
That meta study of over 18,000 studies on meditation that we mentioned above? Researchers also found the effect size of meditation on anxiety, depression, and pain to be 0.3, considered moderate. While this may seem low, it’s important to consider that the effect size for many antidepressants also sits at 0.3. This suggests meditation can be just as effective as medications for anxiety and depression .
4. Mindfulness meditation actually changes the structure of your brain.
Researchers at Harvard found that eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction increased cortical thickness in certain regions of the brain. These regions included those responsible for memory and learning (hippocampus), self-referential processing, and emotional regulation.
Additionally, the brain’s fear center (the amygdala) showed signs of shrinking. These shifts in brain structure were confirmed by self-reported experiences of decreased stress and increased calm by participants. This suggests meditation offers a promising pathway to improved wellbeing .
5. Mindfulness meditation acts as a buffer against stress and increases positive states of mind!
A team of researchers in Sweden set out to explore the impact of mindfulness meditation across 1,000 participants. They found mindful meditation was associated with decreased stress and anxiety, and increases in positive mental states.
They suggest the increased resilience and positive mental experiences result from awareness and non-reactivity to emotions trained by meditation .
To sum it up: Meditation offers a great pathway to learning more about your inner world. In this way, it can help you train your ability to cultivate more positive mental experiences. You can pair meditation with neurofeedback, like the Muse S headband, for greater insight and understanding of your mental states.
We’re Thrilled to Announce Our Partnership with Jack.org!
Jack.org is an amazing charity working to revolutionize how we approach mental health through talks, chapters, and summits. Jack.org mission is to empower young adults and dismantle obstacles to positive mental health.
As staunch advocates for mental health, we at Muse couldn’t have been more excited to collaborate with Jack.org. To support their work, we’ve donated 100 Muse S headbands to aid in their mission to improve mental health country-wide.
Learn more about how Jack.org is changing the way we approach mental health across Canada.
- Learn about chronic stress with Yale Medicine HERE >>
- Discover the impact of a five minute meditation on mental health professionals HERE >>
- Read a systematic review of meditation programs for stress and wellbeing HERE >>
- Explore UCLA’s study on grey matter volume and meditation HERE >>
- Learn about mindfulness meditation and changes in the brain HERE >>
- Discover the connection between mindfulness, positive states of mind, and wellbeing HERE >>