Meditation & Adrenal Fatigue: Expectations vs Reality
For those with adrenal fatigue, you’ve likely thought about starting a meditation practice. But where do you begin?
When you have adrenal fatigue, starting something new can feel overwhelming. Especially when that something is as foreign to you as meditation. Meditation should help to lower stress levels, not raise them.
Those feelings of overwhelm often come about because we associate meditation with something that it’s not. Believing that meditation is reserved for those in white robes or that a silent mind is a prerequisite before starting are myths. What if I told you that meditation isn’t about silencing your brain at all? What if meditation was more like exercising than anything else?
Those with adrenal fatigue are often recommended to start a meditation practice.This post will take the mystery out of meditation. Making it a practice more like exercise. And, like exercise, meditation is something that should be done on a regular basis.
Meditation is not as esoteric as you may think. Below, I’ll dispel some of the common misconceptions surrounding meditation. By the end of this post, you should be ready to start a practice of your own!
Myth/Expectation #1: Meditation is a religion
Yes, meditation is often associated with the Buddhist religion. Just like jogging is often associated with exercise. Though you and I both know that there are many different types of exercise. Exercise is not exclusively jogging — even though that’s what a lot of people do for exercise. Similarly, meditation is not exclusive to Buddhism.
I prefer to think of meditation as a practice. This is not exclusive to a particular religion. Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Taoists, Yogis, Hindus, and even Scientologists exercise. Exercise is not exclusive to a belief system. And neither is meditation. Both are a practice — a thing you do.
Myth/Expectation #2: My mind is far too crazy to meditate
I hear this one a lot. Especially by those suffering from adrenal fatigue. The “wired but tired” feeling, common in adrenal fatigue, often creates physical fatigue with mental unrest. Meditation is the perfect antidote to this.
Needing to achieve perfect stillness of the mind is a common misconception regarding meditation. The aim is not to achieve a state where no thought enters your brain. Instead, it’s about cultivating an awareness around your thoughts.
Right now, your thoughts are likely to be in the first person:
- “I need to get groceries after I pick up my daughter.”
- “I forgot to pay the registration on my car.”
- “I’m hungry.”
These don’t stop when you sit down to meditate. In my experience, they only intensify. The ambition or aim of meditation is to create a separation between you and your thoughts. This is where the magic happens.
Instead of each thought being about you, through meditation, you create a new perspective. You try to observe your thoughts. You watch as your brain jumps from one topic to the next. You’re aware of how scattered your thoughts are. Meditation schools describe it in this way:
Before meditation, you are the river. You experience the rapids and the eddys. The leaves floating by, you’re them too. With meditation, you cultivate awareness. You now observe the river. You watch the leaves float by. You notice the rapids. You notice the eddys. You’re no longer the river.
You create this new perspective by finding a physical sensation to focus on. Many schools of meditation focus on the breath. You feel the inhale followed by the exhale. Then, your mind starts wandering — you start thinking about what you’re going to do after you finish meditation. You may think about this for a minute or an hour.
Eventually, you remember, “I need to focus on my breath!”
And so back to the breath, you go. Inhale. Exhale. Then you start thinking about the new movie that comes out this week. Who should you take with you? You again remember you’re meditating, and you return back to the breath.
This is the practice of meditation. Constantly reminding yourself to focus on a single point — like the breath. All the while noticing the endless stream of thoughts flowing through your head.
By doing this you begin to alter how closely you identify with your thoughts. It’s in this space where the magic of meditation happens. When you slowly start to identify less with a thought, it doesn’t create the same emotional reaction it used to.
Myth/Expectation #3: Meditation is used to achieve enlightenment
When viewed through the lens of the Buddhist religion, yes, that is the purpose of meditation. However, that doesn’t have to be why you practice meditation. Remember, meditation is a practice, not a religion.
Science has studied the benefits of meditation for many years. Some of the more recent findings include:
- Meditation lowers inflammation by signaling the brain to lower inflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6. (1)
- Remember how one of the causes of adrenal fatigue is inflammation? This is why meditation is such an important part of healing from adrenal fatigue.
- Meditation rebuilds gray matter in the brain. (2)
- The amount of gray matter is shown to be lower in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. (3)
- Meditation reduces stress, which reduces cortisol.
- Elevated cortisol levels are commonly found in stage II adrenal fatigue.
- Chronically elevated cortisol imbalances blood sugar and hormones and leads to weight gain. For more information on how imbalanced blood sugar leads to adrenal fatigue, please see this post.
- Meditation stimulates the vagus nerve, which modulates proper digestion from the stomach to the intestines. (4)
- Those with adrenal fatigue often have gut issues. Those with gut issues often develop adrenal fatigue. (5) This bi-directional relationship is called the gut-brain axis.
If you’re not a Buddhist, meditate because of the noted health benefits. As I said, meditation is better compared to exercising or eating healthy. It’s a practice that one does. If the religious and spiritual aspects don’t resonate with you, leave them out. You’ll still get the health benefits!
Myth/Expectation #4: I need someplace serene to meditate
You don’t have to go to yoga class to meditate. You don’t need a meditation room in your house to meditate. Meditation is about bringing your attention to the present moment — this is usually done using a specific point of focus (like your breath) to keep your attention present. You can do this anywhere — as you walk to work, as you drive or take the train on your commute.
Myth/Expectation #5: I should feel amazing after meditating
I thought this was the case for so long. I was sure I was doing something wrong with my meditation practice. I’d often get up from meditating and think “I feel worse than I did before I started.” At times, meditation feels serene and peaceful. Other times it can feel chaotic. Try to avoid setting expectations for your meditation practice.
When you’re first starting out, you will sit down and watch the whirling of your brain go haywire. You will realize how hard it is to focus on something like your own breathing, and you will get frustrated. When you get better at meditating, you will still sit and watch your brain go haywire. This doesn’t change.
The key is to realize that just by starting to meditate, you are already successful. Monks spend each day of their lives meditating for hours. I’m confident that even they still notice the craziness of their minds. If they don’t achieve a quiet mind after a lifetime of practice, you probably won’t either. And that’s ok. The health benefits of meditation are still occurring.
Myth/Expectation #6: You need a lot of time
We all live busy lives. Trying to find an additional hour to meditate each day is likely to cause stress rather than alleviate it. The majority of us will not be able to set aside such a large block of time. Especially in the beginning. Finding 10–15 minutes each day, however, is do-able. And it’s the perfect amount of time needed to start a meditation practice.
Instead of trying to add another 15-minute appointment into your schedule, I’d recommend replacing something with meditation. That way your to-do list does not continue to grow. If you usually watch a couple of Netflix episodes before bed each night, replace one episode with meditation. If you check your Facebook news feed each morning before work, add a meditation practice in its place.
Ten minutes of practice is better than no practice at all. When my life gets really busy, my 30-minute daily practice will often drop to 5–10 minutes. Even that small amount of time is enough to help calm my mind and lower my stress levels. Don’t feel you need to dedicate hours to this practice.
How do you start a meditation practice?
Much like there are many different ways to exercise, there are many ways to meditate. When you’re first starting out, following an audio recording tends to be the most comfortable. At the clinic, we recommend apps like Headspace, Stop Breathe Think, or Heartmath to get you started.
If you have tried one style of meditation and hated it, that does not mean meditation is not for you. You simply need to try another style. Keep trying different types until you find a style you enjoy. Then, stick with that one style. Meditation can get confusing if you jump from style-to-style. And, it’s hard to see progress when this occurs.
The number one reason I see people avoid starting a meditation practice is because they believe it involves something they don’t believe in or enjoy. I hope this post has dispelled the myths surrounding meditation.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What is your meditation practice of choice?
Originally published at Flourish Clinic.