Why Mindful Meditation Helps Relieve Anxiety
Anxiety is normal-it is a biological response to stress that causes a surge of adrenaline and corticosteroids to release in the blood stream, creating an overwhelming feeling of fight or flight. This can be a critical benefit in emergency situations when danger is present, providing additional energy to battle or flee. However, anxiety has a darker side. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychological disorders in America, and they can wreak havoc on the lives of sufferers who often find it hard to function, complete routine tasks and interact with others on a daily basis even when no real danger is present. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders can have attacks that range from feelings of mild panic to impending doom and usually lack the ability to control their anxiety. Treatment is critical for sufferers, and beyond the commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals combined with expensive psychotherapy, there are effective natural remedies to help individuals manage the effects of mild to moderate anxiety. One of the most effective strategies is mindfulness meditation.
It is vital to explore alternative treatments to this epidemic as more than 18% of Americans suffer with an anxiety disorder, and among those more than 22% are diagnosed as being severe sufferers. Countless more individuals dealing with anxiety are undiagnosed or experience milder forms that do not fit the criteria for a diagnosis. Anxiety disorders recognized by the medical and psychological community include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social phobia (or social anxiety disorder). While each anxiety disorder presents differently in regards to symptoms and severity, all symptoms of anxiety include excessive fear and dread.
Mindfulness Meditation as Treatment for Anxiety
Today, treatment for anxiety usually requires a professional diagnosis, which often results in a prescription for medications and/or psychotherapy. Many sufferers do not go that route for a variety of reasons such as they did not meet the diagnosis criteria, the treatments were too expensive , they experienced unpleasant side-effects from the medication, etc. As a result, many often attempt to self-medicate using a dangerous method of consuming alcohol and/or other drugs not prescribed to them to find relief from anxiety. However, there is a self-treatment option that is safe for anybody to use, it has been proven effective particularly among mild to moderate anxiety sufferers and it can be safely combined with any other medication or psychotherapeutic treatments. This is mindfulness meditation.
Recently, significant research has been conducted that demonstrates the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety. As published in Psychology Today on June 7, 2013 by Christopher Bergland: “On June 3, 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study titled ‘Neural Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief’ in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, identifying brain regions activated by mindfulness meditation.”
“In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. The results, while complex regarding specificities with brain analysis was simple: “Anxiety was significantly reduced in every session that subjects meditated.” Specifically, research showed anxiety levels decreased up to 39% following mindfulness meditation.
To practice mindful mediation on your own, the University of California, Los Angeles provides free audio mindful guided meditations here: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22.
Mindful mediation practice-5 steps:
- It helps to determine a specific time and place that you will meditate each day. Find a time and place where you can sit uninterrupted for at least 5-10 minutes.
- You will want to begin by mediating for 5-10 minutes at least once or twice per day. Early mornings and night time tend to be best.
- To begin, sit in a chair, on the floor or on a cushion with your back straight and your head lifted frontwards, and you may close your eyes or focus on the floor or a nearby object.
- Notice a heightened presence of all five senses: taste, touch, scent, sound and vision-What flavors can you taste, the mint from your toothpaste, the herbal essence from your tea? What do you feel on your skin, fabric, flesh? What do you smell, rain, food cooking? What do you hear, birds chirping, breeze rustling through leaves? What do you see, darkness, sunshine glowing on a wall?
- Shift your attention to your breath, and inhale deeply and as you exhale release thoughts, judgments, emotions. As thoughts and emotions invade your mind in the process, continually let them go through your breath and focus on serenity and just sitting and being in the moment.
A great book to begin your journey to the practice of mindful meditation is The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation