Alleviating Stress Through Meditation

When the mind is anxious, the heart takes over. Physiological “fight or flight” responses to stressful stimuli include a rush of adrenaline and a rise in blood pressure – useful evolutionary responses to the threat of predators, but not so useful when combating modern-day stresses like email overload.

Our heart rate doesn’t only rise when we’re presented with a tangible stressor, either. Cycles of self-doubt and worry about the future can cause our immune systems to go into overdrive, racing our hearts even when we’re sitting in the comforts of home.

With heart disease still the leading cause of death in America, we should be looking for alternative methods to strengthen our cardiovascular health in addition to diet and exercise. Regular meditation practice, while extremely advantageous for overall mental and physical well-being, has been shown to have specific benefits for heart health.

For one, it’s a proven stress reducer. Performing a full body scan with a particular focus on the breath for as little as twenty minutes a day can replace jittery, anxious feelings with calmness and perspective. And not just during the time spent meditating – training to be mindful is all about changing the way we react to things that happen in our daily lives.

Even if you already have a heart-related condition, it’s not too late to add guided meditation practice to your regimen. Many cardiologists have gone so far as to prescribe meditation as an actionable way to reverse the symptoms of coronary artery disease. Rather than attempt the nearly impossible task of avoiding all potentially stressful situations altogether, changing how we perceive those situations more effectively keeps our hearts at a steady rhythm.

Of course, stress alone is not the only contributor to heart disease. Genetics, high cholesterol, smoking and other factors can leave the body predisposed to arterial inflammation, a leading cause of blood clots, heart attack and stroke if left untreated. Meditation has been shown to slow the inflammatory process, placing less stress on the cardiovascular system. 

Meditation is also about the little things that add up over time. After a stressful day, the last thing the heart needs is a restless night. Meditation helps with that. While many may equate the act of meditating with resting, the opposite is actually true – only through a focused mental workout can we train the mind to regulate sleep and prevent insomnia.

We are naturally hardwired to shock our own systems every time we feel stress. But we have a choice in the matter. By starting and sticking to a simple guided meditation routine, we can save our hearts from pumping more anxiety into our lives.