Appreciating how the brain works when experiencing stress is critical to understanding how to reduce recurrent stress in certain situations, such as at school or at work.
In a study of the effects of chronic stress, Eduardo Dias-Ferreira and colleagues found that stress responses become habitual, over time. This means that we develop a habit of becoming stressed in certain situations and respond to those situations with the same stressed behaviors repeatedly. If you are someone who experiences stress and anxiety about completing school papers, taking tests, participating in classes, attending meetings or completing work tasks, your stress and anxiety may be habitual. You may also be reacting to these situations out of your habitual stress, which means your actions are unlikely to be effective.
Research on Meditation
There is a growing body of research that shows that meditation and mindfulness alter how the brain works. Dr. Sarah Lazar, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital, presented a study at Neuroscience 2005, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Her research found that meditation had a measurable effect on the brain that lasted beyond the act of meditating. This indicates that meditation and mindfulness may have a positive impact on day to day life.
Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce School and Work Stress
Mindfulness is about learning to focus attention, which is a necessary skill when unlearning negative, habituated responses. There are hundreds and thousands of mindfulness exercises that can help to focus attention and decrease stress. To combat work or school stress try breathing exercises, which can be done anytime and anyplace. Other mindfulness activities include becoming aware of your body position and relaxing muscles that have tightened due to tension, creating a mantra (“I am calm”, “rise above it”), or noticing thoughts and labeling them as “just thoughts” as they come in and out of your mind.
The three key factors in utilizing mindfulness effectively to reduce stress are to try different activities until you find what works for you, practice bringing your attention back, once you get distracted, and practice often and in various situations. It is essential to practice mindfulness exercises regularly. When you are practicing mindfulness, you will find that your attention wanders. Likely it will wander back to those stressful and anxiety producing thoughts. When this happens, just notice it and gently bring your mind back to your mindfulness exercise. Repeat this process over and over as often as necessary.