We all know that stress is bad for your health. Some stress here and there is normal, but chronic high stress can lead to major physical and mental health issues, including high blood pressure, anxiety disorders and increased risk of stroke.

For people living with a gastro health issue, stress may often be a trigger for flare-ups and digestive inflammation. Indeed, there is a direct link between stress and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, sufferers of GI conditions often report that they experience negative psychological factors as a result of their condition, including feelings of depression and anxiety. These negative feelings can act as stressors themselves, creating something of a vicious cycle.

People often use meditation as a strategy for coping with (and reducing) chronic stress, but did you know that it can also help you manage your gastro condition? A recent study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin has shown that mindfulness and meditation may help reduce some of the physical symptoms of conditions like IBS. So committing to a daily ‘ohmmm’ could be a free, easy and highly accessible natural remedy against both stress and digestive issues.

Ready to give it go? Getting started with meditation and mindfulness is as simple as one, two three:

1. Focus on your breathing
Meditation practice often begins with slowing the breath and drawing the practitioner’s attention to the rhythmic expansion and contraction of the lungs. Breathing deeply, slowly and calmly is the exact opposite of what your body does in response to a stressful situation. When you slow your breathing you give your mind a physical signal to relax and feel safe and free of worry. Fixing your attention on your breathing is also a simple way to eliminate distractions and increase your focus in one fell swoop – the foundations of meditation and mindfulness.

2. Close your eyes
Distraction is anathema to meditation. This is why many people choose to meditate with eyes closed. Closing your eyes reduces the stimulus of the outside world and draws the focus inward, encouraging a calm mind. Maintaining good posture is also important during meditation, though sitting cross-legged yogi-style is totally optional. You may like to meditate while standing, seated or prostrate – just be careful not to fall asleep!

3. Take time every day
Committing to a daily meditation practice will help you reap the greatest rewards, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours with your ‘ohmmm’ each day. Try starting with just two minutes of quiet focus daily and then expand your commitment slowly as your practice becomes easier. Adding a few minutes of mindfulness to your morning or nightly routine is a great way to incorporate it into your schedule. You could also set a reminder in your phone or calendar, or even download a meditation app to keep you on track.

Incorporating meditation and stress management into your daily life can help you manage some of your gastro symptoms over time. As the practice develops into a good habit, you might even notice other flow-on benefits such as reduced blood pressure and anxiety levels as well as improved digestion, memory and immunity. So go on, take a deep breath and get relaxing now.

Useful links:
http://www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/intro-to-ibs/stress-psychological-factors
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2263949/Mindfulness-Meditation-ease-pain-stress-related-conditions-like-IBS-arthritis.html
http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/relax–its-good-for-you-20090819-eqlo.html

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