Take a few moments to focus on your breath rising and falling while sitting comfortably with a straight back in a quiet place.
This summarizes the mindfulness of breathing meditation practice that was promoted in the West by John Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Since the explosion of interest in mindfulness, there has been increased research into the stress-relieving benefits of different forms of meditation from a physiological and psychological perspective (Baminiwatta & Solangaarachchi, 2021; Goyal et al., 2014).
This article will outline how different forms of meditation can help you relieve stress and live a more peaceful and vital life. We look into the research to understand the popularity and provide several scripts to bring stress-relief meditation into your everyday life.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life, and will also give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students, or employees.
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3 Stress-Relief Benefits of Meditation
Not all sources of stress are bad for us. We need a certain amount of stress to propel us into action and thrive. Positive stressors motivate us to achieve our goals and provide the stimulation needed to live a full and meaningful life (Simmons & Nelson, 2001). This type of stress is sometimes called ‘eustress.’
However, negative sources of stress cause health problems, both mentally and physically, and in the long term can lead to the type of exhaustion and burnout that robs our life of meaning.
Taking up a simple, short, and regular mindfulness meditation practice has been proven to relieve stress (Baminiwatta & Solangaarachchi, 2021; Goyal et al., 2014). Research confirms the following specific stress-relief benefits:
- Promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality (Rusch et al., 2019)
- Reduces emotional reactivity and enhances responsiveness (Kral et al., 2018)
- Facilitates decentering and enhances equanimity (Gecht et al., 2014)
7 Additional benefits for your wellbeing
A regular, short meditation practice enhances wellbeing in the following ways:
- Lowers the heart rate (Chang et al., 2020; Ditto et al., 2006)
- Lowers blood pressure (Levine et al., 2017; Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014)
- Reduces cortisol levels, the stress hormone that can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other chronic health problems (Ooishi et al., 2021)
- Increases the feel-good hormone oxytocin that enhances feelings of connectedness and security (Fredrickson et al., 2008; Mascaro et al., 2015)
- Improves mood (Edenfield & Saeed, 2012; Hofmann et al., 2010; Takahashi et al., 2019)
- Alleviates anxiety (Chen et al., 2012; Corliss, 2014; Hoge et al., 2013; Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014; Ratanasiripong et al., 2015; Zeidan et al., 2013)
- Protects your immune function (Black & Slavich, 2016)
Guided Meditation for Stress Relief: 3 Scripts
Here we share three guided meditation scripts for you to try out.
1. Mindful movement – A walking meditation
Often when we are stressed, moving our bodies can be very beneficial, as it works off excess energy and antsy feelings.
Below is a mindful walking meditation script by the psychologist and meditation teacher Dr. Tara Brach (n.d.). You can download the full pdf from her website for free.
“Meditation is a practice of presence that you can bring alive in all settings and activities. The formal training in walking meditation can be particularly valuable for helping you to cultivate an awareness of your embodied experience in each moment, allowing you to bring your body, heart, and mind together as you move through life.
Begin by choosing a place – an indoor or outside walking path about 10–30 paces long. Start by standing still and sensing the weight of your body at your feet, feeling your muscles supporting and stabilizing you. Your hands can be in whatever position is most comfortable – resting easily at your sides, folded gently in front of you, or at your back.
In the stillness, remain relaxed and alert. As you begin walking, start at a slower pace than usual, paying particular attention to the sensations in your feet and legs: heaviness, lightness, pressure, tingling, energy, even pain if it’s present.
For the walking practice, this play of sensations – rather than the breath or another anchor – is often the home base for our attention. Be mindful of the sensations of lifting your feet and of placing them back down on the floor or earth. Sense each step fully as you walk in a relaxed and natural way to the end of your chosen path.
When you arrive, stop, and pause for a moment. Feel your whole body standing, allowing all your senses to awake, then slowly and mindfully – with intention – turn to face in the other direction. Before you begin walking, pause again to collect and center yourself. If it helps, you can even close your eyes during these standing pauses, often called ‘standing meditation.’
As you’re walking, it’s quite natural for your mind to wander. Whenever it does, you might mentally pause, perhaps noting inwardly the fact of thinking, or even where your mind went: planning, worrying, fantasizing, judging. Then, gently return your attention to the sensations of the next step.
No matter how long you’ve spent lost in thought, you can always arrive right here, bringing presence and care to the moment-to-moment sensations of walking.
During the walking period you might alter your pace, seeking a speed that allows you to be most mindful of your experience. In this way, you’ll move back and forth on your pathway, discovering that you are not really going anywhere, but are arriving again and again in the aliveness that is right here.
As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, ‘The miracle is not to walk on water. It is to walk on this earth with awareness.’”
Tara Brach (n.d.), PhD
For a further discussion of walking meditation, take a look at this short video by the Buddhist meditation master quoted above, Thich Nhat Hanh.
2. Body scan meditation
A body scan meditation can be useful for decentering our awareness and aligning with the observer self, rather than identifying with uncomfortable or painful sensations, thoughts, and feelings.
This meditation is one of the two main practices taught during the MBSR program. You should set aside around 10 minutes for this short practice. It can be conducted sitting or lying down.
The script below is adapted from an article by Ann Vrlak (n.d.), the founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation teacher for children and adults for more than 25 years.
“Take a few full breaths to help your body and mind begin to relax. Feel the sensations where your body connects with the floor or surface under you. Feel your body getting heavy.
Start by sensing your head. Sense your forehead and the area around your eyes. This is an area where lots of us hold tension. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. Just notice and gently name any sensations silently, like warmth, tingling, or pressure.
Let your attention move to the top of your head, to your scalp, and down the sides and back of your head. And feel your neck, the muscles along the back and sides, and even sensations inside your neck and throat.
Now sense your shoulders, the large heavy muscles of your shoulders and shoulder blades. If you notice any tension or discomfort here, it’s not anything you need to change, just be aware of it. If you like, you can breathe into any area where you experience some discomfort. This just means that you can imagine your breath is moving in and out of the area, instead of your nose.
Let your attention move slowly down your arms, sensing your upper arms, elbows, and lower arms. Sense the muscles and bones here. Feel the bones of your wrist and the softness of your palms. Our hands are the center of so much activity and expression. Feel all the sensations in your palms, fingers, and fingertips.
Now shift your attention to your chest, around your heart and solar plexus. What do you notice there? Breathe and feel it. It may be different in the next moment. You’re just tuning in right now to your body, to these precise physical sensations. And remember, be patient. Your body moves at a slower pace than your mind.
This body scan meditation helps you get in touch with your body.
Now allow your attention to move into your stomach and hips. Let your attention rest here for a few breaths. Continue down your upper legs, knees, and lower legs, taking as much time as you need to feel the sensations and focus your awareness there. Remember that there’s no right or wrong experience, you only need to be as present and caring as you can.
Then move down into your feet, ankles, the soles of your feet, and all ten toes. Your feet work so hard all day long: really feel all the muscles, tendons, and tissues there.
Now, take a big breath and see if you can feel your whole body all at once sitting or lying here, breathing. From the tips of your toes, up through your legs, your torso, your arms, into your head and face. Feel your body as one whole field of sensation and energy. Keep breathing and finish the practice. And when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.”
If you’d like to try a guided body scan meditation video, check out this great one.
3. A short self-compassion meditation for stress
Dr. Christiane Wolf is a physician and mindfulness and insight meditation teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Los Angeles.
She is the coauthor of A Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness with Dr. Greg Serpa, and together they lead the national Mindfulness Facilitator Training for Clinicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Below is a video from Dr. Wolf that guides you through a short self-compassion meditation for stress. This is especially useful when enduring painful events, such as a loss, illness, or conflict at home or work. In this short meditation, Dr. Wolf invites you to ‘Be Your Own Best Friend.’ A script adapted from the video is provided below.
This self-compassion meditation has three phases. The first is mindfulness, when we acknowledge what is happening and that it’s painful.
The second focuses on our shared humanity, when we remember that no matter what we’re feeling, other people are feeling that too or have felt that way before. This is not to diminish what we’re feeling, but to acknowledge that our pain is a common response to the situation that we’re in.
The third phase focuses on self-kindness.
“Sit comfortably with a straight back and close your eyes if that feels okay, or you can have your eyes open if you want to. Please put a hand on your chest as sometimes that’s actually a really nice gesture that your body will understand as a gesture of physical support.
Now just feel what that feels like… and then recall the difficult moment, just by saying something to yourself like, ‘That was a challenging moment,’ or if you’re right in it, ‘This is a hard moment right now’, or ‘This is difficult to be with.’ Whatever feels right to you at this moment.
Then the second step is remembering our shared humanity, so say to yourself, ‘This is what it feels like for somebody in this situation. This is a normal response, a natural response, to this type of experience.’ In your mind’s eye, recall or bring to mind all the people who have ever felt this way before or who are feeling exactly this way right now. You might not know anybody else who’s feeling this way right now, but many people will have felt this way before and are feeling exactly the same way right now.
Just stay with the breath, breathing in, and picture yourself in a circle with these people knowing there’s nothing wrong with you that you feel that way.
The third step is self-kindness, so say to yourself, ‘May I be kind to myself. May I keep my heart open. May I stay present and kind. May I not exclude myself from the circle of kindness.’
So just feel whatever words resonate with you or just remember kindness and again feel the hand on your chest.
With that, I’m sending you into your day.”
You can listen to her in person in the video below.
4 Stress-Relief Meditation Techniques
One of the swiftest ways to relieve stress is using the short mindfulness of breathing meditation techniques detailed in the free worksheets below.
1. Mindfulness of the breath meditation
Download our short guided six-step mindfulness of the breath meditation.
2. Anchor Breathing meditation
Download our Anchor Breathing meditation script.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing meditation
Download our Alternate Nostril Breathing meditation script.
4. Release Anxiety Stress & Overthinking Guided Meditation
You can also try this short 10-minute meditation for stress relief by Great Meditation if you prefer to be guided on video.
How Can Deep Meditation Improve Sleep?
Quality sleep is essential for mental and physical health; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017), 70 million Americans experience chronic sleep problems, leading to poor health outcomes and lower productivity at work.
Meanwhile, research conducted by Ong et al. (2014) and the Sleep Foundation (Pacheco, 2021) reports that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can ease chronic insomnia. It can also improve sleep quality and alleviate sleep disturbances in older adults (Black et al., 2015).
Mindfulness meditation also improves sleep quality for those without clinical sleep disturbances (Barrett et al., 2020).
To improve your sleep with mindfulness, try this guided mindfulness meditation designed to help you fall and stay asleep.
Stress-Relief Exercises From PositivePsychology.com
If you would like more stress-busting resources, take a look at our article 26 Best Stress-Relief Techniques According to Psychology.
Mindfulness is a powerful stress-reduction technique, whether practiced regularly as meditation or to broaden our awareness and reduce our reactivity during everyday life. Try out these Mindfulness Exercises you can download for free.
Finally, if you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others manage stress without spending hours on research and session prep, check out this collection of 17 validated stress management tools for practitioners. Use them to help others relieve stress and create more balance in their lives.
A Take-Home Message
Taking up a regular, short meditation practice is one way to help alleviate stress. Most research has focused on three types of mindfulness meditation – mindful walking meditation, body scan meditation, and mindfulness of breathing meditation – to assess their physical and mental health benefits.
Other practices such as loving-kindness meditation and self-compassion meditation are also receiving increasing attention from scientists. All these types of meditation benefit our overall wellbeing.
If you decide to take up a meditation practice, focus on regularity rather than duration at first. A 10-minute daily practice will be more beneficial than an hour-long practice once a week, for example. The aim of the practice is to retrain your nervous system to respond mindfully rather than react impulsively to stressors.
Between shorter sessions, you can always take mindful breathing breaks on the move or try one of the many meditation apps available.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free.
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