Mediation and Relaxation Techniques
How do they reduce stress?
Most people have probably heard by now that meditation and various techniques aimed at relaxation can be helpful in times of stress. What most people probably don't know, however, is how exactly meditation and relaxation techniques can reduce stress and provide other related benefits. An associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, recently wrote an article reviewing the research that has been done so far on the topic.
One rather obvious function of meditation and relaxation techniques is to make people actually feel better emotionally, such as reducing feelings of anxiety and tension. These activities also have an influence on the body, more specifically, the nervous and immune systems.
Regarding the nervous system, people who practice mediation or relaxation techniques become more adaptive. The nerve cells of people who engage in these activities become less sensitive to cortisol, a hormone in the blood stream that usually makes nerve cells more likely to become activated at produce heightened physiological arousal. Furthermore, research shows that, although people who practice meditation and relaxation techniques have a greater reaction to stressful events at first, it takes less time for them to return to the way that they were before the stressful event had taken place.
In other words, they detect stressors better and dismiss them faster (if appropriate).
Regarding the immune system, meditation and relaxation techniques serve to improve the body's defenses against disease. For example, research has demonstrated that these activities can be helpful for caregivers, people with cancer, and people who are HIV-positive.
Source: Mills, P. J. (1999). Meditation. Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6, 38-41.