It doesn't cost anything and can be done in the comfort of your own bedroom. We spoke to stress and anxiety expert Fraser Collins, who wrote an e-book No-Mind about how meditation can help - he was inspired to write the book after reading about how Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities used meditation to create calm in their busy lives.
He says: "It is estimated that we have around 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day and that around 70% - 90% of the thoughts we have are negative – thus creating huge levels of stress and anxiety. So the challenge is how we reduce these thoughts?"
Can meditation help with mental illness?
Absolutely. Emotional states such as anxiety, depression, phobias and addictions, all represent a dysfunction of the normal relationship between the original mammalian brain the “emotional” – brain (in anatomical terms, the mid-brain of the amygdala and the thalamus and the limbic system) and the thinking or “logical” brain (anatomically the neocortex).
When suffering from anxiety or depression, especially depression, the individual can appear lifeless but the reality is, there is a lot going on inside that person. Their thoughts and worries are racing at 100 miles per hour and in turn all kinds of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenalin are coursing through their body.
Meditation relaxes the person which engages the rational brain instead of the emotional brain. So, by stopping negative/anxious thoughts, we disengage the emotional brain and we get a more rational or logical perspective on our thought patterns and ultimately the life situation we may be faced with. We also therefore reduce the physical effects of these hormones ruminating.
Why is meditation more important than ever?
Emotional illnesses such as anxiety and depression are at a level of epidemic proportions. It is stated that 70 million working days a year are lost to stress-related emotional illnesses such as anxiety. This costs the UK economy more than £1000 per employee every year – almost £30 billion a year overall – through sickness absence or employees under-performing.
In addition, the cost of these illnesses to the health service alone is estimated at billions of pounds per annum. The UK is not alone – there are roughly 40 million Americans thought to be currently suffering from some form of anxiety.
Can you think back to what was going on five years ago – in the year 2007? It was a year before Apple had launched their App Store, two years before Amazon launched the Kindle and still three years before the iPad. Twitter was handling 100,000 tweets per month (it now handles around 340 million tweets per day) and Facebook was roughly 10% of the size it is today.
Technology is rapidly changing the way we live – or should I say, controlling the way we live.
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8 De-Stressing Meditation Apps
Kickstart your meditation practice with a 10-day starter program from Headspace, a free guided meditation app. The comprehensive guided meditation sessions offer clear and straight-forward mindfulness instruction for beginners, who can continue to access hours of videos and audio meditations by subscribing for a low monthly fee.
Sometimes, just remembering to be mindful is the hardest part of sticking to a practice. If you need a little nudge to help you stick with your meditation routine, try The Mindfulness App. The biggest perk of this $1.99 program is that you can set location alerts to remind you to stop and meditate at a particular time or day of the week, or even when you enter a certain location.
This $2.99 app describes itself as "the urban meditation app for modern life," and was named the number-one health app by UK news outlet The Sun. App Store reviewers rave about the app's clear, simple design and relaxing guided meditations. Customize your meditation to your location: It offers tailored guides for when you're at home, walking or at the gym.
Designed specifically for young people, Smiling Mind makes meditation fun, easy and accessible. Created by a team of psychologists who specialize in adolescent therapy, the app offers programs catered to different age groups, from 7-11 years old to adult, and also includes reminders.
This best-selling iPhone app by Mental Workout, designed by renowned meditation teacher and psychotherapist Stephan Bodian, provides guided meditations for both beginners and more experienced mindfulness practitioners. The app features an eight-week program, inspiration talks, body scans and relaxation instructions. According to one App Store reviewer, the app is the best way to learn mindfulness "short of finding your own personal meditation teacher."
Short guided meditations, with or without music and nature sounds, for relaxation and presence are the focus of this $0.99 app. Perfect for beginners looking for something simple, Simply Being is highly rated for being user-friendly and customizable.
If guided meditation isn't your thing, try going your own way with a basic meditation timer app that allows you to follow your own practice, either silently or accompanied by bells. The statistics feature also allows users to track their practice and chart progress.
This app by Meditation Oasis, the makers of Simply Being, is geared toward mediation on-the-go. With three different guided walking meditations, users can plug in their headphones and unwind in transit. The app comes with a diary for users to keep track of their progress.
Arianna Huffington talks about how to de-stress with the GPS for the Soul app.
All this technology has opened up great opportunities for us – but it has also created pressures and we cannot under estimate the impact of digital technologies on how we think, live and work.
Email facilities on smart phones mean we can (or are expected to) communicate and work all hours of the day and night, and technology such as video conferencing means we can now meet our colleagues or clients in various different time zones throughout the day and night in all corners of the world. We can also shop, learn and be entertained online at any time –so we try to pack more and more into our 24 hours.
This all comes at a price though, and results in us finding it extremely difficult to “switch off”, because even when we’re “off” we’re “on”. Consequently, because our bodies and brains are designed to take regular breaks in life, our stress hormones go into overdrive to keep us alert, and the price we pay for this can be emotional ill health. So, again we need to create these gaps of no-mind to allow our brains time to rest properly.
FRASER'S FIVE HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION:
1. Reduces stress
It is thought by many, that stress and stress hormones can have long term physical affects and it is widely believed many cancers are stress related. So by meditating and therefore unblocking the negative energy field in the body, you are having a hugely positive affect on the human body and you are reducing this risk of contracting these diseases.
2. Improves your sleep
Meditation quietens your mind and when the mind is quiet then we sleep easier, especially when practised before going to sleep. In turn, a good night’s sleep bolsters the immune system and improves overall wellbeing.
3. Strengthens your immune system
It increases the energy flow around the body, bringing the many ‘good’ cells alive in our body and thus bolstering the immune system.
4. Lowers blood pressure
Regular meditation is proven to lower your blood pressure. Raised blood pressure is a side effect of the fight or flight response to anxiety and its aim is to keep us ‘alive’ in times of real danger. Unfortunately, most dangers we face in the modern day are ‘perceived’ dangers and so the fight or flight response is activated as a false alarm.
By meditating, you are controlling those anxious thoughts which are translated as ‘danger’ to the brain which in turns reduces the chance of the fight or flight response kicking in, subsequently stopping the unnecessary raising of blood pressure.
5. Improved circulation which can improve the appearance of your skin and hair.
What stressful situations can meditation help with?
Meditation helps train the mind into a state of alert relaxation and is helpful in all stressful situations. It will greatly help an individual to cope with majorly challenging situations such as; job loss, moving house, marriage, divorce, bereavement, serious illness etc.
And also in dealing with more everyday stressful situations such as: a challenging workload, problematic children, hosting a dinner party, difficult driving conditions etc. It stops that little mind made you, the voice of thought, controlling your day.
I mention in my book that I spent some time in a Thai orphanage a couple of years ago which was home to many children who were victims of the Tsunami disaster of 2004. These children had lost everything, and I mean everything. Considering the horrendous suffering these kids endured, they were still amazingly content and I don’t think it was any coincidence that meditation was a big part of the orphanage curriculum.
What will I notice after a week of doing meditation?
You will see benefit straight away especially in stressful circumstances. After a week you will be well on your way to creating an underlying feeling of calm, allowing you to deal better with whatever a challenging world throws at us. It can be very easy to fall off the wagon when conforming to a meditation routine.
This is the catch 22 situation – you are trying to quieten the mind by meditating yet the noisy mind won’t let you as it tells you that surely there must be something more important to be doing than meditating!
Most people don’t realise that they are plagued by incessant thought because they class it as normal. It is therefore habitual and as we all know, it is by no means simple to break bad habits. So, just like a smoker would struggle to stop smoking immediately, most people find it hard to stop incessant thought. The longer term benefits of meditation will be massive as you train your mind to create these gaps of no-mind.
For an easy introduction into meditation, try online meditation app Headspace - our founder, Arianna Huffington swears by it.No-mind is available from Amazon for £5.98.