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Mediation helps you deal with the fight-or-flight response

Tags: stress, antiaging

Much of what activates our primal “fight or flight” response is not something that will kill us - we just think it will.

Over and over again, we are exposed to situations that upset us or frighten us, and our sympathetic nervous system faithfully does its job by priming us for action. But workplace stress doesn’t warrant fighting or fleeing.

Neither does relationship stress, getting cut off in traffic (no, it does not warrant fighting!), financial stress, exposure to bad news and angry or frightening situations on the TV... there is very little in modern life that warrants this automatic response.

The body’s stress response (the function of the amygdala is very good at reacting extremely quickly to a perceived threat - but it is prone to errors and snap judgments, and an emotionally charged situation often elicits an over-reaction). It takes longer for the inhibitory center of the brain to analyze the situation and select the appropriate response - and we hardly ever give it the chance. The result is chronic stress.

Symptoms of chronic stress are digestive problems, confusion, sense of overwhelm, anxiety, insomnia, depression, aggression, intense emotional fluctuations, poor concentration, illness, disease, short attention span, hypertension and fatigue.

Meditation promotes a profound mind/body relaxation that releases built-up stress. Stress that builds up in the body has been linked to every major chronic disease.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system." Meditation affects the relationship between the amygdala (stress) and the prefrontal cortex (relaxation).

The amygdala responds automatically to a situation, and the prefrontal cortex makes us stop and think about that action. Meditation changes the relationship by stimulating the prefrontal cortex and suppressing activity in the amygdala.

Meditation develops our ability to choose when to respond automatically with “fight or flight” or choose a more benign response that does not have lasting emotional and physical repercussions.

We can control the way we respond to a situation. Of course we don’t want to eliminate the “fight or flight” response, because it is designed to keep us safe and alive - but we do need to modulate it with strong mental and emotional control.

The way to do that is to develop the mental mastery needed to change the way you perceive and interact with the world.

Meditation allows you to become less emotional about the world; not that you become numb or heartless, by any means - it just allows you to see a situation for what it is, instead of what your emotions tell you it is.

This kind of perspective is more conducive to rational decision making; similar to the “count to ten” philosophy of dealing with a situation, meditation lets you step back from the situation and look at it objectively.

The self-control that meditation teaches is also a great stress-buster. In any situation that is potentially stressful, you step back from it, and you choose how to respond. Then, you are not left with feelings of remorse or guilt because you said/did something stupid or mean in the heat of the moment.

A lot of our stress is due to guilt or other negative feelings about the way we’ve handled situations in the past. Meditation is the perfect time to look within, to become more self-aware, and to learn to accept yourself as you are. Self-awareness also leads to better choices.

And, meditation teaches infinite patience. Often, we try to rush things or we cause ourselves untold stress because of a certain time line we’ve made up in our heads. But sitting for an hour (or more) doing NOTHING, just being; not thinking, just being, means you can’t be worrying about the things you need to do, the things that might happen, and the things that already happened. You just let it go.