Whether it is a looming work deadline, pressure at school, or a case of FOMO brought on by social media, stress and anxiety are, unfortunately, a normal part of this modern age. But, just because you experience these uncomfortable feelings, it doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, practicing mindful meditation is a low-cost, scientifically proven way to help reduce your anxiety ― and anyone can do it.
How Meditation Calms the Anxious Brain
A study published by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that when 15 healthy volunteers were taught how to focus on mindful breathing and body sensations, it could actually combat their distracting and anxious thoughts. Because anxiety is a cognitive state that renders a person unable to regulate their emotional responses to perceived threats, meditation strengthens a person’s ability to regulate strong emotions.
To better understand the brain functions behind mindfulness, the Wake Forest researchers used MRIs to compare the effects of practicing meditation on the state of anxiety among study participants. Meditation dramatically reduced anxiety for each subject in every session, and the brain imaging found anxiety relief specifically occured in areas of the brain that help control worrying. Meditation-related activation of key areas of the brain directly contributed to anxiety relief.
“Mindful meditation allows you to be able to better deal with a situation and access parts of your brain that may not be readily available when you are feeling anxious, as you are overwhelmed,” said Kimberly Leitch, a Talkspace therapist. “That anxiety can lead to decisions we may not normally make in a similar situation when we are not feeling anxious.”
Often, the purpose of reflection with intention is to focus and train your brain to stay in the present moment, letting go of past regrets as well as future plans. When experiencing these moments of anxiety, meditation is found to effectively help manage a person’s negative feelings. It allows the person to concentrate on positive thoughts by letting go of pain and can rewire our brains over time.
Simple Ways to Start Meditating
There are some pretty simple ways to start incorporating mindful meditation into your life ― and it can take as little as 15 minutes each day. Some are listed below:
- Deep Breathing. Perhaps a packed train, busy day at work or large crowd triggers stress or panic, breathing exercises can help set your mind at ease. Simply close your eyes, breath in deep, and focus inward for as long as you need.
- Sitting in silence. The most common way to practice mindful meditation is to sit in silence. Find a quiet space, light a candle and concentrate on the flame itself, serving as a reminder of your concentration.
- Practicing before bed. Overwhelming thoughts and anxieties often pop up while a person is trying to fall asleep and is an exceptionally frustrating feeling. There are apps and downloadable audio guides that can assist you with progressive relaxation, helping ease an active mind to sleep.
- Visualizing your thoughts. When aiming to achieve focus, imagine your anxious thoughts and feelings as clouds. As you meditate and a negative thought pops into your mind, picture it flowing away in the form of a cloud.
Meditation doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive, and its positive scientific benefits are both emotional and physical. It not only helps reduce anxiety, but it can help you stay energized, lower blood pressure, and improve your mood. So go on ― clear your mind!