Ways Meditation Can Calm Anxiety
Some people are born worriers, mired in anxiety. Anxiety is the reaction to a perceived threat, often surfacing in the form of racing thoughts that won’t go away, or imagining worst case scenarios, convinced that they will come to pass. Certain situations can trigger anxiety again and again. The question is how to avoid those triggers. One method that has been shown in numerous studies to alleviate anxiety is meditation.
An anxious person needs to alter their thinking processes, sorting out real from perceived threats, and then practicing how to manage perceived threats so that they don’t automatically become triggers. Meditation can encourage this process with not much more than a few deep breaths.
Meditation has the same effect as taking anti-depressants
Meditation, primarily mindfulness meditation, has been proven to help retrain the brain to help a person encounter a trigger and be able to slow down and reason away unproductive worries. Researchers in one study even found that the effect of meditation was the same as that of taking anti-depressants. It also has been found to improve concentration and attention span.
Meditation quiets the overactive mind. This involves remaining centered in your own being. If a thought or outside trigger pulls you out of your center, meditation helps you to return there. With regular practice, this feeling becomes more natural. It allows you to detach yourself from your anxious thoughts and feelings.
Although meditation is thought of as an activity where one just sits still and tries to achieve a calm sense of self, it is actually an active form of brain training, designed to increase awareness and concentration. Different meditation programs approach this in different ways. Mindfulness meditation, for example, is predicated on sustaining attention in the present moment and works to strengthen a person’s ability to regulate their emotions, such as anxiety.
There are several ways to calm anxiety using meditation. Being able to center yourself is a primary skill that anyone can learn. Anxious people often shy away from meditation. They may feel too restless to sit still or feel like they are failures for having too many thoughts during meditation. These objections can be overcome.
Guided meditation is a method that many people choose. A tape or CD, or sometimes a person, verbally guides them through sessions, reminding people in the session to bring their thoughts back to the present if they stray. A guided meditation also reinforces that random thoughts occur to everyone during meditation and that all they need to do is recognize the thought and re-center themselves. Beginning sessions can also be brief, lessening the anxiety of meditating at first.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, decreases activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts, according to a study at Yale University. Mind-wandering is often associated with worrying about the past and future, and it’s the goal for many people, through meditation, to reduce their random thoughts. In essence, mindfulness is based on staying in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings.
Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for curing anxiety, but it can become one of the tools you can use to help manage the symptoms. So whether you meditate by yourself or in a group, using guided meditation, mindfulness meditation or another of the many forms of meditation, you can effectively turn down anxious feelings, instead of therapy or taking medication.
Try it out
The next time you find yourself with a few minutes to yourself, rather than checking your phone or computer, try meditating and see what happens. Soon enough, you’ll be able to quiet your mind and let go of anxious thoughts without reacting to them. If the research is right, just a few minutes of meditation may make a big difference.
JAMA Internal Medicine, Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being, Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH et al.