Even in a thriving economy, the pressure of the dog-eat-dog world of business takes its toll on fledgling and seasoned workers alike. As of 2012, a remarkable 40% of all people diagnosed with acute stress traced the lion’s share of their anxiety back to work. On top of lowered job performance, through-the-roof stress levels can spiral into a whole host of health woes, including depression and cardiovascular illnesses.
While many professionals resort to cycles of work hard/play hard to release the pressure, this is an unsustainable strategy over the long term. Many frazzled professionals are instead turning to the simple yet effective practice of meditation to maintain their balance. Here’s why:
Lowered stress levels
Many of the benefits of meditation in our overall effectiveness all link back to this simple fact: it takes away anxiety. How? In scientific terms, the act of meditation loosens the connections between neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain which processes your most personal thoughts and feelings. In other words, meditation almost literally prevents you from getting too caught-up in yourself, which allows us to see potentially stressful situations from a more objective position — and deal with them more level-headedly.
Meditation doesn’t just take you out of your own head at a personal-emotional level, it can also be a gateway for new practical perspectives. Meditation acts to boost your reserves of dopamine, a hormone linked to creative thinking. Furthermore, the “clearing the mind” effect of meditation allows to dispel the many distractions that block creative thinking. Increasing the odds for the “aha! effect” is increasingly useful for entrepreneurs, as it not only helps us jump intuitively towards unexpected solutions to old problems, it also gives birth to new ideas for products, images, and strategies.
Just as ridding our minds of distractions boosts creativity, it also causes us to process stimuli with a sense of novelty. This effect of seeing with new eyes works to etch that new data more deeply into our minds. Furthermore, the lowered stress caused by regular meditation helps us recall the mental material that’s already there. Especially when coupled with heightened creativity, this makes us better and faster problem solvers.
In addition to the prefrontal cortex, meditation also amps activity in the amygdala, the segment of the brain in charge of emotional activity. The proven result of this is a greater sense of empathy towards others, and while this may sound counterintuitive to those who see the world of business as a sea of alpha-sharks, it’s quite the opposite: being a better listener and fomenting more responsive relationships with team members and clients are paramount qualities in every sector of business.
While the core of meditation is always the same – an increased attention to breath and a clearing the mind of excessive thought– there are a number of variations to choose from. The philosophies attached to these range from a fitness mindset to a more spiritual one, so choose the practice that best fits you. Some schools of meditation suggest initial training (often at a cost), but a mantra-driven path is as easy as it is free, so there’s no excuse not to begin a simple practice that may change the course of your career and life.
Uma Campbell is a freelance writer from Southern California. She uses meditation as a means to clear her mind and ease stress.
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