Well Being

Is Meditation for Anxiety Relief an Effective Treatment?

In 2004, news anchor Dan Harris had TV break down on national TV during the show Good Morning America. He described it as a "paralytic wave of panic" that resulted in his heart racing, palms sweating, mouth drying up, and his lungs gasping for breath – all with millions of viewers watching. It was at this moment that he realized he needed help and needed to change his life. Despite considering meditation bogus, he decided to give it a shot, and insists that it changed his life for the better.

An estimated 40 million adults in the United States struggle with anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Additionally, almost 40% of Americans reported in an American Psychiatric Association poll feeling more anxious now than they were at this time last year. Despite this, only 28% of respondents sought mental healthcare, whether due to stigma, cost, or time constraints. If you have anxiety, it's a good idea to let your healthcare provider know and seek appropriate care. One natural option that has been proving successful with treatment of anxiety is meditation.  

Earlier this year, the journal Psychiatry Research published a study on the effective of mindfulness meditation in generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers found that study participants who learned to practice mindfulness techniques showed lower levels of relevant biomarkers for stress than those participants who did not learn these techniques. Other studies, complete with brain scans, have indicated real neurological results can arise from meditation. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2014 found that mindful meditation can help reduce anxiety, depression, and even pain.

Psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Hoge has said that "People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power." A mindful meditation approach teaches individuals to focus on breath and body sensations while learning to see distracting emotions and thoughts as distinct objects rather than oneself. With daily practice, even just devoting a few minutes to meditation a day, research has found that people felt they had better coping outcomes and improved quality of life.

There are numerous mindful meditation techniques you can start trying today. All begin with sitting or lying comfortably. You can try closing your eyes, inhaling for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of eight. As you exhale, imagine breathing out your stress and worries. You can also try focusing on a mantra, such as "I am releasing what I cannot change" or "I am stronger than I think." Meditation apps, such as Headspace or Insight Timer, can also help guide your practice. The most important thing is consistency, so make a point of practicing for at least a few minutes each day to reap the full benefits.