The Science of Chronic Stress, Inflammation, and Mindfulness

Physical and psychological stress can ignite the slow burn of inflammation deep within the body fueling chronic disease. Mindfulness may help us put out that flame.

Illustration by Anna and Elena Balbossa

Inflammation. Since the early 1990s, when researchers began connecting the dots between a plethora of chronic illnesses and a previously unrecognized form of inflammation—properly called “metainflammation”—it’s been identified as a glaring health concern, a subcategory of wellness unto itself, about which headlines are made and books are written. 

Since then, doctors and healers of all stripes have advised countless (often questionable) treatments to fight inflammation, from diet changes and exercise to drugs, herbs, and supplements. Clearly inflammation is a battle we have yet to win.

Yet in this still-new terrain, researchers have also sussed out a possible common denominator in this complex condition: stress. 

And meditation is showing promise as an accessible and effective way to combat it. →

Why We Get Inflamed

To understand why meditation may work against metainflammation, it helps to understand exactly what inflammation is, and what effects it can have on our health. 

First, there’s more than one kind of inflammation. Acute inflammation is triggered when you’re wounded or battling an infection. One of the body’s most elegantly engineered processes, your blood vessels constrict to stop bleeding. Then swarms of inflammation-promoting cells, starting with neutrophils, flood the injured area. (You may notice redness and…