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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 sizefor reducing 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. adultswill 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:
Overall, meditation and mindfulness exercises appear to be effective for managing various types of anxiety when practiced over the course of several weeks.
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.