The Best Meditations To Release Anxiety

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The Best Meditations To Release Anxiety

Characterized by constant feelings of tension, negative thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure, anxiety is a psychological condition that can be controlled through regular meditation. Studies, as well as user reviews, point to mindfulness meditation being the best meditation to combat anxiety followed by mantra or transcendental meditation.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You would agree with Hamlet on this if you are suffering from anxiety. Getting trapped in the vicious cycle of automatic negative thinking is something that every anxiety patient can relate to.

What Is Anxiety?

American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an “emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”.1 People with anxiety often avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or rapid heartbeat.

Let’s take a closer look at the physiology of anxiety. Among 100 billion neurons that form a complex web of message transmission or neurotransmission, there are two neurotransmitters–gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin–that play a crucial role in anxiety. It is when the levels of these chemicals go down that one experiences symptoms of anxiety like worry, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, etc.2

Is Meditation Good For Anxiety?

People with anxiety are often advised to meditate. Those who have paid heed to it have found relief in the practice. Wonder why? One of the important characteristics of an anxious mind is racing thoughts or concerns mostly about the past or the future. Consider this: A normal mind thinks up about 70000 thoughts per day. But an anxious mind thinks up an additional one negative thought every second!3 This is where meditation helps. Meditation quiets the mind and centers it in the present. A regular meditator is able to detach himself from the thoughts and focus on the now. So instead of dwelling on yesterday’s tragedies or tomorrow’s troubles, meditation helps you concentrate on the present pleasant moments.

What Kind Of Meditation Helps Anxiety?

Most meditative techniques emphasize on mindfulness, concentration, and automatic self-transcendence. Techniques like transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation are found to be useful in dealing with anxiety.4

In one of the studies on the physiological effect of transcendental meditation, it was found that the oxygen consumption and heart rate decreased during meditation while the skin resistance increased. Even the electroencephalogram taken during meditation showed specific changes in the brain proving that meditation has practical applications.5

Social anxiety disorder or SAD is characterized by emotional and attentional biases and negative self-beliefs. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) methods (of which mindfulness meditation is one) is believed to alter emotional responses by modifying cognitive-affective processes or the domains of the brain that deal with mental skills and emotions or feelings. In a study done to assess the effect of MBSR on people with SAD, 16 patients were made to undergo MRI both while reacting to negative self-beliefs and while regulating negative emotions using two types emotion regulation–breath-focused attention and distraction-focused attention. Those who underwent MBSR showed improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem. Of the two regulation methods, those who used breath-focused attention were found to have decreased negative emotion experience, reduced amygdala activity (that deals with fear and anxiety) and increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment.6

In another study on the effect of mindfulness meditation on the brain, the brain electrical activity of the subjects before and immediately after the meditation and also after 4 weeks of an 8-week training program showed significant increase in left-sided anterior activation associated with positive effect in meditators.7

What more? Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have physiological evidence to show mindfulness meditation combats anxiety. After taking a course in mindfulness meditation, the anxiety patients were found to have reduced stress hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation.8

These go on to prove that mindfulness meditation is perhaps the best meditation technique to combat anxiety, followed by mantra or transcendental meditation. But how does one do these?

Meditations For Anxiety: How To Meditate Effectively

1. Mindfulness Meditation

mindfulness meditation for anxiety relief

We often hear people complaining about their unsuccessful attempts at meditation. That’s most often because there is a misconception that meditation involves thoughtlessness; they are trying to quell the thoughts while meditating. Mindfulness is not thinking, interpreting or evaluating. It is mind’s nonjudgmental way of observing the things that happen around it.

Here’s how you do mindfulness meditation:

  1. The first and foremost thing to do is to choose an ideal location for meditation. Choose a spot where you are least likely to be disturbed.
  2. Equally important is the time you choose to meditate. Find a quiet time. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of practice, gradually increasing the duration as you get comfortable with the practice.
  3. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. You can even take the support of a wall or a pillow to prop your back up if you are not used to sitting upright for long.
  4. Close your eyes and focus on your breath; pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations. Alternatively, you can chant a mantra and focus on it instead of your breath.
  5. It is natural for thoughts to come and affect your concentration. Let the thoughts flow; observe them in a nonjudgmental way without dwelling on them. Label them “thoughts” and let them go. When your focus shifts, bring your mind back to your breath.
  6. Observe the smells, sounds, and sensations around. Label them “smell”, “sound”, etc and passively observe them without indulging in them or the thoughts around them.
  7. Slowly move your attention to subtle body sensations like tingling, itching and let them pass. Similarly, observe your body sensations from head to toe.
  8. It is natural for emotions to interfere. Simply observe these emotions without judging them. Name the emotions as “happy”, “crazy”, etc in a relaxed manner. At any time your focus shifts, bring your mind back to your breath.
  9. Stay with the practice as long as you can. Slowly increase the duration as you get comfortable with it.

2. Transcendental Meditation

transcendental meditations for anxiety

Made popular around the world by Indian yogi Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, more popular as the “spiritual advisor to the Beatles”, transcendental meditation or TM is widely practiced for its ability to tame the monkey mind and to deal with psychological issues like depression and anxiety effectively.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Choose an ideal location and time, where and when you are least likely to be disturbed, for meditation.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. If need be, take the support of a wall or a pillow to keep the back straight.
  3. Close your eyes, slowly move your mind to a mantra you would like to chant. The mantra is chanted repeatedly only in the beginning of the meditation.
  4. After a while, you should let go of the mantra and allow it to transform whichever way it changes; louder, softer, faster or slower, the mantra should be allowed to take its course. As a meditator, you take it as it comes, and instead of chanting, you are beginning to hear it being chanted–by you.
  5. Allow thoughts to come and go along with the mantra. There is no conscious effort to push them away or indulge in them.
  6. You may notice the mantra disappearing slowly and the mind beginning to wander, get the mind back on the mantra by becoming aware that you are no longer hearing the mantra and bring it back to your awareness.
  7. Slowly stop thinking of the mantra and bring yourself back to the surroundings and gently open your eyes.

References   [ + ]

1. Anxiety. APA.
2, 3. The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Anxiety. EOC Institute.
4. Goyal, Madhav, Sonal Singh, Erica MS Sibinga, Neda F. Gould, Anastasia Rowland-Seymour, Ritu Sharma, Zackary Berger et al. “Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA internal medicine 174, no. 3 (2014): 357-368.
5. Wallace, Robert Keith. “Physiological effects of transcendental meditation.” Science 167, no. 3926 (1970): 1751-1754.
6. Goldin, Philippe R., and James J. Gross. “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder.” Emotion 10, no. 1 (2010): 83.
7. Davidson, Richard J., Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jessica Schumacher, Melissa Rosenkranz, Daniel Muller, Saki F. Santorelli, Ferris Urbanowski, Anne Harrington, Katherine Bonus, and John F. Sheridan. “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.” Psychosomatic medicine 65, no. 4 (2003): 564-570.
8. Georgetown University Medical Center. “Mindfulness meditation training lowers biomarkers of stress response in anxiety disorder: Hormonal, inflammatory reactions to stress were reduced after meditation training, in rigorous NIH-sponsored trial.” ScienceDaily.(accessed March 16, 2017).