April is National Stress Awareness Month, but for the millions of Americans reporting rising levels of anxiety, it doesn’t take an official designation to be acutely aware of the presence of mounting stress in their lives.
The causes of stress are wide-ranging, from work issues to home responsibilities to political dissatisfaction. So too are the side effects – the specific physiological changes that accompany that catch-all feeling of being “stressed out.”
The less in tune we are with our own thoughts and feelings, and the less time we take to check in with ourselves, the more likely we are to fall into the trap of over-the-counter solutions to blanket our anxious mindset. These temporary salves do nothing to improve overall mental fitness, and reliance on unnatural forms of relief can lead to a whole host of other problems.
Not only is regular meditation practice completely natural, it’s a more effective method of stress management than pills. The common side effects of stress also happen to directly be the major benefits of meditation; not a surprise, since being mindful is a result of rewiring the brain’s responses to outside stimuli.
Let’s take a look at some familiar symptoms of stress and how training your brain through meditation can help overcome them.
Stress & Irritability
Ever feel so stressed you could just snap? A mind that is overloaded with thoughts and worries often unloads through behavioral outbursts, which aren’t a pretty sight. If you’ve suffered a bout of irritability, you probably think “wow, that wasn’t me” after reflecting on it. And you’re right – you fell victim to your thoughts. Meditation is calming by design; being able to clearly audit the thoughts that creep into your head allows you to separate yourself from them and let the stressful ones pass.
Lack of Motivation
When you’re stressed, you’re more prone to shutting down entirely. It’s the mind’s way of trying to avoid scenarios, locations and people that cause anxiety. Lack of motivation in itself can worsen the anxiety, since we may begin to label our own minds as weak and unable to cope with whatever’s going on.
Meditation trains the brain to be strong, literally: studies have linked regular meditation practice to increases in gray matter. The more reps of mental fitness you get in, the more focused you’ll be, and the more you’ll find yourself taking on new tasks with renewed vigor.
From stomach knots to migraines, stress manifests itself in all sorts of cruel ways for the body. Meditation has been proven to lower chronic pain sensitivity by making the pain powerless over the mind. By focusing on areas of discomfort during meditation sessions, the brain begins to view them simply as they are and no longer dwells on them as a problem.
The effects of stress on behavior, mood, and body are familiar and universal. But they are, in large part, artificial constructs of the mind. Through regular meditation practice, you can change your relationship with stress and focus on the things that bring you peace and positivity.