How Mindfulness Acts As The Perfect Counterbalance To A Stressed
This is an interesting and somewhat complex question. To some degree, any form of meditation may provide some assistance, and in most cases, any meditation is better than no meditation. However, because of the specific way that different meditation practices impact the brain, mindfulness may be your best bet to counteract the impact of chronic stress and anxiety.
Before we go further, let me say a few words about what I mean by mindfulness.
For the purposes of this post, I will use Jon Kabat-Zinns definition, which basically describes mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment. This is important, as it separates these practices from other common forms of meditation, including styles that emphasize focus or concentration, loving-kindness or compassion, or expanded consciousness.
When mindfulness is practiced in line with the definition used above, a few interesting things happen in the brain. First, theta brainwaves increase in a specific portion of the frontal lobe called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex . Theta waves in this region of the brain are associated with relaxed, gentle attention. This is the kind of attention that is engaged when you observe what is happening in the present moment, yet are not attached to any of it.
Regular Meditation And Mindfulness Reduces Symptoms Of Generalized Anxiety
Meditation practices are widely employed to reduce anxiety and to maintain optimal psychological and spiritual health. Meditation has been extensively studied as a treatment of anxiety. Beneficial physiological effects of meditation include decreased oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, as well as long-term beneficial changes in brain electrical activity that result in increased calmness. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an integrative approach pioneered by Kabat-Zinn that has been validated as highly effective for reducing the physical, emotional and mental consequences of chronic stress. MBSR incorporates elements of different Eastern meditation practices and western psychology. Its methods are now widely employed in group therapy in large health-maintenance organizations in the U.S.
You can find out more about meditation, mindfulness training, MBSR and other safe and effective complementary and alternative treatments of anxiety, and learn practical tips for using them in my e-book Anxiety: the Integrative Mental Health Solution, by James Lake M.D.
Feelings Of Anxiousness Versus An Anxiety Disorder
Our adrenal glands start flaring whenever weâre in a dangerous situation or potential conflict, activating the âfight or flightâ mechanism, or when weâre a bag of nerves ahead of delivering a speech, a must-win sports game, or walking down the aisle, for example. Thatâs anxiousness.
But anxiousness becomes generalized anxiety disorder when the fear or worry doesnât abate, escalating into a sense of impending doom, constant ruminating, catastrophizing, and, in some cases, panic. Anxiety on this scale can be all-consuming, debilitating, and distressing.
Stress can, of course, induce anxiety, and thereâs an overlap between the 2 in terms of the physiological reactions. Stress is a heightened emotional state that dissipates once a stressful situation is over whereas GAD is a diagnosable condition that tends to persist for long periods.
Anxiety that becomes a disorder is characterized by a âpersistent and excessive worryâ where individuals can lose rational perspective and âexpect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern,â according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Why Gaba & Serotonin Are So Critical
Between your magnificently complex brain’s 100 billion neurons are a web-like network of information relayers known as “neurotransmitters.”
For the anxiety patient, there are two crucial “must know” neurotransmitters: gamma-aminobutyric acid & serotonin.
When levels of these two key brain chemicals run on empty, our stress defense shield drops making us vulnerable to anxiety and all of its ugly, inbred cousins: worry, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, etc.
If you are taking anti-anxiety medication, it’s very likely targeting these two chemical messengers.
Luckily, an all natural, much better solution exists. Backed by a mountain of research and centuries of anecdotal evidence, meditation drops anxiety harder than a ton of bricks.
Mindfulness Meditation: A Research
Mindfulness meditation can improve both mental and physical health.
Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress.
People have been meditating for thousands of years, often as part of a spiritual practice. But in more recent years, mindfulness has become a popular way to help people manage their stress and improve their overall well-being and a wealth of research shows its effective. Psychologists have found that mindfulness meditation changes our brain and biology in positive ways, improving mental and physical health.
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Can Decrease Blood Pressure
Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart.
Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to poor heart function.
High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies enrolling nearly 1000 participants found that meditation helped reduce blood pressure. This was more effective among older volunteers and those who had higher blood pressure prior to the study (
In part, meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the fight-or-flight response that increases alertness in stressful situations .
Blood pressure decreases not only during meditation but also over time in individuals who meditate regularly. This can reduce strain on the heart and arteries, helping prevent heart disease.
When To Seek Professional Help For Anxiety
While meditation is an excellent tool to help alleviate and treat feelings of anxiety, there are times when the feelings are overwhelming and seeking additional support is necessary. Symptoms like racing thoughts, panic attacks, or insomnia might make life too difficult to make interventions like meditation feasible at the moment. Furthermore, you do not have to wait until symptoms are that severe before reaching out to a therapist for assistance.
If your anxiety feels unmanageable, do not delay in finding a therapist. Online directories are a good place to start looking for a mental health professional who specializes in your needs and population.
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Other Meditation Practices That May Help With Anxiety
There are other types of meditation that can take a more spiritual path that are available to explore if you are interested. Transcendental Meditation, Qigong, Vipassana, mantra and chakra are just a few. Many incorporate similar themes of centering oneself with an object of focus, and some incorporate more specific breathing techniques or movements to channel this process.
Why Meditation Builds Your Mindful Muscle
Instead of buying-in, getting frazzled, or having a knee-jerk reaction to the array of silliness, craziness, and scariness that enters the human mind, meditation teaches you that no one thought deserves your undivided attention.
There is never a need to chase the rabbit down his never-ending hole. Thoughts come and thoughts go, like waves crashing upon the shore.
By building your mindful muscle, meditation allows you to understand, at the very deepest levels, how your thoughts, emotions, and mind intertwine.
This fundamental transformation keeps fear and worry permanently at bay.
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Meditation For Anxiety: Proven Way To Calm Your Mind
Meditation can work as well as common Rx drugs for anxiety, changing your brain and making it less anxiety-prone. Learn the best ways to meditate.
Its human nature to worry.
Being on the constant lookout for danger kept our ancestors safe and alive.
But in the modern world, a hypervigilant mind does you little good.
It causes the fear center of your brain to grow larger and more reactive, leading to a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety.
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans.
Standard medical treatments for anxiety are anti-anxiety medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of both.
Therapy is time-consuming and expensive.
Anti-anxiety medications work fast, but are some of the most addictive substances around and not intended for long-term use.
Meditation may be an alternative, or complementary, answer.
In fact, the latest research shows that meditation works as well as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications.
Even if youve never meditated before, you can use meditation to train your brain to be less anxious.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation
When people feel anxious, their thoughts begin to race and tend toward the negative. Mindfulness is a technique to settle racing thoughts and calm the body through two steps: attention and acceptance.
With attention, a person notices what is happening in the moment. This includes what sensations are taking place in the body physically and what thoughts are going through the mind.
Acceptance revolves around noticing the feelings and experiences while withholding judgment on them â they are neither positive nor negative but simply exist as they are.
Mindfulness meditation helps reduce the bodyâs sharp response to stress and return things to a manageable and more comfortable level.
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Talking To Your Doctor About Meditation And Anxiety
Theres overwhelming evidence that meditation is an excellent tool for reducing anxiety.
But dont expect your doctor to write you a prescription for meditation anytime soon.
If you currently take any medication for your anxiety, do not stop taking it before talking to your doctor.
Meditation will not take the place of your medication immediately.
However, you may find that you are able to take less of it over time as the effects of your meditation practice kick in.
If reducing or eliminating your anti-anxiety medication is your goal, create a reasonable tapering plan with your doctor.
Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Reducing anxiety has more to do with the mind than it does with external circumstances. Guided meditation for anxiety can help provide some mental relief. You sometimes cant control whats happening to you or in the world around you. However, you can control how you feel and react to it.
In a world where more and more people are suffering from some sort of anxiety disorder, meditation can help people live more tranquil, calm lives.
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Meditation And Regulating Negative Emotions
Theres some research to suggest practicing meditation can help with managing negative emotions, such as anger and fear.
A small study published in February 2016 in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggested that meditation may help people cope with anger. Furthermore, improvements were seen with just one session of meditation.
For the study, researchers examined 15 people who were new to meditation and 12 who were experienced practitioners. The participants were asked to relive experiences that made them angry. Those who had never practiced meditation before experienced an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, while those with experience in the practice did not have much of a physical reaction to the exercise.
As a second part of the experiment, those who had never meditated before did so for 20 minutes. When asked to relive the anger-inducing episode once more, they had much less of a physical response.
Finally, preliminary research suggests meditation can help lower cancer survivors fear of the disease returning. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 60 percent of one-year cancer survivors report moderate to severe concerns about their disease coming back. The fear can be so distressing that it negatively affects mood, relationships, work, medical follow-ups, and overall quality of life.
S For Mindfulness Meditation
Keep in mind that you don’t need a lot of time to meditate. When you’re first getting started, try to carve out a few minutes each day. You can gradually increase that time as you learn how to relax and discover what it feels like to be calm. This meditative practice may soon spill into other areas of your life, as you notice yourself observing rather than reacting during difficult situations or times of worry.
GAD primarily involves unrelenting worry. With meditation, you can learn to accept those worries without letting them upset you, which is likely to diminish your stress.
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Meditation Builds A Healthier Brain
Meditation can build a bigger, healthier brain.
The brains of people who regularly meditate show measurable increases in the amount of gray matter, the volume of the hippocampus, and the thickness of the cortex.
Meditation Apps For Anxiety
Buddhify is an award-winning app with over 200 guided meditations that vary in length from 3 to 40 minutes.
The Mindfulness App has guided meditations by notable meditation teachers including Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, and Sharon Salzberg.
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Does Meditation Help Anxiety Symptoms
Yes, meditation can help anxiety.
Buddhists have said for millennia that meditation can significantly benefit mental health. But it wasnt until the 1960s that scientists in the West started taking a keen interest in it.
Since then, numerous studies have revealed the unique benefits of meditation techniques, including their ability to reduce signs of stress and anxiety.
Even though there is limited evidence-based support for meditation as a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, research does suggest that this practice may be effective as a supplemental therapy.
A 2020 review showed that people who practice meditation for a long time start showing changes in the areas of their brain that modulate the stress and anxiety response.
Specifically, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus show increased activity. Also, the amygdala, which is involved in the fight, flight, or freeze response, shows decreased activity. All of this indicates improved emotional regulation, according to the review.
But research also shows that long-term practice is not needed to experience these brain changes and relieve anxiety.
For example, a 2016 systematic review also found that these functional and structural brain changes, which are consistent with improved emotional regulation, appeared after only 8 weeks of practice of mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches.