Meditation for Anxiety
If anxiety is getting in the way of your day-to-day enjoyment, you’re not alone. As our lives grow busier and more complex every day, stress and anxiety are on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) study shows that over 300 million people worldwide now live with some form of anxiety disorder, including children and teens.
Most people have experienced mild anxiety about everyday situations that is usually short-lived. But, when it is ongoing, anxiety can become a “new normal.” It can affect every aspect of your health and well-being.
The good news is meditation for anxiety is a simple and proven technique for reducing anxiety. Here on MindfulnessExercises.com, we offer a range of free and premium resources, to show you how to cope well with anxiety in the moment and in the long term.
Understanding Anxiousness & Anxiety Disorder
There is a big difference between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a natural response to something stressful. This can include positive experiences, too, like winning an award.
Your body activates the “fight, flight or freeze” response. Adrenalin starts pumping through your body to help you respond in whatever way seems best–like running from a bear. When the stressor is gone, your body comes back to baseline.
Anxiety disorders are different. General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) describes what happens when anxiety is no longer about a specific stressor. It becomes generalized instead. Some of the most common forms of GAD that people experience are:
What is Meditation for Anxiety?
Meditation for anxiety teaches you how to recognize the signs of anxiety, reduce anxiety in the moment and bring down your stress level over time.
The experience of anxiety can be so unpleasant, it can be difficult to know what to do. Understanding how anxiety works can help.
There are three components of anxiety that create a “perfect storm.”
All three have a part in causing, and sustaining anxiety. And, most important, they can all be used to help you better manage anxiety as well.
The problem is most of us aren’t very aware of these components–we just know we feel anxious and it feels bad. With meditation for anxiety, you become more aware of how each affects you. And, you learn how to respond to them in healthy and constructive ways.
How Does Meditation for Anxiety Work?
If anxiety is a perfect storm, meditation is a perfect tool to ride out the storm.
The basic skill of meditation is paying attention to your experience without judgment. Meditation for anxiety begins with noticing that you’re anxious. Many people don’t know their anxiety is ramping up until they’re an 8 out of 10. Noticing the signs of anxiety early is one of the keys to responding skillfully.
You learn to observe your anxious experience with kindness and non-judgment. This builds new neural pathways that calm your system and build resilience.
Benefits of Meditation for Anxiety
Meditation and its wide range of benefits can help reduce your anxiety in the short term and the long term. You can:
Reduce your stress levels
You'll learn practices you can use to calm your mind and body any time you’re feeling stressed.
Improve your sleep
Meditating any time of day and especially near bedtime is a great way to help you get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep.
Make relationships better
Knowing how to better manage your anxiety helps you to communicate with less reactivity and more clarity.
Improve mental health
Anxiety, as well as depression, can leave you feeling helpless. Meditation for anxiety and depression gives you specific, empowering tools that work.
Main Techniques in Meditation for Anxiety
Many people around the world use meditation for anxiety and depression. Here are some of the most studied and effective practices.
Breath practices are one of the best meditations for anxiety. They direct your attention away from anxious thoughts and emotions; focus on the breath and body to soothe your nervous system; and, bring you into the present, rather than the past or future.
Body scan practices are another proven tool to help you become grounded and present. The precise, kind attention of a body scan practice guides you away from troubling thoughts and emotions to the direct experience of your body.
We’ve already mentioned that non-judgmental awareness is at the heart of meditation. This is a key skill because judgment of ourselves and others can be a big part of the cycle of anxiety.
How to Meditate for Anxiety: Step-by-Step Guide
What do you do when your thoughts and worries are winding you up into an anxious state?
This step-by-step practice is easy to describe, but sometimes it’s difficult to do. Be patient with yourself.
Additional Tips to Reduce Anxiety
There are many activities and habits other than meditation that can help reduce anxiety.
Your mental, emotional and physical health will enjoy a whole host of benefits from regular exercise.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Are you aware that you think things and do things that make your anxiety worse, but can’t seem to stop yourself? CBT might be for you. You’ll learn ways to recognize unhelpful thought patterns and choose positive behaviors.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT)
This relatively new form of psychotherapy combines these two methods. Mindfulness meditation is used as a foundational skill that helps people learn CBT to observe their body, mind and behaviors with non-judgment and objectivity.
Taking time to write about your inner world is a proven way to improve self-care. Consider keeping a mood and mental health journal to track anxiety triggers and the tools that help.
Use the 3-3-3 rule to put anxiety on pause within seconds.
Try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to interrupt anxiety or depression, and choose a positive behavior instead.
Seek medical help
Sometimes anxiety becomes severe and ongoing. If practices like those we have described here do not give you relief, consider seeking experienced help from a medical professional or counselor.
How can a simple meditation exercise help with my anxiety?
Meditation helps with anxiety by showing you how to be present with your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in ways that calm your mind and body.
Do I have to have a particular spiritual or religious belief to meditate?
You don’t need any special beliefs to be able to meditate.
I’m just a beginner, can I start right away?
Even if you’re a beginner, you can start meditating right away. You don’t need any experience with meditation to be able to use and benefit from these practices.
How long will it take to feel the effects?
It will not take long for you to feel the effects of these practices. You can reduce your anxiety with meditation in as little as five minutes. And, the more you do it, the more effective it will become.
Can I use meditation for anxiety to help me sleep?
You can use meditation for anxiety to help you get to sleep. Many people with insomnia do practice before bed.
Can meditation for anxiety help you? Yes. It is the best side-effect-free way to reduce the mental, emotional and physical discomfort of anxiety. And, it will help you strengthen your resilience to cope with other life challenges that come your way.
The information contained in this article is not a substitute for any professional advice or treatment, including the advice and treatment of a licensed health care or mental health professional.
Ann Vrlak is a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and children (the best job ever) and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She is also a freelance writer specializing in meditation and mindfulness, with a special love for creating guided scripts to share the practical and profound experience of meditation.