Newcomers to meditation might begin their practice with the intention of reducing mental stress, clearing out negative emotions, and quieting the constant chattering of an anxious mind. It’s true that the mental and emotional benefits of a regular meditation are unmatched, but did you know that the practice can benefit your body, as well?
To Run or to Fight, That Is the Question
It all has to do with our built-in stress response, known as the “fight or flight” response. This is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event. Servicemembers may recognize this reaction when entering combat zones or even during intense training situations that simulate danger. We can also experience this reaction in everyday life if we trip over uneven pavement and have to scramble to regain our balance or if the car driving in front of us stops short, requiring us to slam on the breaks.
The acute stress response gives us a jolt of increased energy and speeds up biological processes that will help us react quickly such as increasing our blood pressure and heart rate. Alternatively, processes that aren’t necessary at the moment, such as digestion and hearing, are slowed.
What Happens When You’re Too Stressed?
The fight or flight response is incredibly helpful and even lifesaving in situations that call for a quick reaction, but it’s supposed to shut down after the threat is gone, allowing our physiological processes to balance out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work so seamlessly, and everyday situations can cause our stress response to constantly run.
Servicemembers, for instance, may feel stressed when deployed in an unfamiliar country. On the home front, feelings of constant stress may come from a demanding job or the ever-growing to-do list that comes with caring for your children, keeping up your home, and fulfilling social obligations.
If we constantly perceive a threat, even if it’s just a tight deadline at work, our bodies get stuck in the fight or flight response. Some of our physiological processes remain in a sustained “speed mode” while others stay in a decreased state, sometimes even crawling to a near stop. The list of long-term effects of stress on your body includes:
- Weakened immune system and increased risk of infection
- Heartburn, stomach aches, and other digestive problems
- Frequent headaches and migraines
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks
- High blood sugar, putting you at risk for type 2 diabetes
- Fertility problems and erectile dysfunction
Stay Healthy with Meditation
Meditation actively works to reverse the damage done to the body through stress by toning the body’s ability to return to a restful state. It slows down any processes that are moving too fast and allows any that are moving too slowing to regain their usual pace. Through these means, meditation can have incredible, positive effects on the body including:
- Reduced risk of heart diseases and stroke
- Improved function to genes that control stress and immunity
- Reduced blood pressure and heart rate
- Decreases to inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease
- Reduced premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms
- Improved digestion function and reduced digestive disorders
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other signs of cognitive decline
- Increased immunity and reduced risk of infection
All it takes is a few minutes of meditation a day to begin seeing positive effects. Check out our easy 5-minute meditation to get started, or download one of the many meditation apps available and take some zen with you wherever you go.