January 17, 2024

Meditation: Giving stress a time-out

By Anna Sharratt

Stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Here’s a low-cost, easy stressbuster: meditation.

Canadians are a stressed bunch. According to Statistics Canada, 21% of Canadian employees say they experience high or very high levels of work-related stress. That means there could be 4.1 million adults who are working with high levels of stress.

Workplace stress often leads to feeling burned out, anxious, depressed and unhappy. Physical symptoms are also common. This can include muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, racing heart and high blood pressure. Some people have panic attacks, which are bouts of extreme anxiety.

Catie Fenn knows all about the cumulative effects of stress. An ambitious type-A personality, she finished law school and became a Bay Street lawyer in Toronto. But the fast-paced lifestyle proved challenging and unrewarding. So Fenn decided to take a big step back – not abandoning her job in law, but also becoming a meditation teacher. It allowed her to work with clients in roles similar to her own.

“Most of the people I work with are high achievers and professionals,” says Fenn. “I typically work with people who have a lot of stress in their lives.”

Benefits of meditation

Fenn often leads her clients in meditation workshops. There she teaches them how to take a few minutes each day to disconnect. To find quiet and breathe, paying careful attention to each breath. Visualization can also help people who have a lot on their minds, says Fenn. This is where you picture a tranquil setting to help relieve stress and even fall asleep.

In addition to providing a calming moment in the day and refocusing thoughts, studies show that meditation can change the brain structure, says Fenn. Other studies show that it can change brain functions.

A study by Harvard University researchers found that grey matter in the hippocampus increased in size in participants who undertook an 8-week meditation program. The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Grey matter also increased in the parts of the brain responsible for feelings of compassion and self-awareness.

Whereas grey matter in the amygdala, which generates feelings of anxiety and stress, was reduced in size.

And according to the Mayo Clinic, the emotional and physical benefits of meditation can include:

  • Lowering negative feelings, including stress and anxiety.
  • Reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Improving sleep quality.
  • Getting new perspectives on stressful situations.
  • Boosting self-awareness.
  • Increasing patience.

How long should I meditate to reduce stress?

Fenn says meditation doesn’t have to be a big commitment. All it requires is a quiet, comfortable area where you can sit or lie down. Breathing exercises can be as simple as breathing in 2 breaths while saying “Let” and exhaling on “Go.”

She suggests starting small, aiming for 2 minutes a day for 30 days. “Start meditating consistently – work your way up from that.”

She says most of her clients aim for 10-20 minutes a day, up to 2 times a day. Many share they can handle stressful situations more effectively and are calmer when dealing with everyday stressors.

Remember, it will take a while to master the art of meditation. But even a few minutes of meditation a day can have immediate benefits. It will also help you be more mindful throughout your day.

Does your workplace have a wellness program as part of your workplace health and benefits? See if it includes workshops on meditation and other stressbusters.

This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.

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