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What Are the Benefits of Meditation for Anxiety?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease, usually related to an upcoming event. For most people, it is an occasional issue that resolves once the event has passed, but for some, it can remain as a constant, underlying current of an overall sense of dread that makes normal daily activities more difficult. Using meditation for anxiety can help calm the worries, refocus the mind, and relax the body.

Meditation is a broad term used to describe many different types of techniques, such as transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, and empty mind meditation. Although the types of meditation for anxiety may vary significantly, the overall goal of each is to create a more relaxed state of mental awareness. Most types have four common elements: a quiet location, a comfortable position, an open attitude, and a focus of attention. An open attitude involves allowing thoughts and distractions to flow freely without stopping to focus on or judge them. The focus can be a specific word, or mantra, an object, or the rhythm of breathing.

Researches are still studying the benefits of meditation for anxiety, but believe they may work by affecting the autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system that controls functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. The system is made up of a two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight-or-flight response, which, during periods of stress, increases the heart and breathing rates, and constricts the blood vessels. The parasympathetic system performs the opposite role by slowing down the heart and respiration rate, and opening the blood vessels back up. Meditation may work by increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.

During meditation for anxiety, the alpha brain waves, which indicate wakeful rest, are abundant in the posterior parts of the brain. The alpha waves are a universal sign of relaxation, and increase when the brain moves from intentional tasks to a period of rest. In this state, the mind processes a person’s experiences and emotions and puts them into perspective. A meditative state that allows the mind to wander freely can increase the alpha waves and promote a state of wakeful rest.

While meditation for anxiety is typically safe, it should not be a substitute for medical treatment in patients with severe anxiety disorder. Meditation is a complementary therapy designed to work in conjunction with other types of treatment, such as medications or psychotherapy. Discovering the best technique that promotes the most relaxing state may take time. What works for one person may not work for another, and trying to force a relaxed state can produce even more anxiety.

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