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Last Updated on May 9, 2018

Anxiety Help Through Meditation: How the ‘Here and Now’ Enhances Your Life

Anxiety Help Through Meditation: How the ‘Here and Now’ Enhances Your Life

Is there a “magic pill” that could solve all your stress and anxiety? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In a world that’s becoming increasingly more stressful, people are now experiencing the symptoms of stress and anxiety more than ever before.

Many of the solutions you’ll find on a typical Google search will tell you to “reduce stress” or “avoid stress,” but there’s a problem with that logic.

Not all stress is avoidable or reducible. So what are you left to do? Anxiety help is possible, and it’s as simple as adding a daily meditation practice to your life.

Read on to find out how practicing meditation for anxiety is a smart solution.

Crush Anxiety and Stress with Meditation

You may not be able avoid the stressful board meeting, the sales call, or your kids jumping off the bed, but you can strengthen your brain’s ability to handle and deal with your anxiety and stress. If you can build your stress-handling muscle, you’ll be better equipped to tackle your anxiety and your stress.

Do you want to learn how to reduce the feeling of stress and anxiety so you can start living your life again? Meditation may hold the key.

Meditation has become the go-to brain strengthening training for people like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, and Tim Ferris. In this article, I’ll show how meditation can help and how to get started, even if you’ve never meditated before.

Train Your Brain: Rewiring the Firing

Meditation isn’t just a spiritual practice. It’s more like a brain exercise.

If you want to build strong muscles, you need to go to the gym and exercise. Which muscles you choose to exercise will determine which muscles get stronger.

The same goes for your brain.

There’s a saying in neuroscience that says, “The brain wires the way it fires,” which means the more we participate in a specific way of thinking, activity, or habit, the more the brain will actually build more wiring to make that process easier the next time around.

When the brain is constantly stressed and anxious, it begins laying down wiring to make that process easier, which is the opposite of what you want.

So rather than trying to completely eliminate stress from your life, you need to train your brain to better resist and handle stress and anxiety.

Pump the Brakes on Stress

The brain has two modes of operation: Sympathetic (Fight-Or-Flight) and Parasympathetic (Growth, Health, and Relax). Imagine the sympathetic nervous system as the brain’s “gas pedal” and the parasympathetic nervous system as the “brake pedal.”

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Chronic stress and anxiety pushes on the “gas pedal” and hardwires your brain to become more sympathetic dominant (stuck in stress), which shuts off the parasympathetic mode (relax mode), making it more difficult to calm down, relax, and reduce anxiety and stress.

Meditation pushes the brake pedal and helps the brain strengthen the parasympathetic side of your nervous system, which helps you to restore balance and calm.

Mindfulness meditation, a meditation technique that emphasizes focusing on the present moment, trains the brain to shut off the signals producing anxiety and stress by simply doing something as simple as concentrating on your breathing. [1]

By focusing on the “here and now,” it helps the brain become more aware of the source of your stress and anxiety, while simultaneously training the brain to become more resilient against stress and anxiety.

Destroy Your Stress Hormones

When your brain is stressed, it promotes the release of cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, to help the body deal with your stress. It’s a healthy, natural response to stress for a short period of time; but, it is not meant to be a long-term solution to the work, financial, or relationship stress that may be causing it.

Chronic high levels of cortisol from stress and anxiety can interfere with your energy, slow brain performance, promote weight gain, and increase the risk of depression. [2]

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease your stress hormone, cortisol, which can help you feel more energized and healthy while simultaneously crushing stress and anxiety. [3]

Ramp Up Your “Feel Good” Chemicals

Not only does meditation lower the symptoms of your stress and anxiety, it also boosts the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier. [4]

Chronic stress and anxiety can lower your brain’s “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin, as well as your brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine.

  • Low serotonin levels can make you feel more sad, unhappy, lethargic, depressed, and anxious.
  • Low levels of dopamine can make you feel unmotivated, less resilient to stress, tired, and forgetful.

Studies show that meditation can increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, helping your brain not only crush stress, but allow you to feel happier, motivated, and energized.

Help Make Lasting & Positive Change

Do you feel like you are always stressed and anxious as though it is the preset mode of operation for your brain?

Would you like to be able to change that? Meditation may be the solution to lasting change and results.

Science has shown that the brain continues to change and reorganize itself throughout your lifetime depending on your lifestyle and your experiences. This is called neuroplasticity. One of the most influential promoters of neuroplasticity is a protein called Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF helps the brain produce more brain cells, create new connections in the brain, and helps protect the brain against damage and stress. BDNF can help your brain adopt new healthy habits easier, learn faster, and even promote a healthy brain.

Meditation can increase the production of BDNF and help your brain reprogram itself for less stress, less anxiety, and more happiness. [5]

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Make Your Brain Bigger and Stronger

So is meditation only helping you manage feelings and emotions?

It turns out that meditation does more than meets the eye. Not only can meditation make you feel less stressed and anxious, it can actually change the physical structure of your brain.

One study in particular found that regular meditation increased the thickness of the brain. A thicker brain is a stronger brain. [6]

One area of the brain that scientists discovered an increase in thickness was in the insula of the brain. The insula is thought to be a center for controlling consciousness, awareness, and emotion regulation.

This means that meditation can help you increase the work capacity of the portion of the brain that regulates your consciousness and emotions.

Put Yourself In The Driver’s Seat

Often times, people who are chronically stressed can feel “out of control” of their stress and anxiety and constantly feeling overrun by the source of their stress.

Anxiety and stress act like a fire alarm in the brain. When you are stressed, often your concentration is on the feeling or source of your anxiety, not the solution.

This can make you feel like a passenger in your own mind, constantly rebounding from your emotions.

Meditation teaches you to calm the constant fire alarm of stress to gain perspective and clarity on the solutions.

Meditation trains your brain to regain control over your thoughts and emotions, which allows you to get back in the driver’s seat with your hands on the wheel and control the direction and course of your mind.

Meditation Techniques When Your Brain Won’t Turn Off

1. 5 Minutes a Day Can Make a Major Impact

Little steps still lead to large goals.

When you first started working out, did you start with a full marathon?

Of course not. You trained your way up.

You can use the same strategy for meditation. You can start with just as little as 5 minutes a day, adding a minute at a time to progress further.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist Monk, meditating for hours a day, to experience the benefits mentioned earlier.

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Even if you are busy, you can still find at least 5 minutes during your day to step away and find a quiet spot to take some time for yourself and meditate.

“If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life.”
– Tony Robbins

Try meditating at different times of the day. Some people prefer morning, while others prefer afternoon or evening. Find what works best for you.

Start with meditating just 5 minutes a day and begin building up a minute at a time until you reach 20 minutes.

2. Box Breathing has Big Benefits

A simple yet powerful way to start is by concentrating on your breathing. This helps to block all distractions and bring your brain to the present moment.

Box Breathing” is a great technique to start with. Here’s how it works

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the top of your inhale for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the bottom of your exhale for 4 seconds.

*Repeat as often as necessary

.

Deep and slow breathing has been shown to activate the “brake pedal” of your brain, helping your brain to deactivate the stress response and activate relaxation and attention. [7]

Counting the time of your inhales and exhales helps to keep your focus and attention during your meditation.

3. Try Out Some Tools of the Trade

There is no shame in seeking help, especially when it comes to meditation.

In today’s modern age, you have access to more technology and resources than ever before. Why not use them to help make meditation easier and more effective?

Using helpful tools like the ones listed below can help you avoid distractions and help you stay consistent with your meditation.

Here are some helpful tools available that can help you with your meditation.

  • Guided Mediations: Youtube videos, CD’s, and podcasts can be a great way to get started and pick up new ideas for your meditation practice.
  • The Headspace App: The Headspace app is an Apple/Android app that has plenty of guided meditations to help you get started and continue your meditation practice in as little as 10 minutes a day.
  • Music: Find nice relaxing instrumental music that you can play through your headphones to block any distractions like dogs barking, the neighbor mowing their lawn, etc.
  • Classes: Many cities have local classes or meet ups, where you can go for free or for a small fee and get some guidance for the meditation. You can also meet other like-minded individuals who you can connect with.
  • Timer: You don’t want to have to continually check the clock to see if your time is up. Set a timer that will do that for you.
  • Advanced Technology: There is some amazing state-of-the-art technology available today such as Muse. Muse is headset that measures your brain waves and gives feedback during your meditation to help you stay on track, while also tracking how you are progressing.

4. Keep Consistent

In the beginning, it’s natural that your mind will begin to wander as you meditate. Don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens. Just bring your focus back and keep going.

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If you want to lose weight at the gym, do you think you’ll get results if you only go once a month?

Not likely.

The key to creating change in the brain is effort and consistency. Consistency is one of the most important factors in getting the benefits of meditation while making it a lasting practice.

Remember the saying mentioned earlier? “The brain wires the way it fires.”

In order to create new wiring and to feel more in control of your stress and anxiety, you need to consistently “fire” the brain enough times to stimulate your brain to rewire itself.

Over time, meditation will become easier and the benefits will last longer.

5. Take It One Step Further

As you become more comfortable with meditation and it becomes easier to calm your mind and focus, you are left with an amazing opportunity.

As you reach a state of calm focus, the brain waves change pattern and your brain becomes very attentive and receptive to what you put your focus on.

This gives you a great opportunity to start programming into your brain the things you want to achieve from your meditation.

For instance, you can start focusing your thoughts and attention on:

  • What you are grateful for
  • Positive affirmations
  • Visualizations
  • Mantras or sayings that are meaningful to you
  • Prayers

Where to Go From Here?

Meditation can have profound and long-lasting effects on your brain. There is a reason why some of the most successful and happy people have sworn by meditation as one of the most important influences on their life.

Meditation isn’t as complicated as it may seem and there are plenty of simple strategies, tools, and resources to get started even if you are brand new to meditating.

If you are ready to get back in the driver’s seat and get a hold of your stress and anxiety, there is good news for you. Anybody can do it and you can start with only a few minutes a day to start experiencing results. So go ahead and get Zen!

Featured photo credit: The Digital Artist/ Pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr Brady Salcido

Dr Brady is a Doctor, Podcast Host, and Brain Optimization Expert sharing how you can use your lifestyle to upgrade your life.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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