Meditation for Chronic Stress & Illness – Sitting With the Situation

Crisis meditator. That’s very much a thing. It’s a term that I learned when I became a meditation teacher – a label that I didn’t realize had described me perfectly up until that point.

Work pressure. Family conflicts. Relationship woes. Children having nuclear-level meltdowns. Crises of all shapes and sizes are part of our daily lives. There’s no escaping them but at least we can remind ourselves that everyone deals with them.

Sometimes it’s easier to let things roll off your back. Other times, the pileup of these crises seems to stick like glue. As you walk the tightrope of things precariously piling up, all it takes is “one more thing” to trigger the panic button. And chances are that’s when you’ll find yourself experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing – sensations that might make you wonder if you’re having a heart attack.

What if you could pull yourself out of crisis mode? Would you do it?

What’s Meditation?

The easiest way I can explain meditation is that it is a way to quiet the fluctuations of the mind. It’s not about being without thought or that it’s some sort of magic trick.

There are many different schools and styles of meditation out there, so you can surely find something that clicks for you. Personally, I gravitate to more secular styles and did my teacher training with Unplug Meditation and davidji. I focus my approach to meditation based on what I found worked for me when dealing with chronic pain and stress: breathing.

When you’re in crisis mode, you might actually forget to breathe (I know I do!). And if you’re not breathing properly, you’re not oxygenating. Your autonomic nervous system goes off the rails in response to stress, and this causes surges of stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol and glucagon).

Meditation and Chronic Stress

People who shoulder the physical burdens of chronic illness also carry the immense weight of stress that comes with it. Chronic conditions affect us physically (pain and discomfort), mentally (fear and uncertainty), and emotionally (pressure of relationships and obligations).

I began dabbling with meditation to manage stress nearly 10 years ago. When stress at work would overwhelm me, I’d drop into a group meditation class and sit it out. It wasn’t a conscious, disciplined undertaking but rather a remedy to the surges of my heartbeat, which were making it hard to see straight — total crisis meditator.

But after sitting for a while and getting my brain and breath under control, I could gather myself up and continue on with life. I could feel the shift in my hormones as the fight or flight mode I was in subsided and then when things settled down… I would revert back to normal and forget.

Meditation and Stressful Situations (Like…a Pandemic?)

As I began navigating my healthcare journey, from diagnosis to treatment, my stress levels regularly shot through the roof. Whether it was waiting for test results or staying awake at night wondering what the heck was wrong, it was getting to be too much.

I remember coming home from the emergency room in fall 2018, my eyes glazed over in shock and confusion. I had just been told that an ultrasound had found a grapefruit-sized fibroid (benign uterine tumour), and that this could be a reason why I had been grappling with chronic pain for the better part of a decade.

I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and my breath in my throat. It was like I was on auto-pilot when I grabbed my cell phone and played a guided meditation from one of the apps I rotated through regularly. Not gonna lie, I played a few in a row.

Sitting With the Situation

Over the next few months, meditation would prove to become my constant companion. I started sitting with guided meditations in the morning and decompressing with them at night. When I got overwhelmed in a doctor’s waiting room, I’d pop my earphones in and listen. When the pain or side effects from medication got gnarly, I’d use breathing to try and deactivate my nerves and soften my muscles.

I used meditation throughout my surgery and healing journey, too. As I sat in my hospital gown waiting to go into the operating room, I quietly listened to meditations to keep my heartbeat calm. After the surgery, I even kept the audio meditations on loop to feel less scared and alone in a sterile hospital room. (One of my overnight nurses was scared someone had broken into my room because she heard John Sahakian’s voice care of my iPhone😂). And back home, when I struggled with pain or the emotional roller coaster of healing, I’d retreat and hit play.

From crisis meditator to constant sitter, the journey through stress reduction has never really ended for me. But for people dealing with chronic illness, it could be just what you need to help make the road less bumpy.

Read Part 1 of my diagnosis journey to learn how it took 10+ years to get to this point.

Maya Chendke

Founder, Meditation Teacher, Freelance Writer
No Granola Wellness
Data & Analytics, Meditation

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