Stress doesn’t just make you feel moody and overwhelmed, it can have serious, long term health effects. Treatment for those ailments can be expensive and time consuming. It can worsen medical and psychiatric illness. It may even affect your family and your job. Before stress runs you down, consider how a simple, free meditation practice can save you.

Negative Impacts of Stress
You may be so busy you don’t even notice how stress is impacting your overall health. It could be a slow increase in headaches or a growing waistline. You may develop skin rashes, like eczema, that you didn’t previously struggle with. Insomnia, decreased sex drive, anxiety, teeth grinding, and digestive problems are a few of the physical symptoms stress can cause. It may cause appetite changes, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, poor judgment, nervous habits like nail biting, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Eventually, stress may become a chronic problem. Long term stress may cause cardiac problems, mental health problems, permanent hair loss or skin scarring, and damaging gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. The good news is this: managing stress is within your control. You just need to pay attention to your symptoms and be proactive.

How Meditation Reduces Stress
Studies have shown that many symptoms of stress can be relieved by regular meditation. It can even help alleviate symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, such as anxiety disorders. Contrary to the idea that meditation involves clearing one’s mind, it is truly about mental focus. When you meditate, you cultivate mindfulness, which is a state of being present and focused.

Meditation may help you look at problems from a different, calm perspective. Mindfulness will help you get rid of negative feelings from stressful events. Over time, you’ll learn to control your breathing and physical responses to stress. All of this helps with stress reduction.

Another benefit of mediation is it doesn’t cost you anything more than a little time. Whereas other treatments for stress related illnesses, such as trips to cardiologists or dermatologist, may cost you thousands of dollars over time. As part of a treatment plan, meditation won’t negatively impact any medication or other therapies you may be using.

How to Meditate
Starting a meditation practice will require you to learn how to meditate. Fortunately, the mechanics of it are fairly simple.

● Choose a time of day and quiet location where you will not be disturbed. Eliminate distractions, like your phone.
● Do some gentle stretching first.
● Get comfortable. Some people like to sit on a pillow, for example. Don’t feel like you must sit cross-legged if it’s uncomfortable. Arrange yourself so you may sit without moving for several minutes.
● Breathe deeply, holding a breath for a few seconds before exhaling. Focus on breathing slowly and fully.
● If your mind begins to wander, gently remind yourself to focus on your breath.

It requires dedication to make your meditation practice a habit. To cement the daily practice, commit to a set amount of time per day for meditation. You only need a few minutes at first. Schedule the time of day you will meditate and choose a trigger activity. Triggers are behaviors that are already part of your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth in the morning or changing your clothes in the evening. Meditate right after that chosen trigger.

You’ll feel some of the benefits of meditation immediately. Your stress levels will decrease, both in the short and long term. Your overall health should improve with a continued daily meditation practice. Free, easy, and healthy. What’s not to love?