Reducing anxiety has more to do with the mind than it does with external circumstances. Guided meditation for anxiety can help provide some mental relief. You sometimes can’t control what’s happening to you or in the world around you. However, you can control how you feel and react to it.
What is meditation for anxiety?
Meditation teaches us to be more conscious of the present and less in our heads. We have a habit of allowing thoughts to enter our mind and follow them. Sometimes these are pleasant thoughts, but many times these can be worries, stressful thoughts, anxious feelings, and anxiety.
Often, we allow ourselves to follow these thoughts and even become these thoughts. Even though nothing may be happening to us physically at that very moment, we still may feel unsure or anxious about the future as a result of our thinking.
Meditation for anxiety is a distinct, guided experience that allows us to practice becoming more present, as well as provide a technique to deal with thoughts and the reality that is our busy and active mind. This practice is also known as mindfulness, which again, trains our brain to be present by focusing our attention away from thinking and into things that ground us into the present such as breathing and physical sensations.
Guided meditations for anxiety
How meditation reduces anxiety
Guided meditation for anxiety helps us observe our thoughts and emotions without judgements. The common thing most people do when a thought enters their mind is to follow it, judge it, dwell on it, and become lost in it. Instead, a regular meditation practice trains us to be present.
This allow us to control the way we see and react to our anxiety, instead of allowing our anxiety to control us.
This is supported by studies as well. In a study done by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, brain scans showed which areas of the brain were activated and deactivated by volunteers suffering from anxiety, when they practiced mindfulness meditation.
The study showed that when the volunteers with no previous meditation experience reported anxiety relief, the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (areas which control emotion and worrying respectively) were activated. The volunteers had four 20 minute sessions and reported a reduction in anxiety by as much as 39%.
Meditation for anxiety also gives people a technique and tool to cope and deal with anxiety and even panic attacks as they happen. Often, when a panic attack or wave of anxiety comes, we don’t know how to deal with it. Usually, dealing with it can mean stressing about it, which only serves to exacerbate the feelings and situation. With guided meditation, we have a tool that we can turn to and use to more effectively deal with anxiety.
Studies have also shown that anxiety sufferers who turn to guided meditation have reported increased feelings of control, an increased sense of a general well-being, as well as an increase in overall optimism. These feelings go a long way in mitigating the frequency and intensity of anxiety.
How to meditate for anxiety
To learn how to meditate for anxiety, it’s probably best that you use a guided meditation. Especially for sufferers of anxiety, it can be pretty distracting to try and teach yourself meditation from a set of instructions.
A guided meditation will walk you through the process, as well as provide constant reminders to stay focused on the practice.
Here’s a short 10 minute guided meditation for anxiety that can help introduce you to the practice, as well as provide some relief.
In case you’d like to practice on your own, or you’d just like to know what you should expect, here’s a step by step guide to meditation for anxiety relief.
Step-by-step guided meditation for anxiety
- First, find a comfortable spot. It could be a chair or cushion on the floor.
- With your eyes open, take a few deep breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
- After 5 or 6 deep breaths, gently close your eyes.
- Begin to notice physical sensations and points of contact. Notice your legs and back touching the chair. Notice your feet against the floor. Notice your arms and hands in your lap.
- Leave your attention here for about a minute or so.
- Bring your attention now to the breath. Begin to notice each breath as it passes and the rising and falling sensation of each breath.
- Maybe you notice this rise and fall on your chest. Maybe it’s your stomach or mouth.
- Don’t force the breath here, just observe each in breath and out breath as it passes.
- As you do this, your wind may begin to wander. You may even catch yourself so deep in thought that you’ve forgotten that you were even trying to meditate in the first place. When you notice your mind has wandered, just gently return your focus back to the breath.
- Notice any feelings of anxiety or worry that may try to pull your attention away from the breath. Instead of following these thoughts and feelings, simply notice and observe them. See what happens when you notice the feeling. Allow it to pass and return your attention to the breath.
- It’s important that you don’t judge these thoughts or feelings because judging is getting lost in thinking. Just make a gentle note of what the feeling is and return to the breath. Almost as if you took a feather to the feeling of anxiety and said “Oh yeah, anxiety” and returned your focus to the breath.
- To make the practice a little easier, begin to count the breaths as they pass. Count each breath in and each breath out, up until a count of 10, and then start over.
- If you get distracted, or have feelings of anxiety, start the count over, and return your attention to the breath.
- Do this for 5 minutes.
- Now, allow your mind to wander. Release all focus on the breath.
- After a minute, return your attention to the body and the physical points of contact.
- Gently open your eyes and notice how you feel.
- You’ve just completed a mindfulness meditation for anxiety relief.
The anxiety epidemic
Now that we know what guided meditation for anxiety is and how it works, just how bad and common is this anxiety thing, anyway?
Well the good news or bad news (depending how you look at it) is that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. Over 1 in 6 people being affected every year.
An anxiety disorder can be:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Phobia disorders
- Major depressive disorder
- Social anxiety
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
However, anxiety isn’t always chronic or linked to a disorder. Feelings of anxiety are becoming more and more common with the daily stresses and worries of life being amped up in this connected and fast-paced world.
News cycles are getting shorter. The amount of outrage and negativity being pushed out into the world is growing. The number of hours worked is increasing. Bills and expenses are stacking up. It’s no wonder so many people dwell on worries and feel pressure from their work, families, and problems.
In fact, on average, a normal person may spend 55 minutes a day worrying, while people with anxiety disorders may spend over 300 minutes a day worrying.
Anxiety can be feelings of panic and fear. It can cause sleep deprivation. It can even cause physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, and heart palpitations. Worse yet, anxiety can make other illnesses a lot worse, including heart disease. So it’s really important that even people who don’t have a disorder, to work on managing their daily anxiety better.
While this all may paint a pretty grim reality, the truth is that anxiety disorders are very much treatable. One way, of course, is through regular guided meditation for anxiety.
The benefits of anxiety meditation
Meditation has numerous benefits. However, if you’re looking to use meditation to help with anxiety, here’s how guided meditation for anxiety benefits you.
Better Management and Awareness of Thoughts and Feelings
Meditation gives you a tool to use whenever thoughts and feelings overwhelm you. You can begin to separate yourself from your thoughts and feelings, and begin to realize that it’s your reaction to these thoughts that’s controlling how you feel, and not the thoughts themselves.
Helps Relax the Busy Mind
When you start meditating, you begin to see just how busy our minds can be. Meditation is your chance to take 10 minutes or more out of a hectic day and be introspective. Be in the present moment, and not caught up in the momentum of the daily grind.
Studies have shown how meditating can help people fall asleep faster. Sufferers of anxiety often can have their sleep disturbed, or symptoms such as sleep deprivation.
Other ways to reduce anxiety
Guided meditation for anxiety isn’t the only way to reduce anxiety. There are other ways, some more effective than others, and others more effective at treating the root cause.
Depending on the severity of the anxiety, it may be best to talk to your family doctor about prescription medications for anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Norephinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are sometimes prescribed. Other times, Antihistamines and beta-blockers are prescribed.
Talk to your family doctor to learn what type of treatment is best for you and your anxiety.
Therapy, whether it’s individual or in a group, can help not only treat symptoms but get to the root cause of the disorder and potentially fix the underlying problem.
Some effective types of therapy to consider are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
CBT works by helping us examine our negative thoughts and how they may cause our anxiety. A therapist will then look at the behavior and reaction as a result to this thinking.
By understanding that it’s actually our reactions and thoughts that affect the way we feel, and not external causes, we can feel much more in control.
Exposure therapy is just like it sounds: exposing the patient to the unpleasant things that their anxiety is trying to make them avoid. With repeated exposures, the hope is that it builds up calluses on the mind to become stronger and not be affected to what was originally feared.
Both these types of therapies can be done together or separately depending on what type of anxiety disorder the patient is suffering from.
Better Management of Symptoms
Even if you’re struggling to treat your anxiety or anxiety disorder, there is always the option of working at managing and lessening your symptoms.
Hit the gym! Studies have already shown that light exercise such as going for a walk can improve one’s mood immensely, and even reduce anxiety symptoms. If you’re feeling a little more motivated, try incorporating some cardio (like running) a few times a week, or even lift weights.
Exercise is also a great way to be more present. Having a regular gym routine can focus your mind, and give you something positive to work towards and improve.
Eat better. It’s okay to indulge once in a while, especially when you’re at your lowest point and a little junk food helps temporarily lift your spirits. However, habitual poor meal choices drastically affects not only your body, but your mind as well. Incorporate more leafy greens in your diet, and cut our sugar and refined carbs, which according to studies, can worsen anxiety.
Cut out coffee, energy drinks, and other caffeinated drinks. Caffeine has the tendency to exacerbate anxiety symptoms, or even have side effects that may feel like anxiety, like an increase in heart rate and tremors.
Get your nightly 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Sleep is a major factor when it comes to mood and mental health. Being well rested in the morning sets up the rest of the day to be anxiety-free.
Besides the health benefits, staying up really late can also allow thoughts of worry and anxiety to seep in.
Try your first guided meditation session if you haven’t already.