Stress, Anxiety, Creativity & Relationships.

Four areas mindfulness & meditation show to have a substantial impact.

Curious about the science behind mindfulness and meditation? Explore the below to find out more.

A quick note:

Throughout this section there's some reading to do - but stick with it - we want you to be armed with some important information that will help clear a few things up and give you a better understanding of the things that can effect your wellbeing.



 

 

 
 

With advancements in technology and brain scanning equipment, scientists can now observe what happens to our brain when we meditate.

Mindfulness has its origins in ancient meditation practices (ones that are over 2,500 years old) - it’s been around a while! Recently, scientists have started investigating the effects of mindfulness and found some amazing results.

We now know mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety and worry. It can also improve our creativity, concentration and academic performance as well as help us better manage our strong emotions and have better relationships with others.

Sooooo many benefits, right?


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Regular meditation = less stress + more positive emotion.

Whilst mindfulness doesn’t magically relieve us of our worries and problems, it can help us respond to situations in a calmer, clearer and more grounded way – a way that benefits our heart, mind and body.

A body of research is quickly growing in this area with significant discoveries revealing meditation physically changes our brain structure in ways that help us to be less stressed and happier.

In one study, an eight-week mindfulness program was found to reduce the reactivity of the amygdala - the brains ‘fear center’, and increase activity in the prefrontal cortex - the bit that helps regulate emotions [1].


Mindfulness vs. mindlessness.

When we're mindful we're deliberately paying attention to what we are doing. This state encourages us to be more aware of our thoughts, emotions and behavior and has been found to actually switch on different parts of our brain.

By contrast, mindlessness is mindfulness' opposite – it can be described as not paying deliberate attention to our thoughts, our actions and our emotions. Basically, our brain is on ‘auto pilot’. This is unconsciousness. This is when we act out of habit rather than what the moment may ACTUALLY call for.

In this state we're not tuned in to what is happening around us or what we are doing - not really. This can be unhelpful because it means we're vulnerable to getting caught up in thoughts, worries and judgements and this can leave us feeling pretty down and stressed [2].

 
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I'm not sure if it's for me...

Have you ever been so caught up in a game, a conversation or creating something that your only focus is that one thing? Have you ever been so completely absorbed by the present moment that you lose track of time? Or have you stopped in your tracks because something has been so breathtaking that you no longer have any stress or anxiety about the past or the future? If so, you have experienced mindfulness.

We all experience this way of being at times – when exercising, playing music, being in nature, engaging in hobbies and spending time with loved ones. In these moments we feel engaged, present, connected and at peace. Mindfulness and meditation enables you to spend more of your time feeling this way - they are incredibly powerful practices that have the potential to positively affect your life.

We encourage you to explore further. We don't think you'll regret it.


This expanding shape has the power to connect you to the present moment - in this case, it's your breath.

Try syncing your breathing for a couple of minutes.

How do you feel?

 
 

Stress. Less.

A quick note:

Firstly, it's important that we clear something up - Stress isn't always a bad thing. It's simply your body's way of dealing with change. We know, right (mind blowing up)?

It's also important that we know there are two types of stress. One helpful, and one not so helpful. Yep, it's true. These two different kinds of stress are called 'eustress' (helpful) and 'distress' (not so helpful).

Eustress is a kind of stress that can make us feel excited. It can also help us improve our performance, motivate us and help us focus our energy. We like this stress.

Distress, on the other hand, is very different. This kind of stress doesn't feel so good. It can cause anxiety, mental and physical illness and has been linked with decreases in performance and energy. We don't like this stress so much.

We just wanted to clear that up - because we think it's important you know.

 
 
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It's been found that coping with stress is the number one issue young people are concerned with.

When surveyed about what most concerned them, 38.4% of teens indicated it was stress. In fact, not only were they most concerned about coping with stress but they were either extremely or very concerned about coping with it [3].

Does this sound a bit off to you?

It does to us.


So, what is stress?

Stress is a normal part of life. It can help us get things done and it can help us achieve our goals. There are situations where we're more likely to experience stress, but these aren't the same for everybody - 'stressors' are relative.

A common situation where we may feel stress however, is when an assignment is due or when we have to speak in front of a group of people. We might also feel it when we have a disagreement with a friend, a sibling or with our parents.

Back in the days of the saber-toothed tiger, our bodies would actually use stress to help us get out of a dangerous situation.

When our mind and body feel threatened a part of our brain called the amygdala (our 'fear center'), which controls the 'fight or flight' response, activates, causing adrenaline and cortisol to be released. This means the heart pumps faster, we breath more quickly and we feel a sudden surge of energy - all the things you need to either 'fight' or take 'flight'.

As you could imagine this was a pretty handy way to make sure we'd survive. However, things have changed - we don't have so many saber-toothed tigers running around now but our amygdala is still reacting as if there were. So instead of having to react to life or death situations, we're often experiencing this heightened state when we have to speak in front of the class, or when we're asked to answer a question we may not know the answer to.


Mindfulness and meditation practice has shown to reduce stress.

A study found that after 8 weeks of regular meditation participants reported lower levels of stress. Brain scans also revealed the gray-matter density of the amygdala (the 'fear center') had decreased [4].

A less active amygdala means our fear response is less likely to be switched on. This means we're much less likely to experience high levels of stress - AND this means there's more time to lead a happier, healthier life.

 
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How can mindfulness and meditation help with stress?

We're glad you ask.

When we meditate regularly things in our bodies (and brains) begin to change. Not only have studies seen decreases in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, brain scanning technology has shown parts of the brain change in shape and size [5]. With this comes increases in calmness, relaxation and a greater ability to regulate emotion [6].

This means that instead of being controlled by sudden 'fight or flight' impulses, we are able to 'respond' to situations rather than 'react'. Developing this ability - to 'respond' rather than 'react' - is incredibly powerful and leads to us being in a position to make choices throughout our lives we really, REALLY (not just 'really') want to make.

How's this sounding - are you ready to attend a retreat?


To see a short TED talk explaining how stress affects your brain, click here

 
 

     Worried about stuff?     

Don't worry, you're not alone.

Anxiety can be characterised as a feeling of nervousness, worry or unease. It comes in all shapes, sizes and strengths and affects each of us in a different way.

Sometimes we might be able to recognise what it is we're worried about but sometimes it can be a 'non-specific' kind of thing - this is where we feel uneasy, but we don't know why. This isn't a nice kind of worry at all.

 
 
 

One in six young Australians are currently experiencing an anxiety condition.

When surveyed, 15.4% of young people reported experiencing some type of anxiety disorder within the last 12 months [7]. In total this is close to 400,000 people.

To worry unnecessarily is to be paralyzed by thoughts of an imagined, mostly troublesome future.

We at IME believe that no young person, or old for that matter, should have to go through life with this kind of weight on their shoulders.

 
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Why do we worry?

Scientists have put their brains together and they think this is the most likely reason for why we worry - to keep safe.

Back in the day (of the saber toothed tiger) our brain would constantly search the environment for dangers or threats. For a lot of people a rustle in a bush meant "ARRRRGH - I'm probably going to die if I don't run away right now!" You can't really blame the brain for being wired this way - back then it was the survival of the fittest and it was just trying to make sure we weren't savagely mauled and eaten.

While this was a handy way to ensure survival, things have changed. Our brain doesn't realise we aren't in that kind of extreme danger anymore - but still preempts a troublesome future as if we were.

With a little practice around knowing how to recognise a worrying thought and seeing it for what it really is - just a thought - we have an opportunity to observe and respond rather than react. And we want to be clear here - there's a big, BIG difference in observing and responding rather than reacting to a worry - or any situation for that matter.

Try to Remember this, it's important.


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Mindfulness and meditation help to reduce anxiety. 

When mindfulness and meditation were taught to a group of people who had been diagnosed with clinical anxiety it was found that 90% of participants experienced significantly lower levels of worry [8].

Realising this helps us to understand the potential that mindfulness and meditation have to support wellbeing.

               An incredibly empowering realisation: A worry is not what causes suffering, how we respond to a worry is what causes suffering. Try to remember this.


Now what?

We understand the difficulties of living life with anxiety, no matter the degree. Through reading the above we hope to have armed you with a little more information - maybe something you hadn't heard before or weren't aware of. Why? Because to have an understanding of something (anything) demystifies it, and through demystifying something we are placed in a better position to respond to, and possibly change a situation.

We'll leave you in this section with an incredibly powerful realisation: regardless of your situation,

'this too, shall pass'.

Once in a while we think everyone should be reminded of this.

 
 

Creativity is a big part of our lives.

Some leading thinkers in this field - Sir Ken Robinson and Elizabeth Gilbert - are two people who believe it's incredibly important - we agree with them.

We believe that to be human is to be creative. These two words are synonymous.

Whether it was drawing, dancing, making music or building cubbyholes and tree houses, if you think back to when you were little you loved to create right? We know we did.

As we grow older our passion to create gets left behind, and this has turned out to be a little bit problematic. Research has shown that when we enter the realm of creativity we can experience present moment awareness, which leads to a sense of calm.

 
 
Photo by NatanaelGinting/iStock / Getty Images
 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce cognitive rigidity in both experienced and beginning meditators.

In a study where participants had to use simple problem solving skills, those who had training in mindfulness and meditation showed less cognitive rigidity than non-meditators [9]. In others words, meditators showed a greater ability to generate new ideas.

Having ideas vs. not having ideas can influence a whole day. When it comes to solving problems at school, at work, in the kitchen or with friends, having the ability to 'think out of the box' is an incredibly useful skill to have.


So, how can mindfulness and meditation promote creativity?

Remember that stressing part of the brain called the amygdla? When that part of the brain kicks in to gear more than it should, our creative abilities can become blocked.

How you ask? Think about it like this - If your brain spends all its time worrying, stressing and being controlled by its 'fear' center because of feelings of distress or emotional imbalance, it doesn't have a lot of time to do much else - this includes your ability to be creative.

We learned above that regular meditation can help generate new ideas - when we pay attention on purpose, aka be mindful, the 'fear' response is deactivated, generating room for creative thinking.

We know - amazing, right?


Researchers discovered a connection between mindfulness practice and an improved ability to filter out distractions during creative tasks and processes.

 Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness have been found to correlate directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning [10].

So, we have a question for you - ever find yourself reaching for your phone, a tablet or a game controller when you feel the slightest bit of boredom? It's starting to be a common thing, causing lots of us to get off task.

To be mindful is to recognise this habit and then make a decision from this space - "do I really want to do this right now?"

 

 
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Applying this to our lives.

You may now be wondering how being more creative can actually impact your day-to-day life, and you're right to be asking this question. Whether it's trying something new, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, reaching your goals, dreaming up your future or working your day job, creativity is an important part of getting you where you want to be.

You're asked to make decisions every day. Igniting your creative thinking and allowing it to reach each dimension of your life will not only benefit you but others too.

 
 
 

You + Me = We.

Arguably the most important dimension of our lives, the quality of our relationship with others AND with ourselves has the potential to make or break a day - a week - or even a year.

An idea that might be new to you - we not only have a relationship with others, but we have a relationship with ourselves. It's not only important to realise this, but also understand that the practice of mindfulness and meditation leads to increases in the quality of both of these relationships.

Think of the relationship you have with yourself as the platform for all the other relationships in your life. If this primary relationship is a happy and healthy one you are much more likely to develop happy and healthy relationships with others.

Remember this, it's important.

 
 

You + Me = We.

Arguably the most important dimension of our lives, the quality of our relationship with others AND with ourselves has the potential to make or break a day - a week - or even a year.

An idea that might be new to you - we not only have a relationship with others, but we have a relationship with ourselves. It's not only important to realise this, but also understand that the practice of mindfulness and meditation leads to increases in the quality of both of these relationships.

Think of the relationship you have with yourself as the platform for all the other relationships in your life. If this primary relationship is a happy and healthy one you are much more likely to develop happy and healthy relationships with others.

Remember this, it's important.


Photo by amoklv/iStock / Getty Images
 

A study has shown that couples who practice mindfulness experience improved levels of relationship satisfaction.

Results indicated that mindfulness leads to increased levels of autonomy, relatedness, closeness, acceptance of one another, and decreases in relationship distress [11].

Not only did couples report these improvements directly after the study but it was found that they were still benefiting from them 3 months later.

Is that love in the air?


'Self Talk' - what is it?

Mindfulness and mediation have not only shown to strengthen the quality of relationships with others but it has shown to do this with the relationship you have with yourself. This includes how you think and feel about yourself and the quality of 'self talk' you will experience.

Think of self talk as the narrative that is constantly unfolding in your head. This narrative can be positive and encouraging, helping you to be you - fully. On the other hand it can make things difficult, causing you to doubt yourself, disconnect from others and have an all around bad time. Have you recognised this?

With mindfulness and meditation we learn to recognise this self talk (narrative) for what it is - just a bundle of thoughts, and this, is incredibly powerful. Once this happens, we're in a better position to choose the thoughts we give weight to and the ones we don't.


Research has shown that mindfulness is positively associated with expressing oneself in various social situations.

A 2008 study indicated that the practice of mindfulness is associated with increases in empathy, the ability to more accurately describe and identify with feelings, more body satisfaction, less social anxiety, and a tendency to not take on the distress of those around you [12].

Basically, all of the above enables us to develop and maintain strong, positive relationships with those around us.

This is a good thing.

 
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Now we know.

Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to improve the quality of relationships with those around us and meaningful, high quality relationships can sustain and enrich our lives. They can be a source of great happiness and joy and support us when we need it most.

Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to positively influence the relationships you have with those around you. However, when things aren't going well they can be a great source of suffering. When this is the case and there's conflict with a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a girlfriend or boyfriend (maybe even a family pet) it's unsettling right? There's a reason for this - we were born to connect!

Now we know the killer relationship benefits of practicing mindfulness and meditation do yourself a favour and commit to taking up the practice ASAP. You, and those around you, will thank you.


Reference:

1. Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.

2. Broyd, S.J., Demanuele, C., Debener, S., Helps, S.K., James, C.J., & Sonuga-Barke, E.J. (2009). Default-mode brain dysfunction in mental disorders: a systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 33(3), 279-296.

3. Cave, L., Fildes, J., Luckett, G. and Wearring, A. 2015, Mission Australia’s 2015 Youth Survey Report, Mission Australia.

4. Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Evans KC, et al. Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2010;5(1):11-17. doi:10.1093/scan/nsp034.

5. Desbordes, G., Negi, L. T., Pace, T. W., Walace, B. A., Raison, C. L., & Schwartz, E. L. (2012). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , 6 (292), 1-15.

6. Baer, R.A. (2003) Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention. A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 10 (2), 125-43

7. Australia Bureau of Statisctics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia

8. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. & Santorelli, S. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 149. 936-943

9. Greenberg J, Reiner K, Meiran N (2012) “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036206

10. Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition , 18 (1), 176-186.

11. Carson, J., Carson, K., Gil, K. & Baucom, D. (2004). Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement. Behavior Therapy. 35, 3. 471 - 494.

12. Dekeyser, M., Raes, F., Leijssen, M., Leysen, S. & Dewulf, D. (2008). Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences. 44, 5. 1235 - 1245.