How Meditation and Mindfulness Can Help You Cope With Stress

Date: May 1, 2023

According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, many of us have been experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. Currently, the primary cause of stress for 83% of Americans is inflation. The recent financial worries are in addition to what’s been the main source of stress for Americans in 2021 and 2020: adjusting to life during the pandemic.

Another poll from the American Psychological Association found that 37% of Americans say this stress impacts their daily functioning and productivity, and 36% say it has a serious impact on their mental health.

To cope with this stress, it’s easy to turn to less-than-ideal habits, such as binge-watching TV, eating junk food or drinking alcohol. However, Abby Lott, PhD, psychologist and researcher at Emory Brain Health Center, suggests a healthier habit: meditation and mindfulness.

In the following clip from Your Fantastic Mind, Dr. Lott describes the health benefits of these two skills as well as how to practice them and realistically incorporate them into your daily life.

Note: This video was filmed in 2021 and references the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mindfulness is just being aware in the present moment in a non-judgmental way,” 

What Is Meditation and Mindfulness?

Meditation and mindfulness may sound similar, but they are not interchangeable terms.

“Mindfulness is just being aware in the present moment in a non-judgmental way,” says Dr. Lott. “That can look like a lot of different things but it is surprisingly hard and challenging to do.”

You can do anything mindfully: take a shower, go for a walk or even wash dishes. The key is to stay in the moment and pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and colors around you.

Meditation is one way to be present in the moment. It’s a very focused approach, and often revolves around breathing or a mantra.

Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness

Research on meditation and mindfulness is growing. From 1995-1997, there was only one randomized controlled trial that investigated meditation. That number jumped to 216 randomized controlled studies from 2013-2015.

These studies have pointed to the clear benefits of meditation. Meditation can help:

  • Reduce pain
  • Manage depression or anxiety
  • Enhance creativity
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Increase work productivity

Another fascinating area of meditation research indicates meditation can even help thicken regions of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

Mindfulness, too, has many benefits, starting with allowing yourself to have a more positive outlook.

“The idea of mindfulness is being in the present moment and experiencing things as they are – without trying to change things, rush through them or hold onto them,” explains Dr. Lott. “This can actually reduce negative experiences and enhance your ability to enjoy things in a different way.”

How to Practice Meditation

It may feel overwhelming or even impossible to carve out time in our busy, hectic days to practice a mindful skill like meditation.

“One of my biggest recommendations is that you need to embrace the chaos and be flexible in your practice,” says Dr. Lott.

Start with one minute of meditation, perhaps first thing in the morning.

“Give yourself just one minute when it feels like five minutes is too much and see what happens,” Dr. Lott encourages. “Pay attention to what’s happening: notice what’s going on in your body, where your mind is going and where your anxieties lie. Even one minute of meditation makes a difference.”

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind as you start your practice:

  • Find a comfortable, quiet space
  • Set a time limit
  • Notice your body – how your arms, legs, head and feet feel
  • Follow your breath as you inhale and exhale
  • When your mind wanders, redirect it back to your breath and body
  • At the end of your practice, notice how you feel and pay attention to your surroundings

One of the most common misconceptions is that when you meditate, you shouldn’t have any thoughts.

“Meditation is not about how many times your mind wanders or how many thoughts you have,” Dr. Lott says. “It’s actually about that act of noticing non-judgmentally and bringing your attention back to the present.”

Dr. Lott often compares meditation to exercise. “The act of gently bringing yourself back to the present is like doing reps in any workout,” she notes. “That practice is what strengthens you and enables you to be more present in your daily life.”

Give meditation and mindfulness a try. It may not change your circumstances, but, as Dr. Lott says, it may help lead to less stress and anxiety.

Learn more about the psychiatric conditions and services offered at Emory Healthcare or call 404-778-7777 for additional information.

About Your Fantastic Mind

Emory University and the Emory Brain Health Center have partnered with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) on a television series, Your Fantastic Mind, which features compelling stories about brain-related health and wellness.

Jaye Watson is the show’s host, writer and executive producer. She is an Emmy- and Edward R. Murrow award-winning veteran Atlanta journalist and video producer for the Emory Brain Health Center.

For a complete listing of seasons 1-4 episode air dates and times, visit emoryhealthcare.org/yfm.

Emory Brain Health Center

The Emory Brain Health Center uniquely integrates neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, rehabilitation medicine and sleep medicine and transforms patient-centered care for brain and spinal cord conditions through research and discovery.

Bringing these specialties together allows more than 400 researchers and clinicians from different areas to collaborate to predict, prevent, treat or cure devastating diseases and disorders of the brain more rapidly. These collaborations are demonstrated in numerous centers and programs across the Brain Health Center, including the Epilepsy Center, Pituitary Center, Stroke Center, Treatment-Resistant Depression Program and Veterans Program.

Emory’s multidisciplinary approach is transforming the world’s understanding of the vast frontiers of the brain, harnessing imagination and discovery to address 21st century challenges.

Learn more about comprehensive, diagnostic and innovative treatment options at the Emory Brain Health Center.

Schedule your appointment today.

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