The Many Benefits of Meditation for Anxiety, How It Helps
The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Anxiety
An incredibly complex disease, anxiety has an interwoven variety of biological, psychological, and sociological contributing factors.
From a variety of angles, we discuss 11 ways meditation is the very best way to once and for all, become anxiety free.
Relieving Anxiety: Meditation Neutralizes Thought Polarity
Why The Anxious Mind Is Afraid Of Itself
We live in a polarized society that likes to slap a label on everything — black or white, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, religious or atheist, you get the idea.
Likewise, humans tend to slap labels on their thoughts. This is a "good" thought, that is a "bad" thought, I "should" think this, I "shouldn't" think that, etc.
When we begin to fight with our "bad" thoughts, when we become afraid of certain kinds of thinking, this only brings about more of the same. As the legendary Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, "What you resist, persists."
Like a river current, the tumultuous, "afraid-of-itself" mind can take your health and happiness downstream, against your will, into hostile territory. This incredible force of nature can make us feel totally powerless.
Luckily, mindfulness is the very best way to reclaim your castle, no matter how long it has been under the cruel, authoritative reign of anxiety.
How Meditation Makes The Mind Fearless
How does it work? When a random thought appears, mindfulness trains the mind to simply view it as a thought. Neither good nor bad. Just a thought.
For example, "I am such a failure. My boss is going to fire me. My life is over if I lose my job."
The higher minded meditator would instead think, "Oh, there's that thought again. I have had it before, I have been here before. Thoughts come and go, this one is not special."
Meditation's true power resides not in any kind of "unnautural" or "forced" positive thinking, but in its ability to help you "let go" of thoughts.
Why Meditation Builds Your Mindful Muscle
Instead of buying-in, getting frazzled, or having a knee-jerk reaction to the array of silliness, craziness, and scariness that enters the human mind, meditation teaches you that no one thought deserves your undivided attention.
There is never a need to chase the rabbit down his never-ending hole. Thoughts come and thoughts go, like waves crashing upon the shore.
By building your mindful muscle, meditation allows you to understand, at the very deepest levels, how your thoughts, emotions, and mind intertwine.
This fundamental transformation keeps fear and worry permanently at bay.
How Mindful Meditation Tames The Anxiety-Ridden "Monkey Mind"
What Is The "Monkey Mind"?
It has been said that the human mind is like a room full of drunk monkeys — jumping around, chattering endlessly, carrying on all day and all night.
Of the dozens of monkeys clamoring for our attention, the loudest, most powerful voice is their highly influential troop leader — fear.
The fear monkey pulls the alarm constantly, points out every single pothole in our path, makes up an infinite number of "what-if scenarios," while ensuring anxious thoughts always stay at the forefront of our mind.
Can We Fight Or Banish The Monkeys?
The problem is, the monkeys are built into the very fabric of consciousness, they are of the essence and nature of the mind. Like the elements, they have always been there and always will.
We cannot banish them from our mind anymore than we can rid carbon or hydrogen from the earth.
Fighting them makes about as much sense as diving headfirst into a sidewalk to cure a cold, or roundhouse kicking a brick wall to eliminate athlete's foot. The mind monkeys are part of you, they are part of us all.
Simple yet elegant, there is but one solution... They need to be tamed.
How & Why Mindfulness Meditation Tames The Monkeys
Practicing mindful meditation teaches you to pay attention to your chattering monkeys, to know them, to listen to them, to understand them.
With each session, you become more familiar with how they behave, their habits, their good sides, their bad sides, their triggers, their quirks, what makes them tick.
Like an expert animal trainer, meditation's face to face interaction with the monkeys will, in time, build a mutually beneficial, trusting relationship.
Once you become their master, they learn to be docile, gentle, and submissive. With enough time, mindful meditation can even make them benevolent, kind, and peaceful.
Taming the mind will make you an infinitely calmer, much happier person, free from the wild shenanigans of fear, worry, and anxiety.
Meditation Deactivates The Brain's "Anxiety-Center" Amygdala
Does The Human Mind Love Fear?
A recent study by the Media Research Center analyzed the ratio of "good" to "bad" news broadcasts for three mainstream networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS.
What did they find? A surprise to few, up to 85% of the stories aired were categorized as — negative.
We know that all humans require food, warmth, water, and sleep. But, is it also built into human DNA to crave doom and gloom?
Is focusing our attention on natural disasters, war, terrorism, crime, incompetence, scandals, and corruption a function of our biology or did we get here through conditioning? Is it nature or nurture?
How Our Brains Are Programmed To Worry
According to John Cacioppo, Director of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, you can blame it on the brain.
Even from an early age, when we watch bad news, our brain scans light up, suggesting a built-in "negativity bias." What happens when we watch good news? The opposite, the brain's electrical activity is quiet.
It is we, the readers and viewers, the owners of the eyeballs "glued to the screen," who are biologically programmed for a steady diet of doom and gloom. We need it like vitamin D and calcium.
So, what's the leading culprit behind this phenomena?
The Culprit Is Our Brain's Fear Center: Amygdala
The list topper would be our "fear center" amygdala, an almond shaped group of nuclei buried deep within the temporal lobes of the brain.
Legendary NY Times bestselling author and founder of the "X-Prize," Peter Diamandis, may have said it best, "Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear."
While there are no guarantees in life, too much activity within your primitive "fear center" amygdala 100% certifies a lifetime supply of anxiety.
What if there was a way to healthily and naturally upgrade this caveman-like brain region? You can, through meditation!
How Meditation Deactivates This Anxious Caveman Brain Region
Researchers from Boston University and Harvard Medical School fMRI brain-scanned participants before and after a series of mindfulness meditation classes — with staggering results.
In only 8 weeks, along with far fewer "distress signals" transmitted throughout the brain, the meditators' brain imaging for "fear center" electrical activity had gone silent.
What surprised the scientists the most, however, was that their "anxiety engine" amygdalae somehow managed to physically shrink! This discovery has monumental implications.
Knowing that it is indeed possible to, like the light switch in your bedroom, turn off our primitive caveman brain hardware (amygdala), we can put a variety of stress related physical, emotional, and mental disorders in our rearview-mirror.
The first stop on the mindful "highway to happiness" will quickly dump your truck-load of anxiety, no matter how full.
Reversing Anxiety: Meditation Activates The Body's Relaxation Response
Why Everybody Is Stressed Out
We are living in stressful times. The mounting career, relationship, and family commitments we face makes living in this chaotic, fast-paced world all the more difficult.
Pile on always connected modern technology, and only an absolute master can truly switch his mind off from the stress of worldly pressures and demands.
In a 2010 American Psychological Association survey, 75% of Americans reported that their stress levels were so high that they felt unhealthy.
But, stress is all in your head, right? How could it possibly harm your health, as these surveyed people claim?
That's correct, if the effects of stress were purely in the mind then it would be no big deal.
How The "Fight Or Flight" Response Triggers Anxiety
The problem is, evolution has hard-wired our DNA to physiologically react in stressful situations — our heart races, our breathing becomes shallow, our blood vessels clinch up, our pupils dilate, our muscles tighten, all in preparation to either fight or flee.
The good news is that your body has a built in stress-defense mechanism — it's called the parasympathetic nervous system. Your ability to stay anxiety-free is directly tied to activating this often elusive system each and every day.
Then, what's the best way to wake up this sleeping giant? Meditation.
Meditation Controls Anxiety Through The "Mind-Body Connection"
In the 1970's, Harvard University physician Herbert Benson observed that well over half of his patient visits were because of stress related disorders, like anxiety.
He thought, if he could figure out a way to counteract this phenomenon, it could revolutionize the healthcare industry, helping untold numbers of people. He accomplished his mission.
In essence, what Dr. Benson discovered was the true power of the meditative mind-body connection — slower metabolism, measured breath rate, reduced heart rate, and quiet brainwave activity all combined to make the perfect state for healing.
Meditation Reverses Anxiety Through The "Relaxation Response"
By using meditation to simultaneously activate the parasympathetic nervous system while deactivating the body's "fight or flight" stress mode, his patients reversed countless health issues, with anxiety often the first domino to fall.
Dr. Benson's bestselling book, "Relaxation Response," has sold millions of copies, providing great momentum to the mind-body movement, and stands as another solid example of hard science confirming age-old mindfulness wisdom.
Note: The relaxation response brings countless benefits above and beyond relieving anxiety and managing stress. The infographic below goes into much more detail:
Meditation Boosts Anti-Anxiety Neurotransmitters: Serotonin & GABA
Why GABA & Serotonin Are So Critical
Between your magnificently complex brain's 100 billion neurons are a web-like network of information relayers known as "neurotransmitters."
When levels of these two key brain chemicals run on empty, our stress defense shield drops — making us vulnerable to anxiety and all of its ugly, inbred cousins: worry, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, etc.
If you are taking anti-anxiety medication, it is very likely targeting these two chemical messengers.
Then, why not just pop a pill to make it all better?
Why Anti-Anxiety Meds Aren't Cool
The problems with anxiety and depression medication are many, including feeling like a zoned out "zombie," dependency, dizziness, drowsiness, poor concentration, memory loss, confusion, headache, blurred vision, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, nausea, the list goes on.
Luckily, an all natural, much better solution exists. Backed by a mountain of research and centuries of anecdotal evidence, meditation drops anxiety harder than a ton of bricks.
How Meditation Supercharges Neurotransmitters
So, what's the data? For serotonin, as evidenced by a highly cited University of Montreal study as well as many others, it is well understood that meditation boosts this prime neurotransmitter to "anxiety resistant" levels.
GABA and meditation are also well-linked. One study by psychiatrists at the Boston University School of Medicine found an incredible 27% increase after less than one hour of meditation!
Strengthening the case, researchers believe that practicing mindfulness has a very strong neurotransmitter "cumulative effect," with tectonic implications for the anxiety sufferer.
GABA & Serotonin: How Meditation Fills Your Tank
To illustrate how it works, what would happen if you put $15 of gasoline into your tank each morning, while using only $10 worth on your daily commute? Of course, your tank would eventually get full and stay full, basic supply and demand economics.
For your brain, meditation does the same, fillin' 'er up with the most purely refined GABA & Serotonin, replenishing far more high quality octane than stress can ever deplete.
When your tank is always full of these naturally calming, feel-good neurotransmitters, you become immune to the mileage (anxiety, depression, bad habits, etc) which would otherwise have you on the side of the road calling for a AAA tow-truck.
Would you rather pop a side-effect ridden pill to feel calm and happy for a little while? Or fundamentally upgrade your biology to be forever "anxiety immune"? Tough call.
Meditation Cancels Out Anxious Brainwaves
You Are Your Brainwaves
Day and night, your entire brain fires electrical signals which combine to form a highly unique "fingerprint" called a "brainwave pattern."
Your whole essence as a living, breathing human being, from your biological makeup to your thoughts, moods, and emotions (especially anxiety) can be directly measured within your brainwave patterns.
If you easily feel the jitters of anxiety, then your brain is likely firing fearful, worrisome "beta" brainwaves (13 – 40 Hz) left and right, way more than the average person.
What if it was possible to upgrade your anxious beta brainwaves to the happiest and healthiest states: Alpha, Theta, and Delta? You can, through meditation!
How Meditation Harnesses Your Cool & Calm Brainwaves
Incredibly simplified, we have outlined a few of the brainwave benefits of meditation here:
Alpha Brainwaves (7 – 13 Hz) — Will help you quiet your mind, boost your creativity, achieve deep relaxation, increase your happiness, instill self-confidence, and much more.
Theta Brainwaves (4 – 7 Hz) — Bring out your emotional intelligence, allow access to your ultra powerful deep mind, make you feel inspired, deepen your intuition, make you feel more open and connected, and much more.
Delta Brainwaves (0 – 4 Hz) — Magnify your awareness, slow aging, boost longevity, give you great sleep, restore your health, tap into your deepest level of consciousness, and much more.
As you can see, by tapping into these powerful states of consciousness, meditation's Alpha, Theta, & Delta brainwaves open up a whole world of benefits far beyond having nerves of steel.
(Note: EquiSync® sound technology quickly, safely, and easily guides your brainwaves into these amazing states! Learn more here.)
Meditation Elevates Anti-Anxiety, Feel-Good Endorphins
Why Endorphins Are A Natural Anxiety Reliever
Whether it's yoga, jogging, weightlifting, swimming, or the like, most folks are aware that physical exercise is a great long term solution for permanent chronic anxiety relief.
Then, why is exercise so effective at curing what is ultimately a mental disorder?
Exercise dominates anxiety for a variety of reasons, with "endorphins" sitting right atop the list.
How Meditation Is Such A Powerful Endorphin Booster
Manufactured mostly in your brain and spinal cord, endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter best known for improving brain function, reducing stress, elevating mood, relieving pain, and helping you sleep.
Endorphins' wide spectrum of benefits, in essence, creates a worry-free and fear-free mental utopia where anxiety cannot, will not, and does not exist.
Is there a better natural endorphin booster than physical exercise? Yes!
A 1995 study (Harte et al) published in the Biological Psychology Journal, tested the neuro-chemical release of two groups — 11 elite runners and 12 highly trained meditators — after running and meditation, respectively. What did they find?
As the scientists suspected, both groups had boosted their endorphin levels. No surprises there.
How Meditation Smothers Anxiety: Endorphins
The tectonic plate shifter, however, was that meditation scored higher than exercise on just about every "great mood" test marker. In effect, the researchers found that meditation was in a cool, calm, and happy "league of its own."
Joggers have coined the term "runners high" to describe how wonderful they feel after a nice, long run. This euphoric, happy, and zen-like state of bliss goes a long way to explain why so many of them look forward to hitting the pavement, day after day.
Maybe it's time for meditators to invent a cool, catchy phrase for how amazing they feel after each of their sessions?
Luckily, meditation gives you access to these powerful anxiety melting, mood elevating endorphins whenever you wish.
Meditation Re-Focuses The Anxious, Wandering, & Distracted Mind
How The Wandering, Distracted Mind Leads To Anxiety
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher, perhaps said it best: "Considering distraction... I have discovered that the unhappiness of man arises from one single fact, that he cannot stay quietly within his own chamber."
A Harvard University study revealed that people were happiest when in a kind of fully immersed, deeply absorbed, present mind state. Some have described this as "flow".
Whether the subjects were socializing, writing, shopping, or reading, the researchers found that the best predictor for anxiety was how distracted they were, how much their mind wandered during the activity — not the activity itself.
In an ever-growing world of Facebook/ Twitter updates, Youtube videos, Netflix movie marathons, shiny new blog posts, iTunes podcasts, up to the minute breaking news, and other mediums driving our collective attention span to all time lows — it is no surprise that anxiety levels are at an all time high.
How Technology Has Made Us A "Stranger To Our Mind"
After their morning shower, many folks shy away from the bathroom mirror because their reflection is not pleasant to behold.
Likewise, many people are uncomfortable with sitting alone in silence because they don't like going face to face with their thoughts.
Anxiety is rooted in this fear, only made worse by our always on MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.
While our devices do have the benefit of connecting us in ways like never before, we need to pull back the reigns to avoid becoming a society full of neurotic, information obsessed basket cases. Technology is meant to be our servant, not our master.
Then, how does one solve this rubix cube? Becoming Amish or joining a Tibetan monastery would certainly solve the problem. But that would require leaving your friends, career, and family behind. Maybe not ideal.
Or you could find a way to master living in the real world, unshackling yourself from the emotional chains of technologically generated anxiety.
Meditation: The World's Best Antidote To Distraction
In fact, meditation has been scientifically proven to turn off the "distracted" area of the brain!
Internationally acclaimed Harvard brain researcher, Dr. Sara Lazar, discovered that one particular brain region responsible for the "wandering mind," the posterior cingulate cortex (PCT), becomes deactivated during meditation.
Corralling the so-called "wandering mind" opens up a wonderful world of benefits, cancelling out many of the true reasons we become anxious.
How Meditation Corrals The Wandering Mind
Moreover, it is thought that meditation disables distraction by filtering stimuli long before it reaches your bottlenecking, gatekeeping "thalamus."
You know how a river dam ensures the perfect amount of water is always available to downstream households, agriculture, and industry?
In much the same way, meditation upstream filters the less important data, sending only the best information downstream.
As a result, the "gulf" of the meditative mind (thalamus) never has to micromanage the barrage of distracting, happiness-robbing information which directly contributes to chronic anxiety.
Meditation Strengthens The Anxiety-Relieving Prefrontal Cortex
Where Is The Anxiety Command & Control Center?
As we evolved from Neanderthals to our present human form, one particular brain region has risen to prominence.
From dark caves to sunlit skyscrapers, from incoherent grunting to the world wide web, from the muddy riverbanks to the far reaches of the solar system — we owe everything to our prefrontal cortex.
Known as the brain's "thought orchestrator," higher level thinking "CEO," and emotional regulator — the "prefrontal cortex" has been identified as the #1 difference between ancient and modern man.
(That's a pretty lofty claim considering how much better looking, taller, and less hairy we are than our neanderthal brethren!)
Big Prefrontal Cortex, Little Anxiety
A highly cited study published in one of the world's top medical journals, "The Lancet" (Pascual-Leone et al) — brain-scanned 17 anxiety & depression sufferers. What did they discover?
Kind of like that skinny legged guy at your gym who trains his chest and arms seven days a week, the participants "CEO" left prefrontal cortexes were extraordinarily weak when compared to other parts of the brain.
Scientists know that weakness or abnormality within the prefrontal cortex impairs decision making and brainpower — while opening the floodgates to anxiety and depression.
Imagine if you could upgrade this amazing brain region, and in essence — hack evolution! You can, through meditation!
How Meditation Evolves The Brain Beyond Anxiety
A landmark 2005 study by Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar and colleagues showed that the brains of meditators had remarkably more "thickness," "folds," and overall "surface area" in their left prefrontal cortexes — with magnitude directly tied to experience (the more meditation, the stronger the effect).
A study with monumental implications, meditation is now seen by many within the neuroscientific and psychological research communities as the "holy grail" for a variety of mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression.
Is there any wonder why doctors find meditators' to be the smartest, happiest, and healthiest folks, time and time again?
Traditional meditators have been anxiety-free, happy people for countless centuries, now confirmed by modern science.
Meditation Extinguishes The Body's Anxiety Inflamed "Wildfire"
The Inflammation & Anxiety Link
"Extensive research has shown that brain inflammation is connected to virtually all types of mental illness... [including] mood disorders like depression and anxiety." IntegrativePsychiatry.net
What's the best way to prevent a massive 100,000 acre wildfire? Light a small one.
Through what's called a "controlled burn," park authorities prevent wildfires by burning away the dense, highly combustible plants and trees within a forest.
Likewise, through a process called "inflammation," your immune system prevents disease by burning away the body's heavy build-up of unwanted intruders, with stress the most powerful invading force.
Like a controlled burn growing into an uncontrollable wildfire, inflammation within the body can inadvertently fan its flames into something much bigger, much more dirty.
How Cortisol Inflames Anxiety
Chronic inflammation, especially within the brain, is a self-perpuating, highly toxic body condition — the perfect petri-dish for anxiety to proliferate.
Wake Forest School of Medicine professor Floyd Chilton, Ph.D. outlines the severity of the problem in his 2005 bestselling book "Inflammation Nation."
With stress as the leading contributor, Dr. Chilton believes that we are living in the midst of a chronic inflammation epidemic, with statistics becoming more and more alarming by the year.
Stress, anxiety, and inflammation live within a self-perpetuating ecosystem where if you boost one, you boost the other two. More stress increases inflammation, which increases anxiety, you get the idea. A toxic circle of life.
The whole medical dictionary, from A to Z, starting with anxiety, can be linked to the body's chronic inflammation "wildfire" — arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, just to name a few.
Luckily, we know the culprit. More flammable than gasoline, the 100% guilty, trial by doctor convicted arsonist is the body's main stress hormone — cortisol.
Then, how do we reduce the amount of cortisol within the body, and therefore extinguish inflammation and all of its chronic anxiety flame-fanning effects? Meditation!
How Meditation Extinguishes Cortisol, Anxiety
Researchers from the University Of California (Davis) and Rutgers University found mindfulness meditation to dramatically reduce cortisol levels, with one study showing a precipitous 50% drop!
Further validation, these results were seen after only a handful of sessions! You don't need to practice meditation for years to experience the lion's share of benefits.
By smothering the ultra-flammable hormone responsible for igniting so many diseases, especially generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), meditation is the always on call firefighting team, forever protecting your health and happiness.
Mindfulness creates a mental environment 100% incompatible with anxiety. A cactus can't survive in the North Pole. Anxiety can't survive in the brain of a meditator.
(Note: Piling on the research: In addition to lowering cortisol, meditation also reduces inflammation by altering the expression of pro-inflammatory genes. Most impressive, it takes as little as 8 hours for this to work!)
Meditation Cools & Quiets Busy, Anxious Thoughts
We Fuel Anxiety With 70,000+ Thoughts Per Day
Like a machine gun, the anxious mind fires one fearful and worrisome thought after another:
"Why did I say something so stupid? Why don't they like me? What happens if I lose my job? Why don't I have any energy? Am I getting sick? Will anyone ever love me? Will I ever have enough money? Why can't I be successful? Why can't I lose this weight?"
In fact, scientists estimate the number of human thoughts at around 70,000 per day — meaning a worried, anxious mind can literally generate a new negative thought every couple of seconds!
While we all have troublesome thoughts from time to time, the difference for the anxious mind is the sheer level of bombardment is far beyond that of a normal person — it is easy to see why so many anxiety sufferers feel paralyzed.
How Meditation Gets Us Off The Anxiety Hamster Wheel
What's the best way to quiet the overactive mind?
Meditation. By taking a permanent meditative breather from the "hamster wheel" of anxiety, you no longer burn through precious resources or waste valuable energy on unproductive fear-based thoughts.
What does this mean, exactly? No more negative "what-if" scenarios, no more "next-turn" catastrophes, no more "doom and gloom" waiting around every corner, the meditative mindset is a beautiful thing.
Instead of rehearsing yesterday's tragedies and borrowing tomorrow's troubles, meditation's present moment focus puts an abrupt end to happiness-robbing, nerve-fraying mental time travel.
How Meditation Quiets The Mind
When you no longer buy into your fears and worries, when you no longer overthink the past, when you no longer worry endlessly about the future — you get to experience the intoxicating silence between each thought.
Make every moment your best moment, discover meditation.