Meditation Strengthens This Key Skill for Stress Management

As mindfulness and meditation practices continue to emerge in mainstream culture, a growing number of individuals are experiencing the multitude of benefits that come from incorporating them into a daily, or weekly routine.

At the same time, as our lives become more complex and interconnected with technology, stress often manifests in harmful ways. Stress is one of the leading causes of mental and physical disease, and is estimated to be behind more than 75% of all physician office visits, per the American Psychological Association.

A recent study, outlined by MindBodyGreen and published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology, has shown that people who meditate also possess a vital skill in dealing with stress, due to particular emotional regulation strategies that are strengthened through meditation.

The study looked at 29 individuals who had been meditating regularly for a minimum of three hours a week over the course of three years, and 26 individuals who did not meditate at all. A stress-inducing test, described as a “social-evaluative threat,” was given to both groups, and researchers found that the long-time meditators responded better on both a psychological and physiological level.

The time it took for the cortisol hormone to drop down to normal levels was faster for meditators than non-meditators. Cortisol is nature’s built in alarm system, flooding the body after a threatening or stressful incident. High levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure, fatigue, poor sleep, intestinal issues, migraines, and other harmful side effects.

The researchers attributed cortisol recovery from stress to an ability to regulate emotions. In comparison to the meditation naive control group, meditation practitioners experienced fewer self-conscious emotions after the social stress. The long-term meditation practitioners also scored higher on adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies, such as acceptance and positive reappraisal, and lower on maladaptive ones, such as catastrophizing.

The most important skill in managing stress that the meditators possessed was acceptance, according to the researchers.

“These results suggest that meditation practice is associated with faster recovery from stress due to the employment of adaptive emotion regulation strategy of acceptance, delineating a pathway underlying the positive effects of meditation on stress,” read the report.

Liudmila Gamaiunova, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Lausanne and one of the study’s authors, describes acceptance as “non-judgment and receptivity towards our experiences.” Acceptance is resisting the habit of labeling things as good or bad, treating ourselves and broader situations with compassion, and letting go so that we can move forward without hindering ourselves by replaying a past scenario over and over again in our minds.

One of best ways to practice self-acceptance is to stay present, instead of comparing or worrying about the past and future, and acknowledging where we are now. Given presence is a pillar of meditation, it’s no surprise that a steady practice can help sharpen this key strategy for dealing with stress.