Meditation for stress

Meditation is now a well documented therapeutic  tool  offered to many patients suffering of acute or chronic stress.  (see how meditation works in page on reference to Zen, meditation).

1. What is stress?

The term  “stress” was coined for the first time in 1926 by a Canadian  Hans Selye MD an endocrinologist at McGill  University. Its definition is not easy and associates the following:

  • Condition affecting body and mind  with negative physical , intellectual & emotional reactions,
  • Psychologically generated therefore self inflicted,
  • Acute or chronic state,
  • Triggered by an infinite numbers of internal and external actors called stressors.

2. Definition of stressors:

Anything that is perceived to be beyond our power to control, to deal with, to understand, to solve or accept.  Stressors  have many origins. Here are some of them:

a) self:

  • Body: chronic / acute disease, pain of all sort and origins, lack of sleep, aging, sexual abuse, etc.
  • Mind:
    • Psychological: poor self image, negative emotions such as anger, fear, grief resentment, jealousy, negative thoughts, etc…
    • Intelectual: decreasing concentration, memory, analytic skill, etc..

b) family/society/work/environment:

Relationship, loss of a loved one job security, time management, traffic jam, media   overload, local disaster, war,

3. Is it possib;le to control our stressors?

No  since they are constant,  always around us  and will change all the time.

4. What is mind-body?

  • Body = our “hardware”  such as our organs including brain and our 5 senses.
  • Mind = our “software” such as intellectual (analytic skill, concentration, judgment thoughts), psychological (+ and – emotions) and consciousness?
  • Soul = our spiritual self for those who believe in it.

Western view:   Mind & body are 2 separate but interrelated entities.

Eastern view:  Mind & body are ONE entity and cannot be separated. If fact all of us have experienced the fact that pain (body) affects mind and  depression (mind) affects the body.

Our mind controls our body and our body controls our mind. This is obvious and yet our Western medicine remains somewhat dualistic. This mind-body = one is the key to understand how meditation works to reduce the effects of stress.

6. How stress reactions are generated?

Stressors (see above)  trigger complex chemical reactions in many parts of our brain.  There description is beyond the scope of our web site.

7. What are the clinical manifestations of stress?

Stress can express itself in multitude ways and its manifestations can be quite  unique to each individual . The manifestations of stress are endless, a veritable text book of medicine.

  • Mind: intellectual, psychological (by far the most frequent: anxiety, depression, denial, poor self image, feeling of failure, frustration, anger, aggressiveness, resentment, guilt, helplessness, addictions, burnout, lack of libido, PTSD, etc.
  • Body: chronic pain, eating/sleeping disorders, chronic fatigue, lack of energy, high blood pressure, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, etc.
  • Societal: low productivity, loss of interpersonal skills, antisocial behavior, compulsive behavior such as work, spending, gambling, shopping and sex, loss of empathy, withdrawn, etc.

8. Application of meditation for stress management:

Mindfulness meditation – very similar to Zen meditation- has been used for more than 25 years now as an effective therapy for any stress related conditions. The pioneer is this field in our Western world is Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn who was the first one to explore and apply meditation to patients. I was one of the first one to learn and practice meditation for major chronic stress  and depression.  More than 700 healthcare centres have meditation programs for staff and patients.

Jon Kabat Zinn is also the author of many books related to the application of meditation as therapy.

We cannot eradicate our stressors because they are infinite and around us like the air we are breathing.  However we can reduce even eliminate the effects (called stress) of our stressors on our body and mind by modulating their impact using meditation.

Stress can affect every part of our body and mind (see section on meditation).  To list and describe in detail the impacts of stress and how meditation can be applied are is beyond this introduction.

However I have an handout on meditation and stress  available upon request.

Minimizing the impact of stress is another very good reason to learn and practice Zen meditation including group practice.

For more info about Zen meditation go on the top menu,  click on  ZEN KEYS then click on “What is Zen meditation”? on the right side

G.Arnaud Painvin  MD, FRCSC.  Ji Gong Zen Master.