How Meditation Reduces Anxiety (2023)

Meditation is a powerful self-care practice that comes with a host of benefits, such as helping alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, keep reading to discover why meditation is such a beneficial tool for anxiety, and a few easy ways you can start meditating now.

Let’s face it: There’s a lot to be anxious about, especially lately. From our jobs to our relationships, finances, and major global events (hello, COVID-19 pandemic), our lives can often seem like a series of anxiety-inducing incidents. If you’ve ever been gripped by the symptoms of anxiety, you’re certainly not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder — with most developing symptoms before age 21. Whether your symptoms are mental (such as racing thoughts, negativity, and irritation), physical (like sweaty palms, tension headaches, and heart palpitations), or both, meditation can help play a key role in managing anxiety.

Is Meditation Beneficial for Anxiety?

At first glance, the practice of meditation — whether it’s breathing or repeating a phrase over and over again — may not seem like much. But modern diagnostic and imaging techniques have proven that it can actually produce a deep state of relaxation and inner peace by focusing your attention, heightening your awareness, and so much more. Using electroencephalography (EEG) tests to record brain activity, a 2020 study on meditation even found that novice meditators achieved altered states of consciousness. Another study, published in Psychiatry Research, showed how an eight-week meditation program increased the concentration of gray matter, which makes up the brain’s outermost layer.

While talk therapy and psychiatric medications can be powerful tools for people coping with debilitating anxiety, research has shown meditation can be a helpful treatment method as well. A 2014 study published in Psychology & Health looked at pregnant women experiencing high levels of perceived stress and found that those who meditated experienced less anxiety. Meanwhile, a 2015 trial suggested that meditation helped reduce perceived stress and depressive symptoms in cancer survivors.

(Video) 10-Minute Meditation For Anxiety

Most groundbreaking of all? A 2022 study published in JAMA Psychiatry compared patients who underwent an eight-week mindfulness meditation program and those who took escitalopram, the generic name of the commonly prescribed anxiety drug Lexapro, and concluded that both worked equally well in reducing anxiety symptoms. While meditation shouldn’t necessarily replace medication, the results mean that anxiety sufferers might benefit a great deal by complementing their treatment programs with mindfulness techniques.

How Does Meditation Help With Anxiety?

“Meditation has been a known practice for calming the mind and reducing anxiety for thousands of years across many different cultures,” says Mari Sierra, head of wellness at the bilingual Spanish/English wellness app OYE. Sierra, who has over 15 years of experience in embodiment practice teaching yoga, somatics, dance, and meditation, tells DailyOM that “nowadays, with so much distraction from the digital world, a lot of people find it hard to meditate and focus, or it can even be perceived as boring.”

But if you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s more important than ever to connect deeply with yourself and develop an awareness of the present moment, which is exactly what meditation is designed to accomplish. “Anxiety interrupts the mind-body connection and gets your head, heart, and body out of sync,” says Kim Burris, a licensed psychotherapist, author, and founder of The Holistic Counseling Center, a boutique therapy center serving clients all over California. “Meditation is an invitation to silence the outer world and explore the inner world.”

According to Burris, as you focus your attention on your body and deepen your breath, you positively impact your nervous system and alter your neurochemistry, activating the healing process on both the psychological and physical levels.

What Are Mantras for Anxiety?

One easy way to start meditating is to repeat mantras — whether out loud or in your mind. “Words are powerful and can help the mind and body focus,” says Burris. “Saying a positive affirmation to yourself or chanting while meditating can help your mind focus and, in essence, give it something to do while meditating.” You may even be able to subtly rewire your subconscious by using words and affirmations during meditation.

(Video) Meditation for Stress

If you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s more important than ever to connect deeply with yourself and develop an awareness of the present moment, which is exactly what meditation is designed to accomplish.

To try anxiety-reducing affirmations during meditation, Buris suggests these simple but powerful phrases: “I am” and “I love you.”

“When using ‘I am,’ hear the word ‘I’ on the inhale and ‘am’ on the exhale,” she says. “As you repeat this practice while breathing, you are inviting yourself into the present moment, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. You can delight in existing. When you use the mantra ‘I love you,’ it can feel a bit cheesy when you start, but stick with it. I suggest putting your hand on your heart and saying out loud ‘I love you’ after each exhale and before each inhale.”

These mantras offer a moment of presence and love — a sort of antidote to anxiety. “Anxiety is the experience that there is something ‘wrong,’” says Burris. “By using these mantras, you offer yourself a different experience.”

What Is the Most Effective Form of Meditation for Anxiety?

If you’re dealing with stress and anxiety, chances are that any and all forms of meditation will help you. But depending on your needs, you might require an active or a passive practice. Active meditation encompasses walking, nature gazing (like standing outside with your feet on the ground and observing the sky, trees, and birds), and other kinds of movement (such as yoga, dancing, and stretching), while passive meditation is about sitting in stillness, watching your breath, and allowing your mind and body to rest.

(Video) How to reduce stress with the 2:1 breathing technique

“It’s important to choose one that will help soothe the mind and body and not activate it more,” says Burris. “The best way to know what you need is to pick a practice and then notice how it impacts you. Remember, we’re looking for subtle changes and improvements; change takes time and one day of meditation won’t eradicate your symptoms, but practice over time will have an impact.”

No matter which path you choose to explore, Burris encourages you to remember it’s a practice. “It doesn’t have to look a certain way and there is truly no right or wrong way to do it,” she says. “If you commit to a daily practice of sitting with yourself, you will experience more self-compassion, kindness, and love. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Meditation can feel hard because we are all moving so fast in our day-to-day lives that turning inward can feel foreign to many of us.”

How Do You Start a Meditation Practice?

If you’re ready to start a meditation practice, Burris says you should commit to turning inward and being with yourself for at least five minutes a day. The idea is to start with a small, doable amount of time and build up to more over time.

Next, decide when and where you will practice. Try first thing in the morning sitting up in bed, after lunch outside, or meditating before bed at home in a cozy corner. It’s important to create a space in your room or house, using cushions or a comfortable chair, that you can come back to anytime you want to meditate. “By setting the space with reverence and adorning it with some beautiful objects that stimulate your senses — like a candle, incense, aromatherapy, or a vase with flowers — you invite your body and mind to collect themselves and arrive at a grounded place,” says Sierra.

Finally, choose a type of meditation to practice. “Don’t be afraid to try a few meditation practices and see which one works for you right now,” says Burris. “Starting off with a guided meditation can be really helpful instead of just sitting down in silence. You can also consider a walking meditation or an eyes-open meditation.”

(Video) Mindful Breathing for Anxiety

3 Ways to Meditate for Anxiety

1. Sign Up for a Guided Meditation Practice Online

Taught by meditation and holistic teacher Emily Spurling, this eight-day DailyOM course covers eight different forms of meditation — ranging from traditional to modern — that accommodate all levels of students. At the end of the course, you’ll be armed with tools and strategies to help you prevent anxiety and handle stressful situations.

2. Try Active Meditation

In active meditation, like guided somatic movement, walking meditation, or restorative yoga, your attention is focused on the sensations of your body parts as you consciously move through space. “Notice the tone of your internal landscape, and pay attention to your posture, your gestures, the rhythm of your breath, and the texture of your felt body,” says Sierra. “This type of meditation can help when having an anxiety episode. It helps descend the ruminating mind into the felt physical experience of the body, which can help bring a sense of safety and groundedness and eventually self-regulate into balance.”

3. Explore Open Awareness Meditation

This type of meditation doesn’t focus your attention on one sole object. “It’s left open to feel the connection with the vastness of the universal forces around us, like the air on your skin, the horizon, the warmth of the sun, the passing of the clouds, the leaves of the tree moving, the sounds around you,” says Sierra. “This type of expanded awareness helps you recover trust and can also help to restore a sense of calmness by belonging to a larger web of life.”

(Video) My Story (2/2) ~ Using meditation to deal with panic attacks, stress & anxiety

During open awareness meditation, which you can do seated or in the middle of an activity, allow your attention to float freely and without direction, instead of concentrating on something. Allow your environment to open up to you — noticing sounds, thoughts, feelings, smells, or bodily sensations and letting them pass without disruption instead of getting caught up in them. The goal is to simply witness everything happening around you while remaining nonjudgmental toward yourself the whole time.

The Bottom Line

A consistent meditation practice — in whatever form speaks to you — can provide both immediate and long-term anxiety reduction, even for people who experience high levels of anxiety. “This simple act of taking time for yourself sends a message of love and care to your mind and body,” Burns explains. “By taking time to meditate, you are telling yourself you matter.”


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