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« How meditation can reduce anxiety, by Rachel Green »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She has used meditation to cure herself of panic attacks.

How meditation can reduce anxiety

Do you hate anxiety? Most people do. It can be ghastly, I know. How we respond to anxiety makes a difference.

You have the choice of many techniques to manage and reduce anxiety. One key method is meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation, and meditation generally, have scientifically been proven to help people reduce and soothe anxiety. It can calm down the body and mind - ah bliss!

For those people with minor levels of anxiety, meditation may be all that is needed to help reduce it. For most people with anxiety however, meditation may work best when used as an adjunct to other therapies.

If you want to try meditation to ease your anxiety I recommend my "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. All the meditations on there are the ones that I used to help me overcome my panic attacks.

MP3s $29 (US) Add to Cart

Anxiety: What is meditation?

Let me describe meditation very simply to you, as really it is simple.

Meditation helps people monitor and calm their minds. In meditation people focus on a single, wholesome "object", e.g. breathing in and breathing out; or on a phrase such as "peace and calm", and so on.

While they are paying attention to this object they watch their mind in case it drifts away onto thoughts, memories, sensations, regrets, planning, criticisms or other distractions. If this happens, which it invariably does, they gently bring it back to focusing on their meditation object, instead of commenting on the thoughts that arise. They do this over and over again.

In essence that is what meditation is.

Let me sort out one confusion though and that is the difference between mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is the process. Mindfulness is the outcome. When people practise meditation they typically become more mindful. There are other ways to develop mindfulness but meditation is the commonest one.

Anxiety: What is mindfulness?

There are many ways to describe it. The best definition I have come across is by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman: 

Mindful awareness - or mindfulness ... is when we learn to pay kindly attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without harsh judgement, to things as they actually are.

How can our mind increase anxiety?

Various thoughts can start and build anxiety. When we think to ourselves. "What if I can't pay the bills?" or "What if I break down?" or "What if it's cancer and I can't cope with the pain?" anxiety can arise. If we then follow, believe and add to these thoughts, our anxiety can get worse.

The more energy and attention we give to these thoughts, and the more we develop an emotional attachment to them, the more likely anxiety is to grow.

For example, if we say, "What if I break down?" and then say to ourselves, "Oh that would be awful, what on earth would I do, it will be late at night and if I got out of my car I could get mugged, and then no one would know as Christopher is away and I could be left for hours without being able to get help and ... I might die"... we are creating a story that builds anxiety. The stories you tell yourself increases or decreases anxiety.

This kind of sequence of thoughts, coupled with an emotional attachment to them, escalates anxiety. One emotionally bound thought leads to another emotionally even stronger thought and so a proliferation of thoughts and emotions occurs ... and hey presto! we are gripped by anxiety.

How can meditation help reduce anxiety?

It can:

1. Stop the thoughts becoming attached to our emotions.

2. Stop the emotions from building.

3. Stop the thoughts from becoming worse and worse.

4. Help us detach from the thoughts so that we don't become embroiled in them - they are simply thoughts coming in and thoughts going out.

5. Stop the "What if" and negative stories about the thoughts.

6. Calm down our breathing which often goes haywire with anxiety, thus helping the anxiety to settle.

7. Soothe the parasympathetic nervous system thus decreasing the associated physiological arousal of anxiety.

Meditation brings people back to the here and now

Anxiety does not usually occur in the present moment when we are focusing fully on what we are doing (in my experience, anyway). Instead, anxiety is often brought about by thinking about an anticipated negative future, that may never arise.

Meditation helps to keep us in the present moment and stops us becoming attached to thoughts that can start or nurture our anxiety.

I have personally found meditation an enormous benefit in managing my anxiety and the anxiety of my clients.

If you want to try meditation to reduce your anxiety I recommend the "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. All the meditations on there are the ones that I used to help me overcome my panic attacks. They differ in length so if you are new to meditation you can start with an easy 6 minute one. Peacefully breathing in. Peacefully breathing out. Let your breath soothe your anxiety now. I'll show you how.

MP3s $29 (US) Add to Cart


Please note: Anxiety occurs to varying degrees. It can be very minor to completely debilitating. Rachel is not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. Please seek the professional help you need if you have severe or long-lasting anxiety. Meditation is not a cure-all for all anxiety problems.