How Anxiety And Meditation Change Your Brain
Anxiety doesnt just make you feel bad, it actually changes the structure and function of your brain.
It decreases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain considered the seat of the memory.
Conversely, it increases the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for the fear response, causing you to become even more anxious and fearful.
Stress, fear, and anxiety trigger the release of stress hormones and cause imbalances in neurotransmitters, chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.
Its been known for thousands of years that meditation can help you relax.
But meditation does much more than that.
Meditation, like anxiety, changes the structure and function of your brain but for the better.
Here are some of the powerful ways meditation improves the brain and mental well-being.
What Are The Best Guided Meditations For Anxiety Relief
There are numerous guided meditation options available. While it is always possible to record yourself reading a guided meditation and to play this when you’re ready to meditate, it is always best to receive guidance from a teacher.
Your teacher will not only be a strong, calming presence during your meditation session, but they will also be able to choose a guided meditation that best suits where you are in your life and on your meditation and healing journey.
Meditation For A Modern Lifestyle
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We all know too well how easy it is to put off taking some time out of the day to focus on ourselves, and no one knows this better than Simple Habit. The app was birthed from the idea that taking even 5 minutes out of your day to practise meditation can make a world of difference to your mood and wellbeing. Whether it be in the morning, on your daily walk, or in the evenings, whenever you can spare a moment Simple Habits handy offline feature means that you can centre yourself without ever needing an internet connection
Billed as the practical solution for modern lifestyles, the meditation app offers over 1,500 different sessions around situations that span morning anxiety to a lack of focus. If youre someone who struggles to fit in time for yourself because of a busy schedule then Simple Habit is the right pick for you â created for people low on time but in pursuit of moments of calm.
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It Helps You Focus On The Present Moment
Focusing on the present is something you can not do when meditating. It is the ever-present goal of all meditation that you do not dwell on the past or the future, but persist in your focus of the moment at-hand. Its the only moment you truly have possession over, after all.
Doing this is called mindfulness or mindfulness practice.
Naturally, the practice of mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety because much of anxiety stems from stressing about the past or worrying about the future. For example, you might find yourself worrying about a fight you had with your partner that morning or fretting about a work presentation you have later in the day.
We all know that worrying doesnt change anything, and it can actually be harmful. Therefore, improving your focus on the present moment helps those worries dissipate, leaving you less stressed and less anxious, with increased inner peace.
How Cortisol Inflames Anxiety
Chronic inflammation, especially within the brain, is a self-perpuating, highly toxic body condition the perfect petri-dish for anxiety to proliferate.
Wake Forest School of Medicine professor Floyd Chilton, Ph.D. outlines the severity of the problem in his 2005 bestselling book “Inflammation Nation.”
With stress as the leading contributor, Dr. Chilton believes that we are living in the midst of a chronic inflammation epidemic, with statistics becoming more and more alarming by the year.
Stress, anxiety, and inflammation live within a self-perpetuating ecosystem where if you boost one, you boost the other two. More stress increases inflammation, which increases anxiety, you get the idea. A toxic circle of life.
The whole medical dictionary, from A to Z, starting with anxiety, can be linked to the body’s chronic inflammation “wildfire” arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, just to name a few.
Luckily, we know the culprit. More flammable than gasoline, the 100% guilty, trial by doctor convicted arsonist is the body’s main stress hormone cortisol.
Then, how do we reduce the amount of cortisol within the body, and therefore extinguish inflammation and all of its chronic anxiety flame-fanning effects? Meditation!
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How Meditation Evolves The Brain Beyond Anxiety
A landmark 2005 study by Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar and colleagues showed that the brains of meditators had remarkably more “thickness,” “folds,” and overall “surface area” in their left prefrontal cortexes with magnitude directly tied to experience .
A study with monumental implications, meditation is now seen by many within the neuroscientific and psychological research communities as the “holy grail” for a variety of mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression.
Is there any wonder why doctors find meditators’ to be the smartest, happiest, and healthiest folks, time and time again?
Traditional meditators have been anxiety-free, happy people for countless centuries, now confirmed by modern science.
Saving Your Precious Time
The most important benefit of online shopping is its convenience. You can order anything anytime without waiting in lines or asking help from the shop assistants to find you things.
This would save you time and also your physical hardships. No more carrying heavy shopping bags all the way from the market to your home.
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When To Seek Professional Help For Anxiety
While meditation is an excellent tool to help alleviate 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. An online directory is a good place to start looking for a mental health professional who specializes in your needs and population.
Mindfulness And Meditation Can Worsen Depression And Anxiety
Mindfulness involves paying close attention to your own thoughts
Mindfulness and other types of meditation are usually seen as simple stress-relievers but they can sometimes leave people worse off.
About one in 12 people who try meditation experience an unwanted negative effect, usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or even the onset of these conditions for the first time, according to the first systematic review of the evidence. For most people it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and its not universally benevolent, says Miguel Farias at Coventry University in the UK, one of the researchers behind the work.
There are many types of meditation, but one of the most popular is mindfulness, in which people pay attention to the present moment, focusing on either their own thoughts and feelings or external sensations. It is recommended by several National Health Service bodies in the UK as a way of reducing depression relapses in people who have experienced the condition several times.
Enthusiasm for meditation may partly stem from a growing awareness of the side effects of antidepressant medicines and the difficulties some people report in stopping taking them. There have been some reports of people experiencing worse mental health after starting meditation but it is unclear how often this happens.
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How Meditation Is Such A Powerful Endorphin Booster
Manufactured mostly in your brain and spinal cord, endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter best known for improving brain function, reducing stress, elevating mood, relieving pain, and helping you sleep.
Endorphins’ wide spectrum of benefits, in essence, creates a worry-free and fear-free mental utopia where anxiety cannot, will not, and does not exist.
Is there a better natural endorphin booster than physical exercise? Yes!
A 1995 study published in the Biological Psychology Journal, tested the neuro-chemical release of two groups 11 elite runners and 12 highly trained meditators after running and meditation, respectively. What did they find?
As the scientists suspected, both groups had boosted their endorphin levels. No surprises there.
Reduces Activity In Brains Me Center
One of the most interesting studies in the last few years found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network , which is a part of your brain. It makes you stop thinking about yourself and keeps you from getting distracted. The DMN is on when were not thinking about anything in particular. Our minds are then just wandering from thought to thought. Because of that, the DMN is usually being less happy and worrying a lot about the past and future. For many people, its important to try to dial down the DMN because of these negative effects.
A lot of people say that meditation helps them to calm down. This is because it makes new connections in the brain. Even if you start thinking about other things, you will be able to come back to meditation more quickly because of these new connections.
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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.
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.
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What If I Cant Meditate
Alright, so you feel like meditation is not working for you. Meditation does not necessarily apply to everyone- even if you dont have a trauma history- and people often need individualized treatment and techniques. If meditation is not working for you, thats okay! There are a number of other options available to help manage anxiety.
Other ways to help manage anxiety include:
- Improving your daily self-care habits 17
- Engaging in art, music, drawing, writing, and other creative formats of self-expression.16
- Finding physical activity that you enjoy to help lower cortisol and increase dopamine output.16
- Breathing exercises .17
- Challenging your thoughts and recognizing the daily obstacles you have overcome. It can also help to consider what may have triggered the feelings of anxiety in the first place.17
- Talking to others- trusted individuals, family, or mental health professionals- who empathize and can be in the present with you.17
- Using grounding exercises .
- Distracting yourself if you are feeling like you cannot calm your anxiety .
Meditation For Anxiety: Take The Next Step
The evidence is overwhelming meditation is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety.
It does more than temporarily help you relax.
It works on a deep level by changing the function and structure of your brain.
Meditation actually reprograms your brain to be less anxious.
Mindfulness meditation requires no special training and can bring noticeable anxiety relief in as little as 10 minutes a day.
Learning to quiet your mind can be challenging, but guided meditations make it easier.
They let you tap into the wisdom and expertise of the worlds best meditation teachers, often for free.
If you happen to feel more anxious when you meditate, switch to moving meditations.
There are endless meditation options available online, so you can easily experiment to find which ones work for you.
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Identify And Learn To Manage Your Triggers
Long-term problems, such as financial or work-related situations, may take some time to figure out is it a due date, a person, or the situation? This may take some extra support, through therapy or with friends.
When you do figure out your trigger, you should try to limit your exposure if you can. If you cant limit it like if its due to a stressful work environment that you cant currently change using other coping techniques may help.
The Benefits Of Guided Meditation For Anxiety
If meditation has so much to offer, you might wonder why everyone isnt doing it.
Meditation is one of those things that falls into the simple but not easy category.
Quieting the mind sometimes aptly referred to as a random thought generator is not an easy task!
Unfortunately, many people give up on meditation because they cant quiet their thoughts, they arent sure they are doing it right, or they arent getting the results theyd hoped for.
But with a guided meditation, you dont have to go it alone.
You can follow along with an experienced meditation teacher who will guide you into a relaxed, meditative state.
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The Power Of Our Thoughts
This shows how our thoughts impact our anxiety and stress. What makes us stressed is often not the situation we are in but what we think about that situation. When our mind wanders into the past and is filled with regrets or into the future and is filled with catastrophic scenarios, we also create a sense of anxiety within ourselves.
Understanding this is essential to see why meditation is a viable strategy for reducing stress and anxiety. The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind and learn how to focus ones attention on something without allowing the mind to wander.
when we do this, we quiet all the racing thoughts in our head, including those that induce anxiety and stress. The practice of meditation allows us to prevent our mind from wandering and creates a sense of stillness that allows us to reduce the stress that we feel.
Leads To Volume Changes In Key Areas Of Brain
Mindfulness meditation can change the brain. It can make people smarter and make them better at doing their work. It is good to spend your time doing mindfulness meditation if you want to be a better person or if you are having problems with your memory. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. These changes matched the participants self-reports of their stress levels. This means that meditation not only changed the shape of their brains but also changed how they feel. A study found that after people do meditation training, their mood and arousal change. This also changed how they felt about themselves. For anyone who claims that activated blobs in the brain dont imply anything, our subjective experience improved mood and well-being does seem to indicate that meditation has an impact on how we feel.
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What Are The Benefits Of Daily Meditation
Research has shown that meditation can help to reduce levels of depression and anxiety. One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, of people with generalized anxiety disorder found that participants who completed at least one session of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program had a significantly greater reduction in anxiety than those who received stress-management education.
Studies have also found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, an intervention that combines MSBR and cognitive behavioral therapy, reduced relapses in people who had previous episodes of major depression.
Meditation doesn’t solely affect mental health it can affect physical health as well. A 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation could reduce pain in people who suffered from post-surgical, acute or chronic pain.
Meditation can be used in combination with other mental health treatments and is generally safe. If you have any concerns about a meditation practice, you may want to consult your doctor or work with a certified teacher.
How Mindfulness Helps Anxiety
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what were doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by whats going on around us.
Leading expert Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, adding: in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.
When you become aware of the present moment, you gain access to resources you may not have realized were with you all alonga stillness at your core. An awareness of what you need and dont need in your life thats with you all the time. You may not be able to change your situation, but mindfulness practice offers the space to change your response to your situation.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction , founded by Kabat-Zinn, the gold-standard for research-backed mindfulness. Developed over 40 years ago, MBSR is an 8-week program, including supported teachings, mindfulness practices, and movement practices that help people work with the stresses of everyday life. MBSR practices allow you to bring kind awareness and acknowledgment to any stressed or anxious feelings in your body and mind and simply allow them to be. A 1992 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that MBSR can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic even in those with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or panic disorder with agoraphobia.
Mindfulness Works, But Not for Everyone
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