I will never forget my first anxiety attack – my mind raced irrationally, my heart started pumping faster and faster, my breathing became uncontrollably shallow and I felt like I was going to be sick.
Thankfully I have only had 2 of these attacks in my life but they were both scary enough to make me realise just how awful and debilitating anxiety can be. Attacks like this are an acute form of anxiety that can sometimes disappear as quickly as they arrive, but for many people anxiety can become a chronic, insidious addition to their everyday life, causing excessive worry and stress, and even physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, fatigue and digestive issues.
If anxiety is to be treated holistically, diet, sleep and exercise must all be attended to. However, because most anxiety is characterised by intrusive, fear-based thoughts, training the mind is invaluable – and meditation is one of the best ways to help with this.
If you or someone you know experiences anxiety, severe stress and worry, then keep reading to understand exactly how meditation can help you or your loved one gently remove yourself from these feelings and situations.
3 Ways Meditation Can Help Reduce Anxiety:
1. Thinking vs Awareness
We have two different aspects of our minds: thinking and awareness. The thinking mind is what you may recognise as the “voice” in your mind that constantly chatters and gives a running commentary on all that you experience. Our awareness on the other hand, is the calm, spacious part of our mind beyond our thoughts that takes all of our experiences in without judgement or reaction.
Anxious people, as well as having an excessively fearful thinking mind that worries easily, are often so absorbed and self-identified with the thinking part of the mind that they can be completely disconnected from the calm, aware part of their mind and so are unable to detach and gain perspective when their thoughts are running wild.
Meditation strengthens our awareness, enabling us to take a step back from the thinking mind and to see it for what it is – just illusory thoughts, not reality. This ability to detach is absolutely crucial in managing anxiety effectively.
2. Meditation Anchors You In The Now
If you pay close attention to your worries, fears and anxious thoughts you may notice something they usually have in common: they tend to be “what if” type thoughts. In other words, they tend to be thoughts that have no bearing on reality in the present moment, but rather are fearful projections of different future possibilities that make you feel stressed and worried. The worst thing about this, is because they are based on the future, we cannot take action to fix or change these imagined problems in the moment – as they are not actually happening now. So the mind goes around in circles with us not being able to do anything to change any of these imagined situations.
Eckhart Tolle, the great spiritual teacher and author, suggests when you are feeling stressed and anxious to ask yourself: “What problem do I have in THIS moment? Not 10 years from now, or 2 weeks from now, or in 10 minutes from now, but in this very moment?” Usually, there is no problem in the present moment. And if there is, then that is the best time to have a problem because that is the only time we can actually do something about it.
Meditation trains the brain to notice when we are jumping into these illusions and brings us back to being aware of what is happening in this moment – it gets us back in touch with reality and frees us from the relentless hamster wheel of anxious thoughts.
3. Meditation Induces The Relaxation Response
Don’t just take my word for it, numerous robust scientific studies have emerged in recent years validating the beneficial effects of meditation on anxiety. Several studies have proven that meditation can induce the “relaxation response” with measurable physical effects, such as the reduction of heart rate, rapid breathing and blood pressure. Also, another study has shown that meditation can reduce the number of neurons in the amygdala – the fear-based part of our brain associated with anxiety, panic and worry.
The important thing to understand about meditation, is that it is not a one-and-done quick fix for anxiety.
Meditation is a practice, and it requires dedication, persistence and patience. Ideally, a regular meditation routine of 20 minutes a day will yield the most positive results, slowly transforming your life and reducing your anxiety from the inside out.
Have you ever tried meditation for anxiety? I’d love to hear your experiences. Let me know via the comments below, and feel free to ask me any questions you might have about meditation also!
There’s lots of anxiety meditation music and techniques out there, but if you’d like to get started with your own meditation practice, check out my free online meditation program and be sure to read my quick and easy beginner’s guide to meditation.
P.S. Do you know someone who suffers with anxiety? Share this article with them now. Help us create a happier and healthier global collective.