Anxiety is a completely natural experience. Your body produces a stress response whenever it's faced with a threatening situation. The stress response, also known as fight-or-flight mode, causes your heart rate and breathing to quicken and triggers the release of stress hormones that alert you to escape the threat. Normally, once the threatening event is over, your body should return to a neutral state called homeostasis.
But for millions of people, their stress response gets triggered by everyday events, yet it doesn’t subside after the triggering event has passed. Instead, feelings of stress increase and may even develop into panic. When these types of anxious episodes persist for six months or longer, a person may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders live in a prolonged state of stress, which can interfere with their health and well-being.
If you struggle with anxiety, depression or ongoing stress, there are several proven interventions you can incorporate into daily life. One of these techniques is mindfulness meditation—an evidence-based anxiety-reducing and stress-management tool that anyone can learn to practice anywhere, anytime.
Does Meditation Help Anxiety?
Many studies have shown that meditation helps reduce anxiety and depression and increases stress coping. Because many diseases and conditions are stress-related, mediation may also reduce the risk of the secondary effects of anxiety and stress, like chronic pain, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but you tend to feel yourself getting anxious over certain situations, you may still benefit from learning to meditate.
How Does Meditation Help Anxiety?
Often, when we start to feel anxious, it isn’t due to an imminent threat. Instead, it’s usually a series of many daily life issues, like a looming deadline, a difficult conversation or an overwhelming amount of responsibilities, that cause us stress. Our own thoughts about our daily struggles are what cause us to worry, and in turn, trigger stress.
Meditation essentially allows you to take back control over your stress response. By sitting quietly and observing your thoughts, you’re able to ease their stressful effects on you. Over time, through meditation, you develop a better understanding of the thoughts and situations that cause your anxiety.
Meditation gives you the tools to bring yourself out of an anxious state by detaching yourself from your own stressful thoughts.
How to Meditate for Anxiety
If you’re interested in learning to meditate for anxiety or depression, start with a few minutes each day, perhaps when you first wake up.
Follow the below steps to get started:
- Find a comfortable chair, recliner, bench or cushion and sit upright. You can place your feet flat on the ground if you’re sitting in a chair or cross your legs if you prefer to sit on the floor.
- Gently close your eyes and take several slow deep breaths, paying attention to the rising and falling of your chest as you inhale and exhale. Return your breath back to its normal rhythm after a few moments of deep breathing.
- After a while, your mind will naturally begin to wander away from your breath as you start thinking about other things. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, gently return your focus to the present moment and resume concentrating on your breathing.
- Repeat this process throughout your meditation session, which can last as long as you’d like.
- To come out of your meditation, take one final deep breath before slowly opening your eyes. Acknowledge how you feel and notice whether your anxiety has reduced or disappeared.
How to Meditate When Anxious
When you’re already in a state of anxiety, it can be difficult to remember to meditate.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're trying to meditate while anxious:
- Download one of the popular meditation apps for anxiety to use whenever you notice your stress levels rising.
- Remove yourself from the stressful situation and spend a few minutes alone, where you’ll be more likely to attempt to meditate to ease your tension.
- Begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Bringing down your breathing rate has an automatic reversal action on your stress response.
- Set a short timer or open up a YouTube meditation video on your phone and follow the instructions—it’s less effort than doing it on your own.
After your meditation session, reflect on the situation that triggered your anxiety. Make a mental note about how effective your breathing and meditation break was for calming you down. Over time, you’ll build a habit of relying on your own mindfulness to reduce anxiety.
Meditation is called a practice for a reason—it takes time and effort to build up your skills.
Meditation Techniques for Anxiety
One of the most well-research mediation techniques for anxiety is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)—an eight-week program that’s been clinically shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
MBSR practitioners practice meditation for 40-45 minutes per day, typically in two daily sessions of around 20 minutes each. While many medical centers, universities and colleges offer formal MBSR training, you can also practice the technique yourself without training by learning a few mindfulness exercises.
How Often to Meditate for Anxiety
Ideally, meditation for stress and anxiety should be done daily and multiple times per day. For beginners, a short session each morning is a good place to begin your practice.
Over time, increase your meditation sessions in length until you’re able to meditate for 20 minutes straight. Research shows that 20-minute sessions provide peak benefits and that taking two daily 20-minute meditation breaks is the goal to work toward.
How often to meditate for anxiety also depends on how frequently you experience anxious episodes. Ideally, you’ll want to use meditation to reduce your anxiety whenever you feel yourself getting stressed. Remember, it’s always available to you for free.
Can Meditation Make Anxiety Worse?
There is some evidence that intensive meditation can potentially produce negative outcomes. For example, one study observed long-term meditators after participating in a meditation retreat. Nearly 63% of the participants reported having experienced at least one adverse effect following the retreat, and roughly 7% of them reported suffering profound adverse effects.
Meditation is a highly personal experience. It’s a practice that builds self-awareness, which can cause people who practice it to eventually face uncomfortable emotions or memories, which can be distressful.
Some people claim that observing their own thoughts, such as with mindfulness meditation, causes them to remain too focused on their stress. Rather than helping, mindfulness meditation seems to compound their problems. Other types of meditation may then be more suitable for reducing anxiety for certain individuals.
Many people report a positive link between Transcendental Meditation® and anxiety.
Transcendental Meditation is a different technique that emphasizes the total release of thoughts altogether, allowing you to achieve a state of transcendence or bliss. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology compared research results from various meditation techniques and found that Transcendental Meditation had the largest effect size for reducing anxiety.
Does Meditation Help With Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is one type of anxiety disorder in which the person has a fear of social interactions. According to the American Psychological Association, people with social anxiety are afraid that they’ll be embarrassed or negatively judged by others in social situations.
According to survey data collected by Harvard Medical School researchers, an estimated 12.1% of U.S. adults will experience social anxiety disorder in their lives.
While most meditation research for anxiety focuses on generalized anxiety or depression, a few small studies have examined outcomes of meditation for social anxiety specifically.
A 2009 study found that participants with social anxiety who practiced MBSR for eight weeks experienced the following improvements:
- Decreased anxiety
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased positive self-evaluation and decreased negative self-evaluation
- Decreased concern with how others perceive them
Overall, meditation and mindfulness exercises appear to be effective for managing various types of anxiety when practiced over the course of several weeks.
Relax The Back Guided Meditation for Anxiety
Mindfulness meditation for anxiety is an easy and safe technique you can practice at home to help manage your stress.
If you’re interested in guided meditations for reducing stress, try Relax The Back’s Guided Meditation for Anxiety on our YouTube channel. Follow a trained meditation instructor as we teach you how to ease your stress through an at-home meditation practice.
If you’re looking to create a meditation space in your home that promotes deep relaxation and tranquility, shop Relax The Back for mind-body wellness solutions. Our selection of meditation chairs will help you create a peaceful and stress-free environment for daily meditations.