Meditation for anxiety
Anxiety is not a new phenomenon. In fact, at some point or the other everyone has experienced anxiety, albeit the causes of it being different. A student who is about to write an examination can become anxious. A legal practitioner who is about to defend a case in the law court can become anxious as to what the outcome might be. A motivational speaker who is about to appear before a group of people and deliver his speech may become anxious. So different things can lead to anxiety. But then, how can this be solved? Also, how effective is meditation for anxiety? Is there any meditation exercise for anxiety? These questions and more are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Do you feel as if you’re the only person who is anxious in life? Well, the truth is there are lots of people who are also undergoing a form of anxiety or the other. Research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found out that an estimated 40 million adults in the United States have some kind of anxiety disorder (1). Another research study conducted on the global prevalence of anxiety disorders also found out that one in 14 people are affected by this menace, which is to tell you that anxiety is indeed a global challenge (4).
What is anxiety?
A person becomes anxious when their body is responding to stress. The moment the feeling of fear or apprehension of what is likely to happen sets in, anxiety takes over. While it may not be a bad thing to be anxious, when it is not put under control, then it becomes a challenge. Anxiety has been defined as the body and mind’s way of reacting to dangerous stressful or unfamiliar situations (14). When it takes a toll on an individual, there is a sense of distress, uneasiness, or dread that a person feels over a particular event. On a rare occasion, anxiety could be beneficial in the sense that it can help an individual to stay alert and aware. However, the moment it reaches a high level it becomes an anxiety disorder.
A person who suffers from an anxiety disorder may have the feeling of fear staying with them for a prolonged time. It can be debilitating and sometimes intense. Unfortunately, individuals who suffer from this kind of anxiety may feel discouraged from doing things that they naturally love to do. If it is not treated on time, it may get worse. When a person finds it difficult to function in important facets of their life, including their relationships and work, this could be a sign that anxiety disorder has set in.
Different types of anxiety disorders
There are different types of anxiety disorders, and some of them include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 7 to 9% of adults in the United States have a specific phobia, while 7% suffer from a social anxiety disorder. 2% suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder, 2 to 3% suffer from panic disorder, and 1 to 2% of adults suffer from separation anxiety disorder (13). It also went on to say that women are more likely to experience anxiety disorders than men.
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What is meditation?
Meditation does not have to be as confusing as it could be some times. It is not just about stopping thoughts, clearing the mind or emptying it. Meditation gives time for relaxation, and at the same time, it also helps an individual to improve their emotional well-being as well as physical health. It is worth noting that the art of meditation is a mental exercise, and it involves focus and awareness. Sometimes when it is done, an individual maintains a seated position, but that is not to say that this is the only position to take when meditating.
According to research conducted on neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners, meditation is defined as a family of mental training exercises designed to familiarise the practitioner with specific types of mental processes (9). It can be practised for various reasons, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance. An individual may engage in meditation by focusing attention on a specific object or paying attention to what is predominant in their experience in the present moment.
Interestingly, there is no specific time or frequency of how a person should meditate. Different people have different opinions about this. While there are different types of approaches to meditation, a person needs to find the best approach that suits them or is comfortable for them and follow the process. Specifically, several kinds of meditations have been identified, and some of these are included in the following (15):
Also known as body scan meditation, this form of meditation encourages an individual to scan their body for any areas where tensions could exist. The primary focus of this kind of meditation is to identify and allow tension to release. This type is known to help in the promotion of generalized feelings of relaxation and calmness.
Research conducted on the effect of stress and relaxation on central pain modulation in chronic whiplash and fibromyalgia patients compared to healthy controls found out that meditation is also capable of helping with chronic pain (3). The body relaxes slowly and steadily when meditation is practised, which is one of the reasons why some people find this form helpful when trying to catch some sleep.
Breath awareness meditation
What this kind of meditation mainly focuses on is the encouragement of mindful breathing. What the practitioners do is to breathe slowly and deeply as they catch their breath, or they simply focus on the degree of the breath. By engaging in this form of meditation the practitioner can focus on their breath alone and shut the door of their mind against any other thoughts that may want to creep in.
Sometimes called zazen, this form of meditation focuses on breathing after maintaining a comfortable position and mindfully observing one’s thoughts without passing any judgement. A practitioner who is seeking a new spiritual path and relaxation at the same time will find this form of meditation helpful.
This can also be referred to metta meditation, and the goal is to cultivate an attitude of kindness and love towards everything possible, including one’s enemies and things that cause stress. As the practitioners open their minds while breathing deeply, it becomes easy for them to perceive loving-kindness and also send the same message to the world, their loved ones, and specific people. The message is repeated as many times as possible until the practitioner can feel the flow of loving-kindness.
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Meditation for stress and anxiety
Among other benefits that meditation offers, it is essential to note that there are also ways to meditate and be free to overcome anxiety. Research conducted on the association between meditation experience and increased cortical thickness unveiled the fact that consistent meditation practice is capable of reprogramming a person’s neural pathways in the brain which will help them regulate emotions better (6). From another research study on long-term meditators with self-induced high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice, researchers formulated that meditating regularly can make a little change in mental states and the resting electroencephalogram patterns that persist more than the period of active practice (5).
When meditating, it becomes easier for an individual to familiarise themselves with distorted storylines that induce anxiety. In the process, it is easier to see them, sit with them, and then release them, which helps individuals to realize the fact that their thoughts do not define them and that whatever flows through their mind is not real. As the person comes to this realization, their reaction and relationship with anxiety begins to change gradually, and by doing so they are able to differentiate between what is real and what is irrational (7).
So, how long does it take for meditation to help anxiety? An individual should bear in mind that meditation is not a quick-fix strategy for whatever form of anxiety a person may be undergoing; it takes some time to achieve the necessary results. This is why it is advisable that once a person feels or is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the best thing is for them to talk to a certified professional for the necessary guidance on what next to do.
How to do meditation for anxiety
It is not unusual to find someone asking why meditation is good for anxiety. One of the powerful benefits of meditation is that it helps an individual to know those things can or are stirring up anxiety and the impact on them. Once the underlying causes are known, it should become easier to work out plans on how to tackle these challenges as well as on how best to avoid them from occurring again at other times. Having understood the fact that meditation can help to alleviate anxiety, one of the major concerns a person may probably have is which is the best meditation technique for anxiety, that is what steps to take so their meditation can overcome their anxiety. A few steps to follow are discussed below:
Practice doing one thing at a time
One of the things that can lead to anxiety is when one’s mind is focused on many things at the same time. Understanding the basic fact that it takes doing one thing at a time to become more effective, is essential. By adopting this it becomes easier for an individual to avoid becoming unnecessarily anxious. Once the mind is set to do one thing at a time, avoiding the unnecessary drifting of the mind becomes more comfortable.
Take time off social media accounts
Research conducted on the use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety found out that the use of multiple social media platforms is independently associated with some symptoms of anxiety and depression, even when the overall time spent on social media is controlled (12). So, if it is not compulsory to operate multiple accounts and yet you have more than one, delete the others and focus on just one.
Practice relaxation response
When the body is trained for this exercise, it helps to achieve a state of relaxation which can enhance a person’s mood, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and reduce daily stress. Practising this can involve sitting in a quiet place and repeating words, phrases, or sounds that have a special meaning to yourself quietly while your eyes are closed for some minutes (8). This helps to free the mind and makes one’s body more relaxed, thereby reducing every form of anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation for anxiety
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that helps an individual to manage the inflow and outflow of thoughts within them. Through it, an individual can calm down their mind and body while letting go of the negativity within them. The practice helps an individual to bring consciousness into their daily activity, especially when they seem choked up with so many activities that they can’t even carve out some time to be alone. Mindful meditation can also be incorporated into one’s daily activities, including while doing house chores, in front of one’s desk, while on the move, and even during exercises.
Regular practice of mindfulness meditation can impact an individual’s physical and mental health, including the management of sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship issues, and stress. From the research conducted on the correlation between the total time spent in meditation practice and the outcomes from interventions based on the use of immeasurables meditations, it was discovered that three to four meditation sessions every week can make a significant difference in a person’s life and having this regular practice for eight weeks is needed to become capable of altering one’s brain (2). When practicing mindfulness meditation to ease stress, the following steps are some of the best meditation for anxiety activities to be engaged in (11):
Choose a convenient position
There are no hard-and-fast rules on where to sit or the position to maintain when engaging this practice. While some people prefer to sit upright in a chair, others like to sit on the floor and yet still others prefer to lie on their backs. The important thing is to get a convenient position. Then, while in the process of meditating the position can be changed, especially when a person feels some cramps in their muscles or when they feel some form of discomfort.
Be conscious of the present
Once a comfortable position and quiet environment are achieved, the next thing is to focus attention inwardly. With the eyes closed, the practitioner begins with a breathing exercise. The pattern that the breath takes should be focused on, but not with an attempt to change it. By doing this, a person’s awareness will be drawn into the present moment.
Acknowledgement of the thoughts
We cannot overrule the fact that sometimes when practicing meditation the temptation to become more anxious or judge oneself can set in. Instead of attempting to suppress the inner conversation, it is better to acknowledge the thoughts and patiently wait until they pass away. Research conducted on the effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression confirmed the fact that after some time it is possible to start feeling less anxious and enjoy inner peace the more (10).
Anxiety is a global challenge, and everybody has experienced it at some point in their lives. The process of meditation for managing anxiety can help an individual to overcome anxiety to a reasonable extent. However, it is also advisable to consult with a certified professional once a person notices a persistent symptom of anxiety in them.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anxiety disorder (2017, nami.org)
- A Systematic Review of Associations between Amount of Meditation Practice and Outcomes in Interventions Using the Four Immeasurables Meditations (2017, frontiersin.org)
- Effects of stress and relaxation on central pain modulation in chronic whiplash and fibromyalgia patients compared to healthy controls (2018, biblio.ugent.be)
- Global Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Long-term Meditators Self-Induce High-Amplitude Gamma Synchrony During Mental Practice (2004,pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Meditation for Anxiety (n.d., headspace.com)
- Meditation May Reduce Stress and Improve Health (n.d., medicinenet.com)
- Neural Correlates of Attentional Expertise in Long-Term Meditation Practitioners (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review (n.d., doi.apa.org)
- Use Mindfulness Meditation to Ease Anxiety (2020, verywellmind.com)
- Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- What Are Anxiety Disorders? (2017, psychiatry.org)
- What is Anxiety? (n.d., anxiety.org)
- What is the best type of meditation? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)