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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 19 percent of the population has an anxiety disorder. Still, others struggle...
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Anxiety is a common mental disorder characterized by excessive stress and fear. Anxiety can manifest in mental and physical symptoms such as stress, worrying thoughts, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. Many types of meditation can help with anxiety, including mindfulness meditation, loving kindness meditation, and mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy.
These practices can help improve anxiety symptoms, stress levels, and other aspects of health such as cardiovascular health, sleep, and engagement in healthy lifestyle activities.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, stress, or fear. Anxiety disorders manifest by excessive and recurring worrying thoughts usually paired with physical symptoms such as high heart rate, breathing rates, sweaty palms, and trembling. People with anxiety may avoid situations that increase their levels of anxiety. This persistent anxiety may significantly impact how they can engage in their daily lives.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry about everyday life and life vents. Social anxiety disorder is worry and anxiety about being judged or interacting with others in social situations. Panic disorder refers to anxiety that causes recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by sudden onset of intense feelings of fear with physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, and trembling. These panic attacks can occur seemingly without cause. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops due to traumatic or frightening events. These are some of the main categories of anxiety disorders, but there are other subtypes.
The research into how meditation assists in anxiety reduction dates back to the 1960s. Studies have shown that meditation causes changes to brain areas that can help reduce anxiety and achieve a more calm state. Meditation practice increases the size of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain and the hippocampus, which improves emotional regulation. Therefore meditation can help to achieve a more calm mind.
Meditation also decreases the amygdala, which reduces the fight or flight response. In addition, regular practice lowers stress hormones in the body, including cortisol. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones, and high cortisol levels have adverse health effects such as increased blood pressure, blood sugar problems, and immune response.
Relaxation meditation techniques such as breathing exercises decrease some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as racing heart and shortness of breath. Relaxation meditation can help achieve both a mind and body state of relaxation and helps to center oneself in the present moment. Simultaneously, meditation allows for quiet moments without outside distractions and influence, which can help one to connect with their thoughts and emotions. Meditation can also help with resiliency and recovery from stress. Studies have shown that those who meditate regularly can recover faster from stressful situations.
Mindfulness meditation can help with understanding feelings and thought patterns. Mindfulness can help people identify and become aware of their anxious thoughts without judgment and cope with difficult emotions. By acknowledging anxious thoughts, one can try to distance themselves from these thoughts. In this way, mindfulness meditation helps develop a new perspective on anxiety. It enables the separation of the anxiety from the person and allows one to control their anxious thoughts. Mindfulness meditation encourages people to find more peace with uncertainty and develop an understanding of feelings and emotions that come and go, overcoming the feeling of permanent anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on the principle of mindfulness which involves being present in the moment and becoming aware of internal thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can help decrease anxious and racing thoughts and help achieve mental and physical relaxation.
Loving-kindness meditation is one meditation technique aimed at decreasing anxiety. Loving-kindness meditation reduces anxiety by helping to foster self-compassion and empathy. It can also help improve and foster interpersonal relationships, supporting people with anxiety.
Progressive relaxation and body scanning are meditation techniques that can help achieve a relaxed state. Progressing relaxation is practiced by tensing and then releasing muscles starting from your feet to your head. Practicing progressive relaxation for even a few moments every night can help reduce built-up tension in the body and achieve a more relaxed state.
Body scanning involves focusing on areas of tension in the body and releasing that tension through deep breaths. These techniques increase body awareness and reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack, such as a high heart rate.
Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation that focuses on repeating mantras to achieve a relaxed and calm state. Transcendental meditation has decreased stress hormones, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. In this way, transcendental meditation can reduce stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines mindfulness and cognitive therapy techniques to decrease anxiety and negative emotions. Mindfulness involves being in the present moment and acknowledging internal thoughts, and cognitive therapy focuses on shifting negative thought patterns to more positive thinking.
Practicing meditation for anxiety is beneficial for physical and mental health. One physical benefit of meditation is improved cardiovascular health. Meditation for anxiety reduces pain and helps cope with chronic pain or other medical conditions. Meditation mainly helps to decrease the stress associated with chronic pain conditions.
Meditation alters brain areas, particularly the dorsal anterior cingulate and somatosensory cortex, associated with pain sensitivity. Because meditation decreases stress hormones such as cortisol, it can also reduce the chance of developing stress-related conditions such as ulcers and migraine.
Meditation for anxiety can help with increasing sleep quality. Improved sleep has many other health benefits, including enhancing the body’s immune system and improving mood and productivity. Since meditation calms the mind, it improves focus and increases attention span.
Find a quiet space and practice breathing exercises
Find a comfortable position
Take deep breaths while counting inhalations and exhalations, and take notice of the body’s natural rhythm.
At first, simply observe the rhythm of your breathing
Then try to increase the time exhaling
Try to practice belly breathing
Practice a short mindful meditation
Find a quiet space
Focus your awareness on your breathing and physical sensations
Bring focus inwards and acknowledge the passing thoughts
If experiencing distractions or the mind wandering, gently return the focus to your bodily sensations and breathing
It is beneficial to meditate regularly to receive many of the benefits of meditation, including improved sleep, improved resilience, and overall improved well being
It can be helpful to develop a daily routine for meditation practice
Relaxation meditation techniques help recover from stressful situations or when experiencing symptoms of anxiety
Listening to guided meditations
Reading meditation books
Online or in-person meditation programs