In an earlier post we talked about why people turn to mindfulness meditation to deal with situations that are difficult to handle.
Many physicians prescribe mindfulness meditation to patients with life-threatening or chronic conditions. Even hospitals employ meditation teachers and classes to help patients with severe pain or health issues.
Mindfulness meditation has long been enlisted to help cope with situations that are seemingly beyond our ability to handle.
But why is this the case?
What’s the science behind meditation and better coping skills for any unfortunate situation?
The Answer Lies in the Brain.
Essentially, mindfulness meditation employs the deeper parts of the brain. Specifically, it involves the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex — the mid-front and back portions.
These parts of the brain are our “self-soothing” and “self-reflection” parts; they essentially allow us to calm down when our stress, fears, and emotions are ignited.
And meditation triggers these areas of the brain (as evident by multiple studies using MRIs). Conversely, parts of the brain that are linked with taking action are deactivated during meditation.
By meditating, we reduce our natural tendency to react, and instead focus on self-soothing to respond to a negative situation.
Not reacting may seem like a detrimental response when it comes to bad news or situations; but actually, it’s quite the opposite.
Think Before You Act
Negative situations put our bodies and brains into a frightened “survival mode,” which links to rash and irrational decisions or behavior.
This is the reason why when we’re furious or very upset, we shout, or bang on walls, or do any number of destructive and unhelpful things. It’s our knee-jerk reaction and an instinctive attempt to feel better.
However, people who meditate have prefrontal cortexes that are better engaged, and are better able to control responses.
So instead of the irrational side of our brains taking control, a person is better able to soothe themselves in the stressful moment; they make more mindful and thought-out decisions on what to do now, and what to do next.
Train Your Brain
You'll want to know that the “happy chemicals” we naturally produce when meditating play a role, too.
When we are meditating, we activate neural pathways to release chemicals that produce “happy” feelings. At the same time, it regulates the production of stress chemicals and hormones like cortisol.
Newcomers will also want to note that the changes to the brain don’t take place overnight. It takes time to re-build and re-wire a lifetime of operating differently.
Like any other part of the body, changes are gradual. For example, you don’t build big muscles after just a day or two of exercising.
But with time and practice, the brain changes so that we inherently respond to stress and negative situations in a different and healthier way.
By focusing on self-soothing and reflection, as opposed to immediate reaction, we are better able to cope with whatever life throws our way.
Is stress bringing you down? Try out my meditation methods, available online too!