All of us experience anxiety, which is a normal and healthy emotion. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 40 million adults in the US are affected by this emotional condition – mild as well as severe form.
Many studies show that practicing meditation regularly helps to remove/reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is the natural response of your body to stress – a cognitive state related to inability to manage emotions. Meditation helps to deal with stress, leading to decreased blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and lower oxygen consumption. Studies have shown that people who practice meditation regularly are able to calm down. Additionally, the neural pathways in their brains are reprogrammed, improving overall ability to cope and regulate emotions.
There are several techniques of meditation to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, but three of these stand out due to the results they have provided to active practitioners.
1. Mindfulness meditation
Anxiety is a different experience for each individual, but there are some common symptoms like inability to relax, feeling a sense of dread, or fearing the worst. Herein practising mindfulness meditation helps by making us aware of the thoughts or feelings that induce stress in mind and body. It involves using self-compassion and understanding to deal with anxiety. This technique of meditation teaches us to be with the thoughts. The very idea of staying with thoughts, worries or painful memories is scary, but this very act of being with them helps to dissolve them.
Basic technique to get started:
Sit in a quiet and comfortable place. Your clothes should be comfortable to avoid distractions.
Bring your thoughts to the present and put aside all thoughts of the past and future.
Concentrate on your breathing. Feel the rise and fall of your abdomen and chest as air enters into your body through the nostrils and moves towards the lungs and comes out through the nostrils.
When you are settled bring awareness to your thoughts, worries and fear – allowing them to come and go.
If you get carried away with a thought, just observe where it went off without any judgement and remain calm. Come back to the present by focusing on your breathing.
Imagine that each though is like a cloud, wandering in the open blue sky and changing constantly.
When it’s time to close the session continue to sit for 2 more minutes, become aware of where you are, and get up slowly.
2. Deep belly breathing
Deep belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a breathing technique that involves your diaphragm. Research has shown that most people rely on chest breathing, which is shallow, rather than deep belly breathing.
This breathing practice is one of the fastest techniques of reducing stress and anxiety. As you breathe deeply, a message to calm down and relax is sent to the brain, which then sends the message to the body. When you are stressed, deep belly breathing helps you to relax, leading to decreased heart rate, lowered breathing rate and reduced blood pressure.
Try practicing this breathing exercise to fall asleep at night or before an important presentation or workshop and find yourself calming down, helping your body and brain to relax.
Basic technique to get started:
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Wear comfortable clothes.
Place one hand over your belly (just below the ribcage) and the other hand on your chest.
Take a deep breath through your nostrils and feel your belly push your hand out. But your chest should not move.
Breathe out through your mouth.
Repeat this exercise 3-10 times. Take breaks between each deep belly breathing.
3. Mantra meditation
Mantra meditation involves chanting, whispering or repeating in mind a mantra (a word, syllable or phrase) repeatedly. This meditation technique has two components – mindfulness meditation and mantra chanting.
This technique of meditation is best for days when your thoughts and feelings are overwhelming, as it gives a sort of mental protection to your brain from unwelcome distraction and emotions.
Basic technique to get started:
Choose the best mantra to suit your requirement. Do you want to distract yourself from a health condition? Do you want to establish a deeper spiritual connection? The right mantra will help you to meditate and reduce anxiety.
Look for a comfortable place to sit down to concentrate and meditate. Wear comfortable clothes.
Focus on breathing.
Chant your mantra over and over again. It can be a simple “om” or a self-affirmation chant like “I am worthy”.
Don’t worry if you get distracted, just bring back your focus to the mantra.
How often should I practice meditation to reduce anxiety?
The meditation techniques can be practised whenever you feel stressed, but the results are best when they are done regularly. Meditating is like body building. While you may feel great after a particular exercising session, you may also feel sore at times. But after months and years of practice you may definitely be strong physically. Regular meditation has similar effect on your brain and body that can relax with ease. To begin with, meditate 5-10 minutes every day. If it seems difficult then aim for five days each week.
To reduce anxiety, practice meditation every day at around a fixed time. The time or place doesn’t matter, just ensure that it is a routine. If you find it difficult to sit cross-legged and meditate in the morning, then try it while commuting to office (but not if you are driving) or before going to bed at night.
Can meditation affect anxiety in a negative way?
Meditation has been touted more for its benefits like making you feel calmer, in the present and as an anxiety reduction technique. But like everything else in life, meditation also has some negative effects.
Some meditating sessions will definitely make you feel incredible, while others may ignite your suppressed emotions and memories. Practitioners need to be compassionate to themselves and try not to judge their meditating experience. The act of taking time and space for oneself is what matters.
If your mind is overwhelmed and distracted by emotions and frustrations, then you need to accept it. It’s not a failure on your part if you are unable to meditate and gain from the benefits of this practice. In your hectic life, if you find yourself too busy to practice every day and happen to miss a few days (or weeks/months/years), then you can always start all over again.
Meditation is a great technique to reduce/remove the symptoms of anxiety and after years of practice a person can use this practice to get relief from fears and worries. However, there are other ways of coping with anxiety. Getting adequate sleep, regular exercise, practicing breathwork, eating healthy meals, and staying connected with friends & family are great ways of regulating anxiety.