By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 24 January 2015)
According to Dr. Reid Wilson (n.d.), research shows that meditation lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and that those who meditate regularly suffer less daily anxiety and recover a feeling of calm more quickly when they do become anxious. A recent study undertaken by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center provided “evidence that mindfulness meditation attenuates anxiety through mechanisms involved in the regulation of self-referential thought processes” (Bergland, 2013), and a 2014 research review of 47 well-designed studies has provided further support for meditation’s positive impacts on anxiety, as well as states that often occur in conjunction with anxiety such as pain and depression (Corliss, 2014).
One of the key skills that can be gained through meditation is the ability to prevent the escalating negative feedback loop whereby disturbing physical sensations trigger distorted perceptions of threat and frightening imagery, which in turn trigger more nasty physical sensations. Meditation teaches practitioners to short-circuit this negative loop by not reacting to sensations and thoughts that would normally be upsetting.
The Benefits of Meditation for Anxiety
Meditation reduces the physiological symptoms of anxiety, as well as reactions to them when they do occur. It slows down the mind, making it inhospitable to racing, panicky thoughts, and when done regularly, provides the skills needed to address problems calmly and rationally.
Most meditation techniques involve sitting very still and focusing on the breath, a particular object, a concept such as kindness or love, or a single word repeated over and over again (mantra). Meditation requires slow, even, controlled breathing, which makes it very effective for reducing anxiety if practiced regularly.
Meditation teaches practitioners to focus their thought processes, and to achieve a simplicity and clarity that is far removed from the chaotic mental clutter that can feed anxiety. Meditation can enhance concentration, an ability that is often impaired when people are anxious, by building the skills of mind control and focus.
In addition to anti-anxiety benefits, studies have indicated that the regular practice of meditation can provide health and cognitive benefits (Association for Psychological Science, 2011).
Developing meditation skills can enable practitioners to become detached from their thoughts and emotions at will, and therefore less inclined to obsess and panic. Experienced meditators don’t need to suppress distressing feelings or images because they have trained their minds and bodies not to react negatively to them.
Meditation is a skill that must be built up over time through regular practice, so if you expect instant results, you’ll probably be disappointed. Many people do achieve greater relaxation as soon as they begin, largely due to the calm, regular breathing practice associated with meditation. However, there are many more benefits that are only likely to be achieved over the longer term with regular practice, such as enhanced concentration and focus, as well as the ability to face adversity with a calm mind.
How to Meditate
To meditate, find a quiet place with dim lighting or soft natural light. Sit in a comfortable position with your back as straight as possible. Some people like to sit on a cushion on the floor, though sitting on a straight-backed chair is fine as well.
Many meditation experts recommend practicing every day for 20 minutes or more, but a lot of people don’t have enough time to do this. Even if you only practice for 5 minutes each day, if you do it consistently, it should bring benefits over time. It’s better to meditate every day for 5 minutes than to do occasional long sessions, because you want to train your body’s response, which requires regular, consistent practice.
Some people find it difficult to sit still for very long, and prefer to do walking meditations, which provide the added bonus of additional exercise and, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a beach, park, forest, or lake, beautiful scenery as well.
Free Meditation Resources
- Free Audio for Guided Meditations: The UCLA Semel Institute offers free guided meditations that you can play on your computer or download to iTunes, with audio ranging from 3 to 19 minutes.
- Transcendental Meditation: The Maharishi Foundation, a non-profit educational organization, provides information on transcendental meditation, including techniques, benefits, research, videos, and more.
- Concentration Meditation and Awareness Meditation: Dr. Reid Wilson provides instructions for awareness meditation and concentration meditation.
- Walking Meditations: Linda J. Brown of the Arthritis Foundation provides some simple beginner’s instructions for a walking meditation. There is also an iTunes app available for guided walking meditations.
- Thai Chi Information: If you prefer a movement meditation that is more varied, you may like Thai Chi. Information on this practice and the benefits it provides can be found on the Thai Chi page of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. If you choose Thai Chi, learning from a qualified instructor is recommended because this art is not easy to pick up from a book. An instructor can provide feedback to ensure that you are doing the movements correctly.
For more natural anxiety remedies and anxiety reduction techniques, visit the main Natural Anxiety and Panic Treatments page.
- Association for Psychological Science (2011, October 31). “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Understanding Mindfulness Meditation.” ScienceDaily.com.
- Bergland, C. (2013, June 7 ). “The Athlete’s Way: How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety at a Neural Level?” PsychologyToday.com.
- Corliss, J. (2014, January 8). “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Medical School, Health.Harvard.edu.
- Smith, M., MA; Segal, R., MA; & Segal, J., PhD. (2012, January). “Therapy for Anxiety Disorders.” HelpGuide.org.
- Wilson, R., Dr. (n.d.). “Panic Attacks.” Anxieties.com.