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How Meditation Helps Anxiety?
Meditation is a powerful mental exercise for achieving a calm state which is hugely beneficial for anxiety sufferers.
Practicing meditation can reduce negative thoughts and worries, cool your anxious mind, deepen your breath, release tension, relax muscles, boost mood and strengthen your immune system, all of which are negatively impacted by anxiety.
Meditation has helped me enormously with my mental health, and though it’s not the only habit I adopted, it was one of the main reasons why I overcame anxiety.
After struggling with severe anxiety for nearly 20 years and being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I got to a point where I could no longer cope with my mental health. Initially, I changed my diet and adopted a regular exercise regime. But while this was a great start, I was still looking for more ways to heal from this mental condition.
This is how I stumbled across books and articles about how meditation helps anxiety. I must admit though that I wasn’t very convinced at first. Like most anxiety sufferers I had trouble staying still internally and externally, and so I couldn’t imagine sitting still for even 10 seconds, and definitely not for long enough to silence my chaotic mind. But I was desperate and so I tried meditation anyway.
I started meditating for a few minutes every day. It was hard in the beginning because I would twitch and itch, and want to give up. But as I was adamant to calm my anxious mind I persevered. The more I meditated the better it got and the calmer I became.
My meditation style has changed over the years. At the outset, I needed guided meditations, but now I can meditate whenever and wherever and without any guidance.
What’s more, I have fallen in love with this practice and I’m really glad I gave it a chance. My life, as well as my mental state, would not be the same today if I didn’t have meditation as part of my daily practice.
So, when anyone asks me
Does meditation help anxiety?
My answer is simply…
Yes, yes, yes, and oh yes!
Keep on reading because my goal for this article is to inspire you to start your meditation practice today.
- Studies show that meditation can be as effective as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications. But, while anxiety and panic attack medications are only effective temporarily and are addictive, meditation can reverse anxiety-related damage and make your brain less anxiety-prone. So, if your brain is running on a hamster wheel of “what ifs” and worries, and you are looking for a drug-free solution, meditation could be your answer. Meditation can help you whether you’re only anxious sometimes or you have an anxiety disorder.
- Johns Hopkins University carried out a review of over 18,000 meditation studies to determine what are the most effective uses of meditation. The researchers found that the most effective, and the number one use for meditation is to relieve anxiety.
- Anyone can practice meditation, almost immediately. There are thousands of different ways to meditate, and so, there is something for everyone.
- When I first started meditating, I didn’t believe meditation was for me. Also, I was a complete beginner. But now I can’t imagine a life without meditation.
- Contrary to the common misconception, meditation is not a religious practice. So, you don’t need to worry that meditation is some complicated spiritual exercise involving incomprehensible mantras and unobtainable seating postures. While meditation can help to deepen awareness of your spiritual body, it can also help you to reduce and manage your anxiety.
- Meditation can be as easy as practicing deep breathing for 5 minutes every morning.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise for achieving a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
There are many different meditation types and techniques.
But most commonly people practice meditation in a seated position with eyes closed, while
These mental exercises in meditation help to train attention and awareness of the present moment as well as yourself and your surroundings.
Creating breaks between your thoughts helps to calm you down but is also incredibly beneficial for physical, mental, and emotional health. Becoming more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and memories can change your life.
People struggling with anxiety, for example, often experience running negative thoughts and worries, and meditation not only helps to reduce these, but it also helps you to become aware of these so that you can change them long-term.
Here are some examples of
Meditation Types and Techniques
You might have also heard of mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness have many similarities and can overlap, but the terms are not exactly interchangeable.
Meditation typically refers to a seated practice, while mindfulness involves paying attention and being present in whatever you’re doing. For example, paying attention to your walking (mindful walking), or staying focused while eating (mindful eating). You can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere, and with anyone around.
Both meditation and mindfulness are very beneficial for managing anxiety, and practicing both would be the ideal. But this is something that most people work towards. I started with meditation and then later also adopted mindfulness, which is what a lot of people do as well.
How Meditation Helps Anxiety?
Meditation can help you reduce and manage anxiety in the short term, but also help you overcome this mental condition long-term, and the following reasons explain how.
1. Meditation shifts your mind away from your worries
Anxiety triggers excessive worries about the things that took place in the past or what might happen in the future.
I used to constantly worry about:
- What someone said to me
- What I said to someone else
- What if…
- Does someone like me
- What someone thinks of me
- Why can’t I be like someone else
But when you’re focused on the past or the future, you cannot be in the present moment, which is where you can find relief from your worries.
One of the main ways how meditation helps anxiety is by returning your attention to the present moment or ‘worry-free’ zone.
For example, in breath-awareness meditation, the idea is to focus attention and awareness on every inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders, no problem, simply bring it back to your breath. When you are aware of your breath, you are creating a gap between your thoughts and worries.
The more you meditate, the better you’ll become at staying focused in the present, automatically reducing your worries.
2. Meditation calms the nonstop chatter of your mind
Following on from above, experts estimate that on average humans have around 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day, which is 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts an hour. But an anxious person has way more thoughts than that.
At the peak of my anxiety, I used to regularly set aside 10-15 minutes for writing down my thoughts to identify negative thought patterns. During this exercise, I found that I couldn’t write fast enough to get all my thoughts down because I often had 2 thoughts per second, which is around 7,000 thoughts an hour, or 170,000 thoughts a day! What’s more, I also realized that the majority of these thoughts were negative.
My mind was engaged in nonstop negative chatter which was exhausting!
The good news is that meditation can significantly reduce your daily thoughts.
After 6 months of persistent and daily meditation practice, I carried out the same test again and saw a huge difference! This time I could write down my thoughts during the 10/15 minute exercise.
After two years of consistent meditation practice, I noticed even better results. At this stage, I would even have a few moments where I had to wait for a thought to appear which was unbelievable!
I have continued to meditate and to practice counting my thoughts. My daily thoughts wary from day to day, but I have reduced them a lot! I tend to have one thought per every 2-3 seconds (compared to 2 thoughts a second at the peak of my anxiety).
Also, the number of my negative thoughts have reduced significantly as well.
On the days that I meditate twice a day, my thoughts are even less than what I have stated above.
3. Meditation highlights your anxiety triggering thought patterns
Practicing meditation can help you become aware of your thoughts.
In our busy and modern lives, it is common for people to be unaware of many of the thoughts that enter the mind throughout the day. Also, the more thoughts you have, the harder it is to keep up with them, and as explained anxiety triggers an avalanche of negative thoughts and worries!
But a lot of these thoughts repeat on a daily basis creating thought patterns.
And negative thought patterns are likely to trigger anxiety.
So, it is important to identify these.
Journaling is one technique that you can use to identify your negative thought patterns, but meditation is another very effective method.
When you sit down in a quiet place to meditate, you become more aware of everything about you including your repetitive thoughts. The more you meditate, the more you start to notice patterns in your thoughts.
Once you become aware of your negative thought patterns, you are then in a position to work on changing these, because when you are unaware, how can you possibly change anything?
For example, when I first started meditating, one of the things I noticed very quickly is that too many of my thoughts included the phrase “I can’t”.
I can’t get my dream job, I can’t exercise, I can’t stop eating chocolate, I can’t go for a walk, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t concentrate, I can’t move up in my career, I can’t find my true love, I can’t pass this exam, I can’t get the grades I want, I can’t have this guy, I can’t afford this, I can’t drive, I can’t pass my driving test, and etc.
I know it sounds crazy, but until I began meditating, I was not aware of my “I can’t disease.”
But once I realized I had “I can’t…” on repeat in my mind, I made every effort to catch myself as often as possible. If I had this thought during meditation, I returned awareness to the present moment, while outside of meditation, I would follow up with an affirmation “I can…” finishing the sentence accordingly.
Meditation has been an eye-opener for my negative thought patterns, which I continue to change with success.
4. Meditation switches off the ‘anxiety center’ in your brain
You have an area in your brain that deals with your emotions and memory (the limbic system). Within that area, you have an almond-shaped structure (the amygdala), which you can think of as your ‘anxiety-center’ or ‘fear-center’.
Why is that?
Scientists have found when participants were subjected to bad news to trigger negative thoughts and worries the amygdala would light up on brain scans indicating that this area of the brain is active. In contrast, when participants were subjected to good news to trigger positive thoughts, the amygdala was quiet.
What happens to the anxiety-center after meditation?
Researchers from Boston University and Harvard Medical School examined participants’ brain activity using fMRI scans, before and after a series of meditation classes.
After only 8 weeks of meditation, the researchers found that the electrical activity in the amygdala (the anxiety center) had gone silent. But even more surprisingly, they noticed that meditation practice had caused the this area of the brain to shrink in size!
On top of that, the participants in the study reported that their primary meditation benefit was drastic anxiety relief.
So, meditation can actually positively change your brain structure to help you experience less anxiety!
5. Meditation increases happy chemicals in your brain
Endorphins are ‘happy chemicals’ produced mostly in your brain and spinal cord. They are best known for elevating mood, reducing stress, improving brain function, relieving pain, and inducing sleep.
Though that’s not all; they have a whole host of other benefits.
In general, endorphins help to create a worry-free and fear-free mental state.
But people struggling with anxiety tend to have a deficiency in endorphins, while these neurotransmitters can reduce anxiety.
Physical exercise is one way to activate the production of endorphins and this is why people who run experience a “runners high”.
Research shows that runners and meditators can experience the same ‘natural high’ as both activities stimulate a rush of endorphins!
I have found that even as little as 5 minutes of meditation every morning can effectively lift the mood for the rest of the day. But consistent meditation is the key. If you meditate once a month or once every few months, you are unlikely to lift your mood from only one meditation.
6. Meditation smooths out your anxious brainwaves
Your brain is continually producing electrical signals which form a “brainwave pattern.” Your anxiety, as well as your thoughts, emotions, and moods, can be measured within this pattern.
Most people emit fast Beta brainwaves during their normal waking state, which ranges from 13Hz to 40Hz. But if you are suffering from constant or frequent anxiety, fear, and worry, you’re likely to emit Hi-Beta frequency which ranges from 23-40Hz.
Meditation can help you lower the frequency of your brainwaves, making them smoother and calmer, both during meditation and after, which is very beneficial for your anxiety and overall mental state.
- Alpha Brainwaves (7 – 13 Hz) — Meditation begins. Will help you calm your mind and reduce your thoughts, boost creativity, achieve relaxation, boost happiness, and more.
- Theta Brainwaves (4 – 7 Hz) — Deeper meditation. Deeply relaxed, vivid dream state, boosts inspiration, triggers feel-good chemicals, increases intuition, and much more.
- Delta Brainwaves (0 – 4 Hz) — Deepest meditation. A dreamless sleep, advanced awareness, slow aging, longevity, access to the deepest level of consciousness, and healing plus more.
When you first start meditating, you are likely to gradually lower your Beta frequency range. After a certain amount of meditation practice, you’ll begin to experience alpha frequency brainwaves. And then later you’ll also notice snippets of Theta and Delta brainwaves which will keep getting longer with practice.
7. Meditation diminishes your anxious thoughts
It’s very easy to judge someone or something. We are prone to judge both ourselves and others.
At the peak of my anxiety, I had a lot of judgmental thoughts, and one thought would lead to many more! But judgment triggers anxiety or makes it worse.
For example, imagine you have noticed a girl in the street.
You start with the thought.
Omg, look at that girl!
You then give this thought attention, which leads to more thoughts:
What is she wearing? Who does she think she is? She thinks she is better than everyone. I would never wear something like that. She hasn’t got the legs for that skirt. I would put that top with another skirt.
Meditation trains your mind to let go of the thought “Omg look at that girl”. If you allow this thought to come and go without giving it undivided attention you are likely to have fewer thoughts around that thought, thereby reducing your judgmental thoughts, even if only by a few.
How does this work in meditation?
For example, while meditating you have the thought
My new colleague is really annoying. She is trying to set me up all the time.
An experienced meditator would simply observe this thought and think,
Oh, that thought has come up before. Thoughts come and go. I let go of this thought.
Or they would return attention to their breath.
The more you can practice letting go of your thoughts, the less you will get stuck with negative clusters of thoughts, and the less anxious you will feel.
The true power of meditation is not about “unnatural” or “forced” positive thinking, but the ability to “let go” of thoughts.
8. Mediation activates a ‘relaxation response’
When you are anxious your body’s inbuilt flight-or-flight response is activated which triggers the release of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) making you even more anxious.
Luckily, your body also has an in-built stress-defense mechanism, called the parasympathetic nervous system, which if activated can result in anxiety relief.
n the 1970s, Harvard University physician Herbert Benson found that meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, while deactivates the body’s “fight or flight” stress response leading to what he calls a “relaxation response”.
He reported slower metabolism and breathing, reduced heart rate, and lower brainwave activity all as a result of practicing mediation.
9. Meditation triggers anti-anxiety chemicals in the brain
As well as endorphins the brain produces more happy chemicals such as serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These neurotransmitters can act as anti-anxiety chemicals.
Unfortunately, people suffering from anxiety are often low or empty on these neurotransmitters which increases their vulnerability to stress, anxiety, worry, restlessness, and nervousness.
But the good news is that meditation can counteract this problem as it helps to boost both serotonin and GABA to levels associated with anxiety resistance.
How to Meditate for Anxiety?
Anxiety Meditation Techniques
There are many types of meditation techniques that you can choose from. Some involve focusing on an object (focused attention), while others are about being an observer (open awareness). The following five techniques are some of the most popular ones.
Focused Attention Meditations
Focused attention meditations are also known as concentrative meditations. The focus is on a single object. The object of focus could be internal or external.
Mantras – repeating a word, phrase, or sound over and over
Visualization – picturing a place or focusing on a goal
Body part – focusing on one specific area or sensation in the body
Candle – looking at a flame to focus the mind
Mala beads – counting beads on a mala
Sound – listening to a gong or chime
Open Awareness Meditations
Open awareness meditations are also known as open-monitoring or non-directive meditations. Meditation techniques that fall under this category are the opposite of focused attention. Instead of focusing on an object your attention is open and remains aware of everything.
The idea is to open your mind to the entirety of the environment, but without specific focus and without judgment. You simply stay present to whatever is happening and witness with complete acceptance.
Some of the things that you can practice having open awareness on are:
- Body sensations
Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness meditation focuses on cultivating a love for a loved one and then extending this love to others. This type of meditation is a combination of focused awareness and open monitoring.
Effortless Presence Meditation
In effortless presence meditation, you are not focused on an object, thought, or sensation, but instead, are experiencing quiet awareness. The mind has reached an advanced state that is naturally free from any mental commentary or distractions.
One could say that this is the goal of all forms of meditation – to reach a state of effortless presence.
So, this is more a state of being rather than a method of meditating, that you reach after enough meditation practice. Focused or open meditation is the pathway to this effortless presence.
Therefore, practicing meditation techniques where you focus or observe in silence is a means of training your mind to remain calm. Over time you then enter this state of “no-mind” or effortless existence.
Transcendental meditation (TM) is another popular technique and focused-attention type meditation as it uses a mantra. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created and introduced the TM technique and TM movement in India in the mid-1950s.
But to practice this type of meditation you need to complete a TM course, during which you will be given your mantra. There are mixed reviews about TM. Some people love it, others have not found it so effective. I have mentioned it in this article, only because you might have heard of it. But I wouldn’t recommend you start with this type of meditation. This is something you can always consider later on.
You can think of mindfulness as being focused and calm during your daily activities. As mentioned previously, mindfulness is not the same as meditation though there are overlaps. In mindfulness, the idea is to choose to focus on an activity such as washing the dishes, eating, walking, or cleaning, and continue to pay attention to every detail until you have finished. By staying focused on the activity you stay present in the moment.
For example, how many times do you find yourself eating while thinking about what happened at work that day, what you need to do later, or how stressed you feel?
This is how most people eat every day. But eating mindlessly is likely to cause you to eat faster, not chew your food properly and maybe even to overeat.
In contrast, mindful eating is about staying focused on your food from start to finish. Your focus remains on every bite, the taste, different flavors, textures, smells, colors, and more.
You can practice mindfulness on any activity in your daily life.
Five Meditations for Anxiety
Practice # 1: Simple Breath Awareness Meditation for Anxiety
The simplest meditation you can do is to pay attention to your breath. Focus on every inhale and exhale, to help you practice letting go of other thoughts that enter your mind.
Step 1 - Dedicate 5-30 Minutes Daily
In the beginning, start with a 5-minutes meditation practice and then gradually work your way up. Most people find 15 minutes to be their optimal. You can set yourself a time limit on your phone if you wish or just allow yourself to meditate for as long as you can.
Step 2 - Limit Distractions & Get Comfortable
Choose a time in the day when you have the least amount of distraction. Maybe that’s early in the morning or before bed. Put on some comfortable clothing and get a cushion if you need one.
Step 3 - Choose Position
Choose a calm and quiet room. You can meditate sitting up or lying down. Though most people fall asleep when lying down so a seating position is usually the preferred choice. If you are sitting, make sure you are comfortable and that your back is straight. Relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a cushion or on a chair with your feet resting on the ground. It’s not necessary to force yourself into a lotus position if you’re not comfortable.
Step 4 - Play Meditation Music
You can play meditation music to help you relax though this is optional.
Step 5 - Begin to Breathe Slowly and Deeply
Begin by taking a few slow and deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling from your mouth.
Step 6 - Focus on Your Breath
Pay attention to every inhale and exhale. Your mind will wander and that’s normal. Be kind and gentle to your wandering mind. When this happens simply return attention to your breath. This will help you to stay present. The more you meditate the less your mind will wander.
Step 7 - Ending Your Meditation
When you are ready to end your meditation, thank yourself for taking the time to do this. It’s important to finish your practice with kindness. Then when you are ready, gently lift your gaze and open your eyes. Take a minute to notice any sounds in the environment. Do you feel any different than when you started?
Step 8 - Develop a Practice
If you persevere, over time you will develop a meditation practice that will become natural to you. In the beginning, you might only meditate for three to five minutes. But with time, your meditation time will naturally get longer, and the longer you meditate the less anxious you will feel.
Practice # 2: Fun Meditation to Lift Your Mood
Sky gazing meditation is one of my most fun meditations to do. It’s simple yet extremely effective and can help you quickly calm down and relieve anxiety. Sky gazing meditation is an example of open awareness meditation, and it only involves observing the sky.
- Step outside either during the day or in the evening.
- Assume a comfortable meditative posture.
- Turn your head up to the sky.
- Observe everything.
- Silence your mind by letting the whole world in.
- If your mind wonders keep returning attention to your breath.
- When you are ready to finish your meditation, end it with love and gratitude towards yourself.
- Then gently lift your gaze and open your eyes.
Practice # 3: Loving-Kindness Meditation to Overcome Anxiety
Loving yourself and others is a free natural medicine that can help you overcome your anxiety. Love heals everything and using meditation to practice “feelings of love” is a very effective tool.
- Sit comfortably in a calm and quiet room.
- If you wish set a timer and/or play relaxing music.
- Begin to breathe in slowly and deeply.
- Pay attention to your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
- Once you start to feel calm, begin to visualize an individual for whom you have strong feelings.
- Think about all the wonderful characteristics of this person. Why do you care for this person? What makes them lovable? How do you feel about their company?
- Stay with these loving feelings for a couple of minutes.
Then extend the love you have for this person to every part of your body.
- Once you can feel love for this person from your head to toe, extend these feelings to others. You can extend your love to friends and relatives, humanity, plants, animals, oceans, and mountains.
- If your mind wonders keep returning attention to your breath.
- When you are ready to finish your meditation, end it with love and gratitude towards yourself.
- Then gently lift your gaze and open your eyes.
You can also listen to Guided Meditation for Giving & Receiving Loving Kindness (Happiness, Abundance & Healing)
Practice # 4: A Guided Meditation for Anxiety
You can practice meditation on your own as per the step-by-step instructions outlined above. Or you can listen to any of the guided meditation videos, audios, etc. Choose whatever meditation style that helps you with your anxiety.
The following guided meditation is only 10 minutes!
Practice # 5: Mindfulness to Manage Anxiety
People struggling with anxiety often have digestive issues. In fact, this is one of the common symptoms of anxiety disorders. Eating mindfully can help you digest your food properly, but also help you to stay present and in doing so move you away from your worries and calm you down.
- Sit down and unplug – avoid all distractions and unnecessary conversations.
- Focus on your meal.
- Pay attention to your senses: smell, taste, and texture of food.
- Eat slowly – set your fork down between bites and finish what’s in your mouth before going for the next bite.
- Chew your food until it has a fine, pulplike texture. Some experts suggest chewing each bite 30 to 50 times.
- Don’t aim to get full. Stop at a comfortable level of fullness.
- Tune into your body signals of hunger and fullness. Eat only when hungry.
- Pay close attention to how food affects your body.
- Practice gratitude.
What’s the Best Meditation for Anxiety?
- Pick two or three different types of meditations that you think might be suitable for you. Then practice each for a week, journal your progress and anxiety levels, and at the end of the three weeks pick one to go forward with.
- This will help you figure out which type of meditation helps you best manage your anxiety.
- Remember, you need to find the one that makes you feel the most relaxed.
Other Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is an ancient practice and has many other health benefits. If you choose to meditate for anxiety relief you can also expect to resolve other issues. The following list includes meditation benefits backed by scientific research.
Slows aging [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
Reduces stress [9, 11, 12, 14, 15]
Improves sleep 
Stimulates weight loss [17, 18]
Helps beat addiction [19, 20]
Relieves pain [21, 22]
Produces natural high [23, 24]
Speeds up healing 
Increases energy [26, 27]
Strengthens immune system [28, 29, 30, 31, 32]
Helps with cancer [33, 35]
Aids digestion 
Increases libido [37, 38, 39]
Common Meditation Misconceptions
Before we part, I just want to clarify a few common meditation misconceptions.
Myth 1: Meditation is about sitting in a lotus position
You can sit down in a lotus position, or however, you feel comfortable. Or you can even lie down. Meditation is a personal practice and there are no rules.
I have practiced meditation on buses, trains and airplanes which did not involve any formal seating positions, yet I still had brilliant results!
If you choose to practice mindfulness instead of meditation then you’ll be doing your activity in the appropriate position.
Myth 2: Meditation is about stopping the mind or emptying the mind
Many people believe that meditation is a way of stopping the mind. But, forcing to stop thoughts would be unnatural, and in the beginning almost impossible.
This misconception is also one of the main reasons why many give up meditating. If you believe that you must stop thoughts in meditation, then you are likely to get into a fight with your mind during practice, a fight that you’re going to lose. Frustrated with the process, you decide that you cannot meditate.
So, while meditation can quieten or calm the mind, this doesn’t mean that you can stop thoughts. Instead, meditation is about developing the ability to witness without judgment. That is, to accept anything that you see, feel, or sense as is, with complete acceptance.
Myth 3: Meditation makes you feel at ease from day one
Meditation is a practice, and practice makes perfect. So, it is unlikely that you will feel at ease from your first attempt to meditate.
Also, we are not used to staying still or being present in our hectic lives, so it is going to take time to feel the benefits of meditation.
But, if you commit to a meditation technique that you like and that works for you, it is inevitable that you will start to see a difference in your state of being.
Myth 4: Meditation is a religious practice
This is simply not true. Meditation can be practiced by anyone and at any time. Even children can meditate! In fact, checking in and noticing your thoughts, feelings, and bodily experiences is one of the most valuable things we can do as humans.
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