#GraceTalks: Stress and Self
For our first #GraceTalks of 2018, we were joined by experts in mental health; Lucy Beresford, Grace Psychotherapist and host of LBC Radio Chat Show, and Jillian Lavender, renowned Vedic Meditation Teacher and Founder and Director of the London Meditation Centre. Together they explored the mammoth topic of stress – what it actually is, the effect it has on our health and coping mechanisms to create more peace, dissolve anxiety and gain emotional clarity in our daily lives. As part of our ongoing commitment to educating and inspiring everyone to be their healthiest self, here we share some of their key ideas from the night…
What IS stress?
A term used so often it’s almost lost significance; back in the days of our ancestors, stress was quite literally the difference between life and death. ‘Faced with a saber tooth tiger our bodies would release the adrenaline and cortisol needed to give us a burst of energy to run for safety,’ as Lucy highlighted. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, and while we don’t need to run away from saber tooth tigers today, we are constantly bombarded with stress from work, technology, news and hectic schedules. The same cocktail of chemicals which was released while being chased by wild animals now floods our bodies when we’re late for work and sitting in a traffic jam – something we can’t run away from. Maladaptation to this chemical reaction means that stress is stored in our bodies, which is where the problem begins…
What effect is this having on our health?
It is not news to anyone that stress has a damaging effect on our health and wellbeing. The demands of modern day life require us to adapt to a certain level of stress and as Jillian explained, ‘while it give us the opportunity to set goals, push ourselves and ultimately fulfil our potential, an overload of stress leaves us tired, wired and manifests in our physiology. Stress shows itself when we snap at our kids or start a fight over who’s turn it is to wash up.’
A build-up of stress quickly becomes apparent in our mental and physical health:
Illness and disease can be a red flag that our biochemistry is out of balance; stress weakens our immune system, increases the likelihood of depression, accelerates ageing and reduces cognitive function. Our blood pressure and heart rate increase as a result of cortisol which in turn increases the risk of heart attack. The overload of stress hormones on our nervous system also makes it difficult for us to get a good night’s sleep – a widespread problem evident in an epidemic of fatigue. These physiological effects have a direct impact on our mood and behaviour by heightening feelings of anxiety, restlessness and anger. This increases the likelihood of overeating, drug or alcohol abuse and social withdrawal – it can become a damaging cycle.
Help! What changes can we make right now?
Jillian and Lucy were both in agreement that meditation is a key tool in our arsenal for dealing with stress. To combat the agitating effects of stress we must put our bodies into an opposite state – deep relaxation. Vedic Meditation, Jillian explained, (which is meditating with a mantra and practised regularly by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry and Hugh Jackman) ‘decreases our metabolic rate to lower than the deepest point in a night’s sleep. By putting ourselves into a condition of profound rest, our bodies get the chance to recalibrate, repair and rebalance.’ Essentially, we are what we think, meaning that once our minds are in a state of relaxation, our bodies will follow suit into a hypo-metabolic state. This has been scientifically verified through EEG scans which show the change in brain activity during meditation. Meditation has been shown to improve concentration, slow down ageing and benefit cardiovascular and immune health. It also makes us happier, calmer human beings by increasing self-awareness and acceptance. The result is emotional clarity, dissolved anxiety, and a better response to daily stress – all attributes we could benefit from!
Jillian recommends meditating in the morning (she personally meditates for 20 minutes, twice a day) to set you up to deal with everything your day will throw at you. Many people new to meditation are concerned with finding the time to meditate, mindful of an ever growing ‘to do’ list. However, the improved cognitive function and neuro plasticity of your brain will actually help you gain time later in the day, as Lucy pointed out; ‘On a plane, we’re told to put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others, and the same is true for everyday life’. We’re in a much better position to be the best possible colleague, friend or mother if we’re feeling calm, strong and grounded in ourselves, which meditation ultimately helps you achieve.
At Grace Medical you can benefit from a wealth of psychotherapy, mindfulness, meditation and life coaching expertise. Find out more about:
- Lucy Beresford https://www.gracebelgravia.com/spaces/medical/?open=lucy-beresford
- Padma Coram https://www.gracebelgravia.com/spaces/medical/?open=padma-coram
- Victoria Macpherson https://www.gracebelgravia.com/spaces/medical/?open=victoria-macpherson
- Find out more about Vedic Meditation with Jillian Lavender at https://www.londonmeditationcentre.com