This week Dr Zac Turner looks at how to combat stress in these uncertain times.

QUESTION: 

Hi Dr Zac, this may seem strange – but I’m feeling more stressed now that my home town of Melbourne is finally beginning to reopen. My anxiety relates to things returning to ‘normal’ – there is so much uncertainty still, from touching things in public, to mixing with other people.

I know it’s all in my head, but it’s starting to affect my work life and is now putting a strain on my relationship.

 

ANSWER:

Hi Poppy, close your eyes, take a deep breath! I understand the fear of returning to normal when all you’ve known is lockdown for the last eight months. I advise you to never be afraid to reach out if all this anxiety becomes too much. Friends, family and your local GP will all listen with open ears.

My bet is if the world’s most successful people were in a room, at least 80% would raise their hand to meditation being the key to their success. Meditation is a beloved practice by the health and wellness community, others may say hippies and greenies, but the use of it is more widespread in society than you’d think and it definitely doesn’t need to be as arduous as often perceived.

I’m a big advocate of meditation and have a lot to say about it – especially since there is science to back up how powerful it can be in everyday practice. If meditation is practised for as few as 10 minutes each day, it can help control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation.

The ‘go, go, go!’ pace of our lives is stressful for our bodies both physically and mentally. That overbearing worn down feeling you get is caused by the stress hormone cortisol. This nasty product of our stressful lives causes sleep pattern disruption, depressive and anxious thoughts and increased blood pressure. Essentially the cocktail of a cloudy mind.

Meditation puts the body into a relaxation response, which is the opposite bodily reaction that causes cortisol production. There’s an entire library of studies which show the body’s response to everyday meditation, such as reduced stress-related inflammation, decreased levels of stress, decreased depression, alleviating anxiety and panic attacks and to promote workplace productivity.

Meditation rewires your brain, building new roads and destroying others. It decreases the neurological connections to the media prefrontal cortex – which is the part of the brain responsible for fear, stress and anxiety. Alongside this it builds new pathways to the parts of your brain responsible for focus and decision making. You are essentially training your brain to regulate emotions, become resilient to unpleasant thoughts and emotions and to react calmly when faced with stress and challenges.

There are two types of meditation and the best way to describe them both is through a metaphor of the ocean. Mindful meditation is the surface level, you calm your mind through gentle focus such as breathing – but your thoughts are still active. You are focused, contracting your thoughts actively. Transcendence meditation is diving deep down under the surface to the rock bed, enabling your mind to reach a deep state of rest. You are unfocused, surrendering effortlessly to your blank mind. Mindful meditation can be very verbal and literal, whereas transcendence takes you to the source of non-verbal thought. I recommend being guided through the latter with a good meditation coach.

The hardest thing about mediation is starting, and there couldn’t be a better time to give it a shot. There are lots of guided meditations on YouTube or you can download apps such as Calm or Insight Timer on your phone. And if you really want someone to guide you through it – there are one-on-one coaches you can find in your city.

I recently did a number of guided transcendence meditation sessions with Sydney-based coach Sean Hamer. These sessions taught me the tools to reach a deep state of meditation and I’m now meditating 20 minutes per day. Already I’m seeing improvements in many areas of my life.

Poppy, I recommend you start with a short 10 minute meditation once a day for a week. Challenge yourself to keep to it and I guarantee you’ll keep going. Maybe even suggest your workplace do a group meditation to help boost productivity!

Dr. Zac’s Tips for Meditation: 

  • Start with no expectations – meditation isn’t a quick fix. It requires effort, time and patience
  • Choose a time to meditate and stick to it
  • Create a designated space to meditate
  • Before you start, take some time to wind down
  • Start with a few deep breaths to calm the body
  • Be kind to yourself, some days are easier than others
  • Come back the next day, even if you don’t feel like it!
  • Get in touch online or email info@doctorzac.com if you’d like to know how to join an online meditation group