Meditation works for anxiety, even reversing damage and making your brain less anxiety-prone. Learn the best ways to meditate.
It’s human nature to worry Being on the constant lookout for danger kept our ancestors safe and alive, but in the modern world, having a hypervigilant mind does you little good. It causes the fear centre of your brain to grow larger and more reactive, leading to a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety.
Standard medical treatments for anxiety are anti-anxiety medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, or a combination of both. Therapy is time-consuming and expensive. Anti-anxiety medications work fast, but are some of the most addictive substances around and are not intended for long-term use.
If you feel like your brain is running on a hamster wheel of “what ifs” and worries, you may be looking for a drug-free solution. The answer may be as simple as meditation. In fact, the latest research shows that meditation works as well as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications! Even if you’ve never meditated before, you can train your brain to be less anxious – starting today!
HOW ANXIETY AND MEDITATION CHANGE THE BRAIN
Anxiety doesn’t just make you feel bad, it actually changes the structure and function of your brain.
It decreased the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain considered the seat of memory.
Conversely, it increases the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for the fear response, causing you to become even more anxious and fearful.
Stress, fear and anxiety trigger the release of stress hormones and cause imbalances in neurotransmitters, chemicals that the brain use to communicate with each other.
It’s been know for thousands of years that meditation can help you relax, but meditation does much more than that.
Meditation, like anxiety, changes the structure and function of your brain (but in a healthy productive way).
A regular meditation practice not only can reduce anxiety symptoms, it also can reverse the damage caused by anxiety.
With the latest neuroimaging techniques, these changes can be tracked and measure.
Researches from the Johns Hopkins University sifted through over 18,000 mindfulness meditation studies to determin its most effective uses.
They concluded that the number one use for meditation was anxiety relief.
Other studies support that meditation benefits mental disorders of all kinds including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, binge eating disorder, bipolar disorder and addictions.
Here are some powerful ways meditation improves your brain and mental well-being.
Meditation Breaks Anxious Thought Patterns
A primary way that meditation helps anxiety is by breaking negative thought patterns.
As anyone with anxiety will attest, racing thoughts create a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety.
Breaking the vicious cycle of obsessive, negative thinking is where meditation really shines.
Meditation can reduce rumination, even in those with lifelong mood disorders.
It decreases the tendency to worry and improves your control over random unwanted thoughts.
meditation can alter the way your brain responds to stress.
Any habit is hard to break because of the strong neural pathway that’s created through constant repetition.
And few habits are harder to break than negative patterns of self-talk.
Most of us have around 50,000 thoughts every day and a surprisingly large number of these thought are negative.
Fortunately, your brain has an endless capacity to change a characteristic known as neuroplasticity.
Meditation trains you to view your thoughts differently. You learn to recognise and stop mental time travel – worrying about the future and pondering the past.
Instead of following a worrying thought down the path of all possible negative outcome, you learn to recognise it for what it is – one thought – and then let it go. And by creating a new thought pattern, you are traning your brain to be less anxious.
Meditation balances Brain Chemicals
No one knows for sure what causes anxiety. Risk factors include basic personality type, emotionally trauma, and even your genes.
There’s also evidence that anxiety can be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals brought on by severe or prolonged stress.
A meditation practice can hep resore an optimal balance of neurotransmitters.
Meditation increases the level of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter essential for feeling happy and relaxed.
Feeling anxious, easily overstimulated, and overwhelmed are common signs that you might be low in GABA.
Meditation can lift our mood by increasing levels of serotonin, another neurotransmitter vital to happiness.
Meditation also reduces cortisol, a stress hormone that, in excess, significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and memory loss.
Meditation Builds a Healthier Brain
Meditation can build a bigger, healthier brain.
The brains of people who regularly meditate show measurable increases in the amount of gray matter, the volume of the hippocampus, and the thickness of the cortex.
Conversely, the size of the amydala, the area of the brain region associated with fear, anxiety and stress, decreases and becomes less reactive.
Meditation increases blood flow to the brain, improves neural connections between various areas off the brain, and enhances neuroplasticity.
Medition can even future-proof you against age-proof you against age-related mental decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Meditation Reduces Brain Inflammation
Cytokines are chemical messengers that regulate your immune response.
Elevated cytokine levels are responsible for chronic inflammation, including inflammation of the brain and are associated with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
Meditation reduce inflammation, even down to the level of altering the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
You’d think changing genes would take a long time, but measurable changes can be detected after as few as eight hours of meditation.
Why Mindfulness Meditation Excels at Anxiety Relief
Mindfulness mediation is one of many styles of meditation.
Research finds it especially helpful for anxiety, even more so than other forms of meditation.
It’s widely considered the best beginner’s meditation since it’s easy to do effective, and requires no special training to get started.
It’s the mediation of choice among people who regularly face unusual levels of stress.
Those in high-stress occupations, rely on it to avoid burnout and keep their mental edge.
Mindfulness to reduce overall on-the-job stress, minimises the effects of post-traumatic stress, and improves performance.
Getting Started: A Breathing Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. As little as 10 minutes per day is a reasonable goal.
Start with a basic breathing mindfulness meditation.
Practiced regularly, it will train your brain to stop jumping around and stay focused on the present.
Sit quietly with your eyes closes.
Breathe normally and simply. Notice your breath.
Saying to yourself “breathing in, breathing out” can help keep other thoughts at bay.
When you notice a random thought, simply label it as a thought and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Most people new to meditation erroneously believe that if they’ve had thoughts while meditating they have failed.
But the goal of meditation is not to have no thoughts.
Instead, the objective is to simply notice thoughts when they arise and gently push them aside.
The Benefits of Guided Meditation for Anxiety
If meditation has so much to offer, you might wonder why everyone isn’t doing it.
Meditation is one of those things that falls into the “simple but not easy” category. Quieting the mind – sometimes aptly referred to as a random thought generator – is not an easy task!
Unfortunately, many people give up on meditation because they can’t quiet their thoughts, they aren’t sure they are doing it right, or they aren’t getting the results they’d hoped for.
But with a guided meditation, you don’t have to go it alone. You can follow along with an experienced meditation teacher who will guide you into a relaxed, meditative state.