Stressed out? Meditation might help

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On their lunch hour in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, Shelah Marie and her friends are sitting cross-legged, and completely still.

"We live in a Type A world, which tells you 'Go forward!' Have a plan, A, B, C, D! It's all about forward momentum," she says.

So the self-described meditation enthusiast knows the idea of sitting here meditating in a very public park might seem a little odd, even intimidating.

"It's like, what is this," she says.  "Is this for monks?  Is this for people who go sit on a hill?"

But Shelah Marie says yoga is not only do-able, it's powerful stuff. She joined a yoga class while living in New York City, working as an actress. At the time, she says, she was stressed and struggling with both depression and anxiety. In 5 years of practicing meditation, she says, meditation has eased her anxiety and depression in a way prescription medication could not.

"It was the first time I actually gave myself time to hear my thoughts, to hear what was going on inside my mind," she says, Yoga "newbie" Brandee Ross by focusing on her breathing has helped her slow down her mind, which would sometimes race.

"I'm able to slow my thoughts down, sort through them," Ross says.  "And, of course, (I'm) a lot more peaceful."

At Emory's Woodruff School of Nursing, Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Lindy Grabbe, Ph.D., is a psychiatric nurse who studies and teaches mindfulness and meditation. Grabbe says chronic stress can take a toll on our nervous system.

"Your heart rate is going to go up," Dr. Grabbe says.  "You're going to be hypervigilant, hyper-aware of your environment. And that's protective, but it wears you out.  It's wear and tear on our nervous system, really.  We may not even be aware of it. But if people are rude to us or unpleasant, or challenging for us, the stress builds up, and actually, it kind of gets lodged in our bodies."

So, Grabbe says both meditation, which involves focusing on one thing, like your breathing, and mindfulness, or focusing on the moment, can both be extremely helpful in letting go of chronic stress.

"You're not worrying about the future," Grabbe says.  "You're not regretful about the past. You're right her in the moment. And that is nourishing to our souls. And it is wonderful for our health."

When her lunchtime meditation in the park is over, Brandee Ross feels liberated.

"I feel like I've just been on a beach," she says.  "I just feel great about life."

Marie travels the country to help lead "Self-love day parties" which encourage women to use meditation.