When we live in a busy city, it's easy to get caught up in the constant activity that our environment requires. From the rush of early morning traffic to lunch hour queues, it seems that we are always racing towards a goal.
Digital technology has made our lives convenient. Yet, this convenience may backfire and bring us more stress. It is so easy for us to work from our devices. Even as we wait for a taxi, we can contribute productively to a project.
The expectation to respond quickly or be in the know' is higher than ever. Coined as 'fear of missing out or FOMO, this modern-day hyper fixation on being productive inflicts all digital warriors connected to the broader world via a mobile device.
The pandemic allowed most of us to unplug as work and study routines are disrupted. We find ourselves with more time to spend on dinner and less time on running for the trains. But as Covid-19 measures ease, this strange unfamiliarity back into a 'business as usual' schedule can be jarring for some. You might feel some fear and anxiety about heading back to the workplace. It is essential to help manage these feelings while coping with dynamically changing situations.
Meditation is one way to help you balance. It might not eliminate your traffic stress or your nervousness at having to conduct face to face meetings again, but it can provide the mental shift needed to equip and brings inner peace and calmness.
Here are three more reasons why you start a meditation practice:
1. Meditation improves your mental health.
Extensive research has demonstrated that meditation improves mood and quality of life. It also increases your working memory and makes you more focused at work. Overall, it enhances emotional regulation.
Your working memory is your cognitive system in the pre-frontal cortex of your brain. It is where your brain makes sense of new information and stores it temporarily. Working memory facilitates our reasoning ability and guides our decision-making and behaviour.
But attention and working memory are two different things. When you pay attention to information, your working memory categorises and becomes relevant to your brain. For that to happen, you need to strengthen your ability to concentrate.
Research has found that when people practise mindfulness meditation for ten minutes daily, they concentrate better and keep the information active in their working memory. The brain becomes more efficient at storing new information and requires fewer brain resources to do these tasks.
Apart from your working memory, meditation also helps to decrease activity in your amygdala and default mode(DM) network.
The amygdala is the neural region that regulates concentration, memory and emotions, such as fear, anger and sadness. Although "feelings" are not inherently bad, they can affect how you act, leading to worse consequences.
The other region, the default mode network, is the part of your brain responsible for daydreaming and other distracting, wandering thoughts.
While we do need to go into DM mode to think of new ideas, for some of us, going into DM mode may lead to unnecessary fear or worry as we overthink.
Establishing a daily meditation practice can decrease activity in these two brain regions, consequently calming our minds, thoughts and emotions. You may experience a sounder sleep, less anxiety and a more positive outlook on life.
2. Meditating can help your heart.
When you're having a stressful workday or are overwhelmed at home, "stress hormones" (cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine) are released. These hormones accelerate our heart rates and blood pressures, preparing our bodies for the perceived challenges coming our way, also known as our "fight-or-flight" response. This cardiovascular stress can lead to kidney damage, heart disease, heart attack and stroke – some of the leading causes of worldwide death.
Meditation activates our bodies' "rest-and-digest" functions, which counteracts our "flight-or-fight" responses. The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the
"rest and digest system". It functions to conserve the body's biological activity, relaxing the individual once the emergency has passed. The parasympathetic nervous system decreases the arousal of your stress hormones.
Integrating meditation into a daily routine has been linked to lower heart rate and blood pressure, which may reduce your risk of heart disease.
3. You can meditate to help yourself feel healthier.
Our nervous system is not very clever at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats.
When you argue with a friend, stress over a work deadline, or your bank account, research shows that your body can react just as strongly as if you're held at gunpoint.
When we're feeling frantic, distressed or overwhelmed, our body deems many functions as 'unimportant' and divert energy elsewhere. But your body may shut down necessary functions, such as our immune, digestion, reproduction and growth systems.
If you are stressed frequently, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress, leading to serious health problems. Your body may react by suppressing your immune system, upsetting your digestive and reproductive systems, increasing your chances of heart attack and stroke, and speeding up the ageing process.
Scientific studies show that constant stress can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, leading to missed periods. It might lead to a fall in testosterone levels for men, affecting sperm count.
Furthermore, the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.
Meditation can help halt these misguided messages. By practising regularly, we can soothe our nerves so that our body systems can function normally and not be in a constant state of stress-shutdown mode.
Some physical health benefits of meditation include: