It’s not all in your mind: Meditation affects the brain to help you stress less
People often turn to yoga or meditation as a way to take time out and manage the stress of their day-to-day lives.
Stress is common, and ongoing stress can contribute to the onset of a range of psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety.
This is likely due, at least in part, to the effects that meditation and yoga have on the brain’s stress response system.
How the brain responds to stress
The body’s automatic stress response is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system plays a key role in stress reactivity via its two main divisions: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
A main function of the sympathetic nervous system is to mobilise the body to fight or flee from stressful or threatening situations, via control of internal muscles, organs and glands. This is called the “fight or flight” response.
The parasympathetic nervous system counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system and returns the body to its natural baseline state after the systematic nervous system activates.
In many cases the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system have opposing but complementary functions.
For example, the sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate, blood pressure and the downstream release of stress-related hormones such as cortisol, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system decreases all of these factors.
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