You may have heard that meditation can be beneficial for anxiety, but it may not in the way you would expect.
Anxiety is often fueled by fear and worry. Fear is usually a negative emotion, unless the person is facing a life-threatening situation. Fear can be relatively unproductive in daily life, particularly in the form of anxiety.
While stressful events can elicit short-term anxiety in most people, it typically disappears shortly after the event. For millions of those suffering from an anxiety disorder, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), anxiety is a chronic condition they can’t turn off. Most people with anxiety are chronic worriers stuck in a state of almost constant anxiety that limits their daily happiness.
Most people are aware if they experience excessive worrying. Many people with anxiety disorders find that fear and worry can be triggered by small events. If you find yourself with worrying too much about finances, work, health, and what’s happening with your family, you may want to make some changes.
How Meditation Helps Anxiety
In the simplest sense, anxiety helps with anxiety because it reduce fear and worry by helping the person to become more present right now, in this very moment. The anxiety associated with fear and worry usually has to do with a fixation on the past or the future. When you meditate, you become intentionally focused on the here and now.
Meditation helps reduce anxiety because it can quiet the chronically overactive brain. For people experiencing anxiety, it sometimes feels like your mind won’t shut off. Meditating teaches a person to stop paying attention to thoughts and feelings that aren’t useful to us.
Practiced over a relatively short period of time, meditating can help to strengthen the person’s ability to focus attention on the here and now while choosing to not focus on worry and other troubling thoughts.
As with any practice, the results are better is the person is committed and consistent. Meditation can require patience, because it takes a little while to experience the benefits. In time, most people with anxiety find that they feel better because they are able to detach from fears and worry that use to plague them.
Research on Using Mediation in Anxiety Treatment
Numerous scientific studies have found meditation to be effective for treating anxiety. Meditation has long been used to help relax, focus and attenuate anxiety by reducing arousal state.
A study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School revealed that 22 medical patients with anxiety disorders showed clinically and statistically significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety and panic following an 8-week stress reduction intervention based on mindfulness meditation. Three years later, a follow-up study learned that the same subjects still had reduced anxiety and concluded that mindfulness meditation can have long-term benefits in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
A large review study looked at 60 studies using meditation of the treatment of anxiety disorders and concluded that meditation therapy was an effective method for treating anxiety disorders. Another review combined the findings of 163 different studies. The overall conclusion was that practicing mindfulness or meditation produced beneficial results, with a substantial improvement in areas like negative personality traits, anxiety, and stress. Another study focused on a wide range of anxiety, from cancer patients to those with social anxiety disorder, and found mindfulness to be an effective management tool.
The researchers analyzed 39 studies totaling 1,140 participants and discovered that the anxiety-reducing benefits from mindfulness might be enjoyed across such a wide range of conditions because when someone learns mindfulness, they learn how to work with difficult and stressful situations.
All mental activity has to have a physical correlation in the brain, and this aspect has been studied in relation to anxiety. Chronic worriers often display increased reactivity in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with regulating emotions, including fear. Neuroscientists at Stanford University found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks were more able to turn down the reactivity of this area. Other researchers from Harvard found that mindfulness can physically reduce the number of neurons in this fear-triggering part of the brain.
Learning To Meditate To Help Anxiety
The practice of meditation is a skill that anyone can learn, especially if they have a good teacher. Anxious people often shy away from meditation for various reasons because they are afraid they are too restless to sit still or have too many thoughts while trying to meditate. With time and a patient teacher, these objections can be overcome with positive results. Virtually anyone can learn how to meditate, even if initial sessions are short and guided by a professional.