We all lead much busier lives these days, as I have said in one of my previous blogs, most people do not have time to take a bath. We are constantly being bombarded with stimulation from TVs, computers, iphones etc. This means our brains have to process more information throughout most of the day and probably through the night as well. Because our lives are much busier, it means that we constantly have to plan ahead to avoid forgetting to do something or making sure we feel prepared for whatever lies ahead. On the flipside, some people are also prone to ruminating about something that has happened in the past. It may have been something someone said that you didn’t like or weren’t sure why they said it, but you continue to analyse it for quite a while after they’ve said it.
If you have a tendency to analyse things that have happened in the past or you plan ahead to make sure you are in control of the future, this may lead to feelings such as anxiety. We might begin to feel we can’t cope with everything we’ve got going on and the planning ahead is becoming difficult. Going over something again and again can also produce stress. Anxious feelings are produced by the emotional parts of the brain, such as the amygdala and limbic system. If these feelings build up to too high a level, the emotional parts of the brain may decide to trigger some pain as a way of protecting you from whatever you feel anxious about. The pain is produced to distract you from these feelings or to protect you from having to do too much.
We can actually see these changes occur in the brain with the use of functional MRI scans. A functional MRI scan allows us to see which areas of the brain become more active in certain situations. Studies have shown that in people with chronic pain, the emotional parts of the brain, like the amygdala and other parts of the limbic system become more overactive. A similar pattern of brain activity is also shown in people who have trait anxiety. The emotional parts of the brain become too powerful and start to make decisions for us out of our conscious control.
This is where meditation fits in. If you are new to meditation, it is not all about chanting and chakras. Boiled down, mediation is all about ‘being in the moment’, not living for the moment, but getting your brain to focus on where you are right now. The main focus of meditation is to get you to focus on your breathing. Whilst doing this your brain doesn’t plan ahead, it can’t think about what time you’ve got to get the kids to sports club and that you’ve got to remember to pick up some potatoes for dinner that evening. If you are able to do this and concentrate on your breathing you will naturally start to feel more relaxed. You will probably notice that after a while your resting heart rate will decrease. It is important to mention here that you shouldn’t try too hard to relax, if you put yourself under pressure it will lead to stress.
The amazing thing is that we can also see the changes occur in the brain when people have practiced meditation for a certain period of time. The emotional parts of the brain begin to switch off! People’s pain tolerance also increases! And this is just by concentrating on your breathing and by being in the moment. So I think everyone should meditate, even if it’s for 10 minutes a day, it doesn’t cost you anything and it’s great for reducing anxiety and helping with pain.
Below are some studies which show the benefits of meditation:
If you are interested in learning how to meditate, then there is a great website called ‘Get some headspace’. It explains how to meditate in a very simple way and also provides some useful information as to how meditation works. Here’s the link:
Give it a go, it could be a revelation!