You would not be alone if you are feeling anxious these days. If you’re experiencing anxiety you may be feeling restless, unfocused, tense. You may be worrying a lot and having problems sleeping. All of these signs of stress can ultimately have an impact on your physical and emotional health and your relationships with others.
Effects of Meditation on Anxiety
Meditation, in general, can help lessen the effects of anxiety. Mindfulness mediation can be particularly effective in this area. Finding a quiet spot to observe the sensations of your breathing as a way to maintain your focus on the present moment rather than on other distractions is a common mindfulness practice.
While this basic practice to enhance your awareness and settle your mind is not easy, it can be done and with profound benefits. It works so well because anxiety is often connected with fruitless worries and thoughts. Mindfulness meditation increases your awareness about those worries and thoughts and teaches you not to place the focus of your energy on them. It also teaches you that thoughts are not necessarily facts and that you have a choice in how you respond. With a steady practice, changes in brain structure will occur in which the nagging worries are essentially short-circuited.
Researchers are finding sufficient evidence to conclude that mindfulness meditation can help to improve depression, anxiety, and pain. Some of the better designed research in the mindfulness space is in these areas.
Changes in the Brain
Brain functions often change after engaging regularly in mindfulness meditation. As a result of an ongoing mindful meditation practice, one of the main developments is an actual “rewiring” of the brain in which new neural pathways are built. Brain researchers call the brain’s ability to alter based on repeated experience “neuroplasticity.” As part of this process, you are training your brain to see your thoughts and emotions differently and to become more aware, for instance, when your mind is wandering or wreaking havoc. This increased awareness can enable you to pause a physically or emotionally harmful reaction more quickly and let go. This rewiring of the brain contributes to lower levels of anxiety and increased focus.
Meditation does not resonate with or help everyone. There are other practices you can explore to help reduce anxiety. While we discussed meditating on the breath as a means to bring yourself into the present moment, you can also bring yourself into the present through a task that absorbs your attention. Taking a break, checking in with yourself, especially when you’ve been triggered and sense that you are about to engage in an impulsive reaction, and mindful movement, such as yoga and qigong, are other examples that can help you reach a sense of calm. Keep in mind though that meditation and these other practices are not a substitute for therapy when needed.
The developing scientific evidence that mindful meditation can calm anxiety supports thousands of years of experience with this practice. Research efforts are ongoing to strengthen our understanding of how the experienced benefits of meditation actually manifest in the body and the extent to which meditation provides benefits other self-care or professional care practices may or may not. Hopefully, the information in this article will help inform your own practice.
To begin or support your practice, please join me in my upcoming online Zoom classes and workshops.