Using Meditation for Anxiety and Restoring Calm?

An increase in anxiety

We live through stressful times and many of us find comfort in our daily meditation practice.

There is much to be concerned about given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the influx of new and potentially more contagious strains and the constant bombardment of news on the subject. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about four in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, up from one in 10 before the virus radically changed our lives and lifestyle.

And many of the hundreds of thousands of people who had Covid-19 still feel anxious even six months later, a recent study finds Lancet Psychiatry reports. Sometimes there is a trigger, but sometimes fear can come seemingly out of nowhere, taking you by surprise.

“Anxiety is worrying about the future, and mindfulness or any form of meditation is about focusing on the present moment so that you take some distance from those thoughts,” says Neda Gould, PhD, director of the mindfulness program at the University of Groningen. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

What is fear?

More than just thinking the sky is falling, anxiety also causes physical symptoms, some of which can be really scary.

Your heart may beat faster, your breath may accelerate to the point of hyperventilation, you may sweat or tremble, and you may develop gastrointestinal problems. That is why it is called a nervous stomach.

Anxiety triggers your sympathetic nervous system, which releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol that can raise heart rate and blood pressure, but meditation can teach your body and brain how to pause this response and tap into your inner peace, Gould says.

A review of 41 studies with 2,993 participants found that mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, helped reduce anxiety, depression, and perceived stress/general distress. The study appears in AHRQ comparative effectiveness ratings. Mindfulness means that you pay close attention to what you are feeling at that moment.

The next time you get a breaking news alert with less good news, consider taking a mindfulness break.

A recent study by researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that a 15-minute online mindfulness session reduced anxiety, stress, and anxiety about Covid-19 in people who were scared at the time. for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom had never tried mindfulness. The research appears in journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine.

(Concerned about the “new normal?” Here are ways to deal with post-pandemic anxiety.)

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Types of Meditation for Anxiety

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that has been proven to help with anxiety, but there are many more.

Movement meditation involves moving through different positions at an attentive or slow pace. (Think yoga, tai chi, or even just taking a walk.) Another popular form of meditation, transcendental meditation, involves repeating a personal mantra over and over and practiced for 20 minutes twice a day.

Appreciation-based meditations can be powerful anxiety remedies, says Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer at Healthy Minds Innovations and a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Appreciation is simply the ability to orient the mind to something positive in yourself, in another person, or in your environment,” he explains. “Because fear makes our minds laser-focused on the negative, appreciation can provide a broader perspective.”

How to practice mindfulness and appreciation-based meditation?

Before practicing any form of meditation, it is important to find a quiet place and a comfortable position (whether sitting, standing or lying down). The goal is to be free of distractions and possible interference from family, friends, roommates or pets.

Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, calming breaths. Pay attention to the sounds in your environment and how your body feels, Dahl says. Think about different people or situations and notice something positive about each.

“You can even imagine expressing appreciation and what that would feel like for another person to really be seen and appreciated,” he says.

“Combining mindfulness and appreciation in this way activates a constellation of brain circuits that promote resilience and emotional well-being,” says Dahl. “Over time, by repeatedly activating the same circuits through brief moments of attention and appreciation, it becomes easier and easier to move from overwhelm and fear to inner peace and a positive outlook.”

(These 8 mini meditations can also relieve stress and anxiety.)

Like anything else, cultivating a meditation practice takes time. Attaching it to an existing routine makes it more likely to stick, he says. There are free apps and courses that can teach you the tricks of the trade and give you an idea of ​​the different types of exercises.

How long should you meditate to reap the benefits?

“We don’t know the magic number of how long you have to practice meditation to reap these benefits,” says Gould. “It depends on the severity of the anxiety, but in some people, meditation may have a similar benefit to an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.”

See how meditation makes you feel. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health points out that meditation can cause or worsen anxiety and depression.

“Over time, most people find that it helps them feel calmer and more focused, and it gets easier over time,” said Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center in Los Angeles. and the author of ‘s little book Being.

The biggest sign that you’re “doing it right” is how it affects your life. Do you feel calmer, less reactive during the day? Does it have a positive impact on your relationships? Does it support you? If you answer yes, you are doing “right”.

(Read more about the science-backed benefits of meditation.)

When to go to a doctor

What is the best way to deal with anxiety? Sometimes meditation isn’t enough to really reduce your anxiety, notes Gould.

“There’s anxiety, and then there’s anxiety disorders that occur when the anxiety impairs or interferes with your daily activities in some way,” she says. In these cases, medication and/or counseling may also be helpful and necessary.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that meditation can help with anxiety among other health benefits. Give it a try and see how you feel, but if it’s not enough and your fear is getting in the way of doing the things you want and need to do, talk to a therapist to see if you could do more to ease your fears.

Then learn how to use morning meditation to start your day.

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