It's easy to see why so many practice meditation. It is a proven way to keep the mind and body healthy, but you don't necessarily have to do it in a formal, zen-like setting. Being aware of the present moment is often enough to start.
Meditation can be as simple as taking a few minutes out of the day to sit down, clear your head, and relax.
Is meditation a religious practice?
Meditation is misunderstood and many people believe it to be some sort of religious practice. However, it’s really a mental exercise in being aware of the present moment. It has been proven that meditation can help improve concentration, self-control and reduce stress and anxiety.
Practicing meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing for a few minutes. While you may feel like your mind is wandering, just bring your attention back to the breath.
Can meditation programs help anxiety?
Anxiety has become a pretty serious problem in the past few years. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that about 18% of people in the U.S. experience anxiety during the course of a year. With that being said, strategies for dealing with anxiety can be extremely helpful to your mental health and well-being.
Meditation is just as much a mental practice as it is a physical one. In fact, many of the benefits are attributed to changes in mental activity. The act of meditating brings about profound and positive changes in the brain’s structure and function.
Anxiety can be debilitating. It is not fussy when choosing who its next victim should be. Anxiety can affect anyone, at any time.
Children are also susceptible to anxiety, they just don't know what to call it. They experience anxious thoughts throughout the day over many things such as a swimming lesson at school, or having to read out loud in class. Larger life events will have a large impact such as a divorce or death in the family, and if not managed, this could develop into an anxiety disorder.
So, what does it mean if you have anxiety?
Having anxiety means that you have persistent, excessive worries even when no stressor exists.
All About Anxiety Disorders
People who suffer from anxiety have feelings of worry, fear, or tension. Intense feelings can also trigger the onset of panic attacks and extreme physical symptoms, such as chest pain. Anxiety disorders are extremely common.
Five of the most common types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social phobia (also known as Social Anxiety Disorder)
If not managed, these anxiety disorders can be exacerbated.
Be aware that practicing meditation might increase feelings of anxiety or self-judgment. Am I doing this right? What should I be doing? Rather than trying to suppress that inner dialogue, recognize it and wait for it to pass. This will help you learn how to sit with uncomfortable thoughts without responding.
Stress Response and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. Without stress, there is no anxiety and vice versa. In the cases of both, it leads to mental and physical health issues. One may be tempted to ignore the signs of stress or anxiety because we're led to believe that it's not a serious issue but in reality, stress can affect your life in many ways if left untreated.
You should always pay attention to the symptoms that come with stress or anxiety because they can lead to other major health problems in the future.
With fast-paced life and people constantly on the go, stress levels are on the rise.
In addition to mental and physical symptoms such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive problems, and difficulty sleeping, those who are stressed also experience emotional symptoms.
Everyone handles stress differently, but most people experience some sort of anxiety or stress. There is an overlap between stress and anxiety, but there are significant differences in causes, symptoms, and treatments. People can learn to control their stress by changing their thoughts, actions, and reactions. Stress is a part of life we cannot avoid. Instead of avoiding it, focus on how you manage stressful situations.
With too much unmanageable stress and anxiety in your life, your mental health is put at risk.
The Benefits of Meditation Practice
According to some archaeologists, meditation practice goes back to approximately 5,000 BCE, along with Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. It has been around a long time and has proven that it can be used to reduce anxiety and psychological stress.
One aspect that makes meditation such a popular practice is that you can do it anywhere. It is also non-invasive, for example, with simple breathing exercises.
The benefits of meditation can be quite surprising. It is not just something that helps you move into a calmer state of mind, but it is something, that with daily practice, can have positive effects on your entire life.
In addition, your physical health will be positively affected because you will be reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Meditation also reduces stress and anxiety, which will improve your sleep quality and also reduce the risk of depression. Meditation enhances creativity, productivity, and focus at work.
Because anxiety stems from thoughts within your mind, it then makes sense that mindfulness meditation should be practiced during a daily meditation session to help you.
Meditate more often, feel more relaxed and calm.
How Meditation Will Help Your Anxiety
If you think that meditation is a quick fix, then sadly you have been misinformed.
Your deep breaths, your focus, and your calm mind will create a deeper self-awareness and you will begin to notice little things about yourself that you hadn't noticed before, like the rate and rhythm of your breathing, and the physical sensations on your skin that you failed to notice in your busy schedule.
Should you allow anxiety-inducing thoughts to have free reign inside your mind, they will build gigantic castles out of strong, anxiety-bricks that will become difficult to break down, and in time, these thoughts will completely overwhelm you.
This is when an anxiety disorder is likely to begin.
The good news is that meditation for anxiety works so well because it helps to increase alpha brain wave activity; these alpha brain waves are present when you are relaxed and calm so you should want to practice meditation more often, as your result will be a more relaxed feeling.
Meditation Techniques for Anxiety
Always try to sit quietly for a few moments in a comfortable position and notice the natural rhythm of your breathing. Take deep breaths and breathe slowly. Don't worry about your mind wandering and don't worry about intrusive negative thoughts. Acknowledge them for what they are without judgment and then refocus on your breathing.
Guided meditation: This is perfect for beginners, or for people who have busy minds and find it difficult to focus. It is also well-rounded in that guided meditation tries to incorporate the use of all of your senses. By following a guided meditation online or on your phone, you will find it easier to know what to do and can bring you back to your focus if your mind is feeling out of control.
Transcendental meditation (TM) practice is a technique that is relatively easy to learn. You can learn the basics of it on your own, but as it is not a mindfulness meditation technique, it is better to learn how to do it correctly with a qualified TM instructor. This type of mantra meditation has proven to be successful with not only anxiety, but also in managing stress, and in addition, lowering blood pressure.
Qi gong. The practice of Qi gong (aka Chee-gung) combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement, and breathing to restore and maintain balance. Qi gong is part of traditional Chinese medicine. Practiced by millions of people worldwide, Qi gong several practitioners also incorporate traditional philosophical, medical, or martial arts perspectives,
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that can help with the training of the mind. It is also referred to as vipassana or insight meditation. When practicing mindfulness, the focus of the practitioners is on being aware of thoughts and feelings without attaching any emotional response to them. Mindfulness meditation is used in psychotherapy and medicine, as well as in education, business, and even sports. More and more people strive to practice mindfulness, and rightly so, as it is currently the most common meditation for anxiety.
Consistent meditation practice will have a positive effect on your health, relationships, work performance, but most importantly on your anxiety levels. If you start to suffer from anxiety issues, be aware of what these issues are and work on them before they develop further into panic attacks.
For those who may have severe anxiety, or if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, always speak to a health care professional to talk through options and figure out how to make meditation a component of an overall treatment program. Science has proven that there are benefits to acquiring and enhancing your meditation skills.
Even if you can only practice meditation for five minutes a day, it will make a huge difference in how you feel!