It’s that time of year again when the carefree days of summer begin to fade and fall is on the horizon. And for parents and kids, it also signifies the beginning of a new school year. Saying goodbye to relaxing summer days and jumping into new routines can be stressful for both kids and parents alike.
And while it’s not always possible to avoid changing schedules, hectic routines, and the never-ending stresses of day-to-day life, there are some ways you can fight back and protect your mental health. One particularly powerful practice that can help you (and your whole family) beat the back-to-school blues is by incorporating a practice known as meditation.
Today we’re going to explore why stress is so harmful, how our brains can get stuck in a stress loop, how meditation can help the whole family feel better, and most importantly – cover some tips to help you get started with your own meditation practice.
What Are the Back to School Blues?
The term “back-to-school blues” refers to the feelings of dread, anxiety, and worry that many children and teens feel as the end of summer vacation draws near and they prepare to start a new school year. The change in schedule, the new responsibilities and obligations, and all the unknowns that come with a brand new chapter can evoke significant feelings of stress.
But our kids aren’t the only ones that battle the back-to-school blues. As adults, this transition can be equally as stressful and anxiety-inducing. Juggling school and work schedules, after-school activities, and homework while trying to support your kids and take care of your own health – it can be overwhelming, to say the least.
While this time of year can feel particularly challenging, the truth is, life is full of twists and turns and hectic schedules that can leave you feeling frazzled and on edge all year-round if you let it. Let’s explore the science behind this a little deeper
How Does the Brain React to Stress?
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The stress response serves an important purpose to not only protect us in times of danger but also push us to meet challenges, overcome obstacles, and grow into better versions of ourselves. These bouts of good stress or tolerable stress are not an issue. Stress only becomes a problem when it becomes toxic and chronic.
You see, when your body enters a “stressed out” state, it releases a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that shift your body into fight-or-flight mode. Normally, these stress signals spike and then slowly decline as your body returns to a relaxed, balanced state. But when these stress hormones remain elevated, it creates a domino effect that negatively impacts your brain in the following ways:1,2,3
- Disruption of synapse regulation: Synapses are the connections that allow electrical impulses to travel between your brain cells – allowing them to communicate with each other and the rest of your body. Chronic stress can disrupt these synapses and even eliminate some of these communication pathways – inhibiting your brain’s ability to communicate effectively.
- Brain shrinkage: Synapses aren’t the only parts of your brain that can be damaged due to chronic stress. A constant flood of elevated stress hormones can cause some of your brain cells to die off – leading to a shrinking effect in your brain.
- Stem cell malfunction: Chronic stress can essentially flip a switch in stem cells – the young “unspecialized” cells that haven’t yet figured out which specific kind of cells they will develop into. Stress can signal stem cells to turn into a type of cell that is designed to make up the protective coating that surrounds your nerves known as the myelin sheath. While these cells are important, an incorrect ratio of protective cells versus brain cells can inhibit crucial connections in the brain.
- Massive inflammation: Chronic stress can also trigger significant inflammation in the brain. This can alter the production and regulation of neurotransmitters that are critical for brain function and mood regulation.
This combination of effects that persistent, ongoing stress has on your brain can quite literally rewire your brain – creating a positive, self-renewing feedback loop that predisposes you to remain in a constant state of fight-or-flight. But the good news is, there are some powerful tools that can help pump the brakes on this stress cycle and help bring your brain back to a healthier, more balanced state.
One of these powerful tools is incorporating a practice known as meditation.
What Exactly Is Meditation?
Meditation can be a confusing term – conjuring images like sitting cross legged on a pillow chanting or listening to meditation music online. But meditation can actually take many forms. You see, meditation is a powerful tool that has been used for many generations across many different cultures. This ancient practice is rooted in integrating your mind and body in a way that allows you to tap into a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.4
By clearing your mind and focusing all of your attention on the present moment, your brain is able to access a different level of consciousness. And this ability to clear your mind and tap into a different level of consciousness has some major benefits for every aspect of your well-being.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
Just a handful of the ways meditation can positively benefit your physical, mental, and emotional well-being include:5,6
- Decreased stress levels
- Less anxiety
- An improvement in feelings of depression
- Reduced symptoms associated with mood disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Better quality sleep
- A decrease in pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased ability to manage cravings
You see, stress isn’t the only thing that can rewire your brain. Meditation has been proven to rewire your brain in a positive way – promoting strong and diverse neural connections, supporting healthy hormone and neurotransmitter levels, and combating inflammation. Studies have found that people who meditate regularly have distinct and positive differences in their brain structure and function.7
If you’ve never dipped your toes into the realm of meditation, you’re probably wondering how you can get started with this powerfully positive practice.
How to Meditate
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. The whole point of meditation is to practice shifting your mind to the present moment – fully focused on what’s in the here and now. While the point of meditation is to “clear your mind”, the truth is, thoughts will creep in and your mind will jump around – that’s precisely what minds are designed to do.
Rather than trying to avoid all thoughts, meditation involves practicing quieting your mind. It entails simply observing your thoughts as they drift in and out while you continuously anchor yourself in the moment. Because we’re all wired a little differently, some forms of meditation may work better for you than others. Some different forms of meditation include:
- Mindfulness meditation: This is what most people think of when they hear the term “meditation”. Mindfulness meditation typically includes getting into a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and focusing intensely on sensations in your body – primarily the rhythm of your breath.
- Guided meditation: Guided meditation is a practice led by a guide or teacher that will talk you through a visualization and direct your focus throughout the process. A simple internet search will yield tons of excellent guided audio and visual meditations.
- Mantra meditation: Mantra meditation uses a word, thought, or phrase that you focus your mind on and repeat over and over to anchor your mind.
- Moving meditation: If sitting in a room with your eyes closed doesn’t sound appealing to you, you might have better luck with moving meditation. This type of meditation can involve a yoga practice where you focus on your movement and breathing, or even a gentle walk in nature where you focus on using all of your senses to observe your surroundings.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. But there are a few things that can make it easier.
Tips for Getting Started With A Meditation Practice
Think of meditating like exercising a muscle. At first, it’s going to be challenging and uncomfortable. But with consistent practice it’ll get easier, you’ll get better at it, and you’ll start reaping the benefits. Here are a few tips to help you more easily incorporate a meditation practice into your routine:
- Try making it a habit by planning on meditating at the same time every day or adding it into an already established routine
- Start small by meditating in shorter time increments (like 5 or 10 minutes) and slowly build as your practice becomes stronger
- Give yourself some grace and remember that it’s normal for your mind to wander and it’s normal for it to feel challenging sometimes
- Find a comfortable space where you won’t be distracted or feel self-conscious if there are others around
- Stick with it – the most essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to meditation is consistency
The goal of meditation is to intentionally set aside some time each day (even if it’s only 5 minutes) to release the never-ending thoughts swirling in your mind and simply be present. This simple yet powerful practice can work wonders for not only your well-being but also for your children.
Is It Healthy for Kids to Meditate?
The answer is – absolutely! Meditation can be a powerful tool to help your kids cope with stress and regulate their emotions. It’s also a great way to teach kids that taking care of their mental and emotional health is just as important as taking care of their physical health.
There are lots of different ways to help kids learn about and practice meditation, but as with most things in life, the best way to lead is by example. So focus on creating a consistent meditation practice for yourself and invite your kids to join in.
Ready to Start Your Own Meditation Practice?
Meditation is a potent form of mind-body medicine that can help you feel happier, more balanced, and less stressed. And prioritizing your mental and emotional health can have a ripple effect – up-leveling your physical health as well.
Here at Silver Tree Wellness, meditation is a tool we rely on and recommend to our patients all the time. You see, we as humans are complex and multi-faceted. Every facet of your health is intertwined and interconnected with all of the pieces of the puzzle that make you, you. That means when it comes to healing an ongoing diagnosis, addressing persistent unexplained symptoms, or optimizing your health, it requires an approach that encompasses your body, mind, soul, environment, relationships, and much more.
By using a combination of ancient techniques like meditation and combining it with cutting-edge diagnostics and healing protocols, we help you tap into next-level healing and health. If you’re ready for a fully personalized roadmap to take your well-being to the next level, please reach out and schedule a consultation by calling our office at 602-675-0170 or sending us an email by clicking right here. We can’t wait to hear from you!
- Neurobiological and Systemic Effects of Chronic Stress – PMC (nih.gov)
- The effects of chronic stress on the human brain: From neurotoxicity, to vulnerability, to opportunity – ScienceDirect
- Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity | Psychology Today
- Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are – Mayo Clinic
- Meditation and Mindfulness: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)
- Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are – Mayo Clinic
- Meditation: What It Is, Benefits & Types (clevelandclinic.org)