Meditation as a method for managing anxiety

Over the past few decades, meditation has become an increasingly popular tool for managing stress and anxiety. While meditation is traditionally practiced in several Eastern spiritual disciplines, it can be practiced secularly as well. 

There are many different ways to mediate, however, most commonly mindfulness meditation is used to cope with anxiety. In mindfulness meditation, the objective is to maintain awareness of the present moment as much as possible. This involves observing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise without judgment or attachment. Since hallmarks of anxiety include racing, worrisome thoughts and fear related physical sensations, mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool for reducing the impacts of these symptoms. 

Based on ample research in cognitive psychology over the past several decades, it is widely accepted that thoughts can drive our emotional state. This is especially common in anxiety where a thought of something feared will trigger the emotional state of anxiety. Because much of our thought processes are automatic, we often do not have control over what thoughts enter our minds. We can learn more adaptive and effective ways to respond to our thoughts, however. By practicing an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance and non attachment to thoughts, mindfulness meditation can be a great way to develop this capacity. 

Another key finding from cognitive behavioral psychology is that when we avoid things that make us anxious, those things will trigger more anxiety in the future. Nonjudgmental observance of thoughts is therefore one way of teaching your mind to separate thoughts from reality such that anxious thoughts don’t automatically trigger an anxious emotional state. 

If you have ever dealt with anxiety, then you know that anxiety is much more than anxious thoughts. Anxiety most often involves physical symptoms as well such as racing heart, shallow breathing, jitteriness and feelings of being “on edge”. Many people with anxiety often feel as if they are in a state of “fight or flight”, always on high alert. 

In addition to calming the mind, meditation can calm the body as well, achieving deep states of relaxation, especially among experienced practitioners. Over time, practicing meditation regularly may reduce physical symptoms of anxiety. 

While there are many well documented benefits of meditation for anxiety, it is important to note that meditation doesn’t necessarily treat the root cause of anxiety. All the benefits of meditation ease the symptoms of anxiety, however, meditation won’t change life circumstances that are causing stress and it may not help gain clarity of past experiences that may be causing anxiety. In order to treat anxiety effectively and comprehensively, it is important to get the help of a mental health care professional who can provide proper assessment and treatment. 

Often times, many tools are needed to cope with and treat mental health concerns. While meditation might not be a panacea for anxiety, it can certainly be a powerful tool and coping strategy by reducing the impact of anxious thoughts and promoting greater physical relaxation.

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