This year has been a doozy so far, and many people are experiencing heightened stress as they balance their personal and work lives through a pandemic and an upcoming election. Things were already incredibly stressful to begin with—in fact, a study conducted before the pandemic found 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress and U.S. businesses are losing $300 billion annually as a result.

Stress is something everyone experiences but can be difficult to define. Researchers and mental-health professionals describe it as a normal physical, emotional, or mental reaction to a change. The change could be environmental (like moving into a new home), could involve your body (like an injury), or could impact your thoughts (like a big, new project or a negative interaction with a friend).

While stress is normal, it becomes an issue if it persists long enough to trigger your nervous system, specifically your fight-or-flight response. This can happen when you have many stressors that add up or one big change that impacts many areas of your life. Stress often manifests in the body as headaches, fatigue, problems sleeping, irritability or other symptoms.

When you feel stressed, it’s tempting to crawl into bed, throw the covers over your head, and stay hidden until it passes. But the best way to manage stress is addressing it head on.

This is where meditation comes in. People have been using this practice for thousands of years and benefitting from the increased sense of ease and calm that comes with it. Because of its many benefits, meditation has become the subject of many recent studies, and scientists have found that the practice calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response. Studies have also found that meditation reduces many stress markers including heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (a hormone associated with stress).

Starting a meditation practice to decrease stress levels is easy, and one of the great things about meditation is that you can take a moment to pause anywhere; it doesn’t require a lot of equipment or preparation. And you don’t need to commit hours each day to see benefits. In fact, here is a list of quick exercises to decrease stress:

  • Take three deep breaths. Count to five as you inhale and five as you exhale.
  • Pick up something warm, cold, or textured, and focus on the feeling for 2 minutes.
  • Grab a sheet of paper and write five good things that happened in the last week.
  • Find a classical song, grab your headphones, and listen with your eyes closed.

Have you used meditation to decrease stress? Let us know in the comments below.