Stressed Out: Meditation & Twenty-One Pilots
By Dr. Bob Griesse, D.C.
HealthSource of Fairlawn
While riding home from one of the beautiful trails in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park I heard a song on the radio that I hadn’t heard in about a year. To be clear, I rarely listen to most music on the radio; I’m usually listening to sports talk, podcasts, or the music I’ve chosen to put on my own phone. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard Stressed Out by Twenty-One Pilots for quite some time. However, it's a song I enjoy, in fact most of Twenty-One Pilots’ stuff is good, but that’s beside the point. The song struck me with a bit of inspiration on a topic I’ve discussed often with patients: meditation as a form of stress reduction.
Just after opening the song the lead singer (Tyler Joseph) sings, “I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink, but now I’m insecure and I care what people think1.” This concept of a boy’s expectations for adulthood being met with an alternate, harsher reality is the theme for the song. Adult reminiscence and nostalgia for childhood and its simplicity are not unique to Joseph’s band, its mostly millennial fan base, or those of us trying to navigate the 21st century, but we’ve forgotten how to cope.
The Truth of Stress and Mental Health
For any number of reasons in life whether it is job-related, relationships, cultural, identity-related, personal, or otherwise, we will experience stress on a daily, monthly, yearly, basis. Some days are easy and others seem like they got off on the wrong foot and never quite settled in. For millions of Americans however, it can go deeper than nostalgia, a bad day, a bad relationship, or a rough time with classmates/colleagues. Check out these infographics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness2.
In case you didn’t check it out, or missed these two: 16 million American adults live with major depression and 42 million live with some type of anxiety disorder. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve seen that deal with some form of mental health illness, but I also can’t name a single patient who isn’t dealing with some type of significant stressor. Even if it doesn’t equate to a DSM-V (psychology classification) diagnosable illness, every person you know is dealing with stuff.
It is Affecting Our Overall Health
The thing we often don’t connect until it’s too late is that our negative thoughts, the volume of stress in our lives, and our lack of good health practices all have a major effect on our entire body. In healthcare, this is a recognized issue and we have a technical name for the phenomenon of mental health effecting physical health- it’s psychosomatic. In fact, it’s so common for stress to be contributing to our pain or health issues musculoskeletal care is moving to using psychological screening methods for all patients, especially those suffering with chronic issues.
Most of us will read a statement like that and be sympathetic to the loved ones we have who’ve suffered from opioid addiction, fibromyalgia, chronic regional pain syndrome, and other issues. What most of us will miss is that it contributes to our “unnamed” dysfunctions as well. Chronic stress and big changes can cause:
- disruptions in our gut leading to constipation or diarrhea (this can lead to irritable bowel syndrome)
- clenching or grinding of teeth which leads to headaches, neck pain, and jaw pain
- dysfunction in our immune system
Now Here’s the Pill (or lack thereof)
I joke about a pill because for many, this recommendation is like swallowing one of those medications that you never want to see handed to you by a pharmacist. A large, gray or white, chalky-looking, hard-pressed pill with a name you can’t pronounce, but this one is meditation. There, I finally said it. If you’re anything like the patients I’ve worked with you’ll have one of three responses:
- Happy hippy- “Dr. Bob, so glad you recommended that, I’ve been meaning to re-center lately and this is the kick in the chakra I needed.” Ok, maybe not their exact response, but let’s be honest we all know someone like this.
- The skeptical Midwesterner- “Look Doc, I get that you’re into natural health and all, and you’ve really helped me, but I don’t need this stuff.” Look I practice in Ohio (and I love Ohio), but this is all too common. The answer is, if I brought it up to you, you’ve needed it for a while, you just didn’t know it.
- The even more skeptical Christian (or other religious person)- “Dr. Bob, I get that it has benefits and all, but I’m a Christian and that whole center yourself and humming isn’t what’s going to save me.” I saw Christian because honestly, those are the most common religious objectors and trust me because I’m a Christian and I’ve witnessed it. Shoot, I’ve even seen atheists respond in their own version of this.
Thing is, I respond to all of them the exact same way: “There is a reason that every major world religion (including Christianity) and many atheists recognize some form of meditation. Because it works.” And usually I leave it at that. For you skeptics, I’ll list some cited benefits below, but I want you to do this for yourself: recognize that your life is stressful and busy, recognize that you probably won’t be able to change most of that, and then carve out some time for your chosen version of this ancient practice that helped our ancestors handle a slower paced lifestyle. Your time won’t be wasted, you need it.
Benefits of meditation found in research:
- Reduce anxiety & perceived stress3
- It’s less expensive than medications for stress and anxiety
- Reduce pain3
- Reduced symptoms of depression3
- You must maintain the practice of meditation to continually reap the benefits4
- Improvements in neuroplasticity (ability to learn and alter your brain)5,6
- Slowed degeneration of the brain6,7
Stay Healthy My Friends,
Dr. Bob Griesse, DC, CSCS
- JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
- Psychol Health Med. 2017 Aug 29:1-8. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2017.1363400
- Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 180-211
- Nat Neurosci. 2012 Apr 15;15(5):689-95
- Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2017 Aug;8(8-9):121-136