If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.~ Amit Ray
You know the feeling.
Butterflies in the stomach. Heart palpitations. Sweaty palms. Upset stomach. Tightness in the chest — all naturally occurring indications when you’re suddenly feeling anxious.
At times, when you watch everyone around you seem to go about living their lives, you might feel like you’re the only one dealing with anxiety.
Yes, anxiety can be very isolating, but rest assured that you’re not facing it alone.
This key issue holds even more importance today, with the COVID-19 pandemic. With all the uncertainties life has thrown our way, it’s somewhat natural to feel worried, anxious and stressed.
Although clinical anxiety requires treatment, the good news is, everyday anxiousness can be managed. The key is to understand what triggers our anxiety — and that’s where meditation for anxiety and stress comes in.
Meditation and mindfulness can help wipe away the day's stress, and restore your calm and inner peace.
In this ultimate guide, discover what anxiety really is, why it’s important to keep it under control, and how to effectively manage anxiety with mindfulness and meditation techniques.
Table of Contents
- General Anxiousness Vs. an Anxiety Disorder
- Keeping Anxiety Under Control
- Why Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
- Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
- How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
- Guided Meditation Resources for Anxiety and Stress
- 15-Minute Guided Meditation for Anxiety & Stress
- 5-Minute Anxiety Reduction Mindfulness Meditation
- Guided Mindfulness Meditation for Overcoming Anxiety and Fear
- Autogenic Relaxation Meditation
- 5-Minute Guided Breathing Meditation for Anxiety
- Other Ways to Practice Mindfulness to Relieve Anxiety
- Key Takeaways
General Anxiousness Vs. an Anxiety Disorder
Biologically speaking, the body is meant to get anxious, especially in a dangerous situation where the “fight or flight” response is activated compelling a person to take action, especially in potentially life-threatening situations.
However, this same mechanism is triggered in stressful situations — such as getting up on stage to make a speech, during a nail-biting sporting event, before a major exam, or even walking down the aisle.
In short, when you’re feeling like a bag of nerves, that’s anxiety kicking in.
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand, as once the stressful situation dissipates, general anxiousness usually goes down.
This is not true in the case of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), when there’s a constant feeling of worry, impending doom, and even panic.
According to ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America):
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.”
At this level, anxiety can be a debilitating and constantly distressing condition, requiring medical intervention and treatment.
However, day-to-day stress induced anxiety can, and should be, managed.
Keeping Anxiety Under Control
Too much epinephrine, or adrenaline, can be a risk to cardiovascular health, and may lead to:
- increased heart rate
- heart attacks
- high blood pressure
Increased cortisol can adversely affect the body in many ways, including:
- spiking blood sugar levels
- triggering weight gain
- increasing blood pressure
- causing muscle weakness
- suppressing the immune system
When these stress hormones are activated and released into the bloodstream, our fight-or-flight response is activated, disrupting our energy levels, sleep cycle and immunity.
Why Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
Meditation helps to directly counter the “stress response”
Meaning that meditating slows down the heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and promoting relaxation.
One study showed that mindfulness meditation can help lower the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, by “training the mind to focus on immediate experience,” rather than “ruminate about the past or worry about the future, thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release.”
In fact, even a single mindfulness meditation session has shown to reduce anxiety, revealing that participants had:
“reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session. This could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure.”
Meditation increases “neuroplasticity”
But where meditation truly works its magic, is the gradual changes it brings about in the brain. This “relaxation response” can actually be seen in brain mapping through MRI imaging.
Magnetic resonance imaging has shown that a consistent meditation practice “may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing.”
MRI scans also show that just after 8-weeks of mindfulness practice, the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the “fight or flight” response, appears to shrink. As this happens, the pre-frontal cortex, associated with focus, attention and awareness becomes thicker.
Since anxiety makes it hard to regulate emotions, meditation can help reprogram these neural pathways, and significantly improve the regulation of emotions, reducing anxiety.
This type of neural reprograming can be seen in this Stanford study that showed that mindfulness meditation caused a jump in brain activity, not only curbing anxious thoughts but also improving the self-image for participants suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD).
The common thread amongst most of this research across different age groups and genders is the way mindfulness meditation trains people, especially those with anxiety, who tend to worry about the future or the past, to deliberately shift focus on the present moment.
In doing so, over time, the brain’s plasticity changes — so mindfulness meditation does not just help to reduce anxiety and stress — it also helps prevent or control all of the problems that come as a result of anxiety and stress overload on the body.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is simply a moment-to-moment awareness of what you’re thinking or experiencing, without judgement.
It’s a state that can help you feel less anxious, less stressed, more calm, more focused, and more in control of your reactions to everything around you. It can give you a sense of peace and balance benefitting your mental, emotional and physical health.
And these benefits don't end when your mindfulness meditation session is done. The effects last all day long and with continued practice can be a lifelong journey towards inner peace.
Some of the key benefits of meditation for anxiety and stress is to clear away all of the information overload that builds up day after day and contributes to feelings of anxiousness and stress.
Some of these benefits include:
- Gaining a new perspective on what triggers your anxiety
- Learning new skills to manage your stress
- Not letting your worries consume you
- Discovering meditation tools to support you
- Identifying negative emotions
- Boosting creativity
- Slowing down and increasing patience
- Focusing on the here and now
- Being more self-aware
Meditation does not stop the anxiety, but helps you to recognize anxiety for what it is. This reduces the effect these thoughts have on your mind and emotions.
“There is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own thoughts.”
By recognizing the triggering thoughts and mental patterns, you learn to see them, and simply let them go, without falling into “the trap” of getting caught in them and creating a storyline in your mind around them.
Meditation teaches us that thoughts are simply just thoughts — they are not real, and they do not define us.
Meditating mindfully helps you to sit with difficult feelings and thoughts without evaluating, suppressing, or encouraging them.
This enables you to simply let anxious thoughts pass, slowly but surely changing your relationship with anxiety.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety and Stress
When you start to meditate, you’ll find that it can be extremely challenging to sit in silence.
In fact, your thoughts might even be more turbocharged now, or your anxiety may even increase, but that’s what mindfulness meditation is all about — simply observing your thoughts without judgement.
Building a foundation can be very helpful in supporting your meditation practice, and below are three things you should do to get started:
Most people prefer to sit on the floor, cross-legged. You might want to sit upright in a chair, or lie on your back. The key is to find a position that you feel is most comfortable — a position that’s not distracting, and won’t give you muscle cramps, but not that relaxing either, that you may fall asleep.
Start with a few minutes in this position, and increase the time as you go gradually. It’s also important to minimize distractions. So, put your phone on airplane mode, and wear comfortable clothing.
Focus Your Awareness
Concentrating on your breathing is by far one of the best ways to focus awareness and bring yourself back to the present moment. Once you’re comfortably sitting in a quite space, close your eyes and begin to breathe.
Observe your breathing, trying not to change it. Simply noticing your breath “now”, will bring you back to the present. If you find that your mind is wandering, re-focus on your breath. Try to breathe in a natural rhythm, allowing your breath to become deeper and deeper to support your relaxation.
Create the Mood
Burning white sage or Palo Santo wood is a wonderful ritual you can practice to elevate the feeling of peace and tranquility in your space, and “create the mood” for your meditation practice, while bringing your awareness to the present moment.
Burning natural herbs helps engage and activate all of the senses, promoting more awareness.
Mindfulness meditation has shown to reduce depression, anxiety and stress, and it’s easier to be mindful when you create the environment to enter a better mental space.
Guided Meditation Resources for Anxiety and Stress
Below, we’ve shared some helpful guided meditation resources for anxiety and stress to help you release worry and promote inner peace.
15-Minute Guided Meditation for Anxiety & Stress
This brief guided meditation is soothing and healing and great to relax tension from your mind and body. Designed to relieve anxiety and stress, it includes gentle neck stretches, complete body relaxation, positive affirmations and visualization techniques. It also helps to cultivate feelings of peace, optimism and gratitude. Great for beginners!
5-Minute Anxiety Reduction Mindfulness Meditation
This short mindfulness meditation promises to be a quick way to bring down the feelings of anxiousness in just 5 minutes. Great to try out when you are suddenly plagued with anxious feelings and need to get out of panic mode.
Guided Mindfulness Meditation for Overcoming Anxiety and Fear
This is a full 15-minute guided mindfulness meditation that will help you overcome your anxiety and fear. If you’re experiencing a faster heartbeat, tightness in your chest, or quickened breathing, follow this guided meditation to relax your mind and ease your anxious thoughts.
Autogenic Relaxation Meditation
Autogenic meditation is a relaxation technique that focuses on enhancing feelings of relaxation and calm, to help reduce stress and feelings of anxiety.
Studies have shown that autogenic training can greatly reduce anxiety symptoms.
This gentle autogenic guided meditation below, will enable you to free yourself from anxiety and worry through carefully applied affirmations.
5-Minute Guided Breathing Meditation for Anxiety
This particular meditation is carefully designed to incorporate proper deep breathing techniques to help ease anxiety and relax the mind and body. Just 5 minutes can make a big difference in drastically increasing your positive energy and reducing worry.
Other Ways to Practice Mindfulness to Relieve Anxiety
Some people are stuck on meditating the "right" way, which can often add to stress.
Yes, guided meditation is great but there are other ways to easily build mindfulness into your daily routine.
This is an excellent focus technique where you pay attention to each part of your body, becoming fully aware of all the sensations you are feeling in each part — tension, stress, pain, warmth, fatigue or relaxation.
As you scan your body, imagine breathing into and out of each body part and intentionally sending your breath to that area in your body. Great for relaxation and healing!
Meditating while walking is a healthy way to get your body moving and being mindful at the same time.
The idea is to walk at a steady pace so that you can focus on how your legs are moving, the breath going in and out of your body, and the sensation of your feet hitting the ground. Also, become aware of the sights and sounds around you — the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, the traffic moving — all bringing your awareness back to the present moment.
This meditation is an acquired taste, but practicing it teaches that you can bring the same degree of awareness to any activity you do, and that mindfulness is available to us at any given moment in our lives.
Prayer is actually one of the earliest and most widely practiced forms of meditation. Verbal and written prayers found in most faiths or belief systems help to increase self-awareness, inculcate a greater sense of calm, promote gratitude, and encourage a more positive outlook in life.
Research has shown that prayer can also reduce feelings of isolation, anxiety and fear.
A randomized trial of the effect of prayer on depression and anxiety showed that participants who prayed for one another “showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism,” compared to the control group which had no prayer sessions.
Work on a Zen Garden
A personal mini zen garden is a great way to be mindful, and find escape from the daily stressors, anxieties and worries in your life, at home or at work.
As you start creating your own swirls and patterns in the sand and creatively rearrange the rocks, you’ll discover a renewed sense of peace and calm, which has actually shown to increase mindfulness.
Get started with the LotsofZen Mini Zen Garden Kit which includes a round wooden sandbox, sand, a rake, polished stones and other ornaments such as a cherry tree and golden Buddha statue.
Reflection and Contemplation
Simply reading and reflecting on the meanings in sacred texts, poems, quotes and inspirational books can put you in a meditative state.
The same can happen when you listen to calming music that can help quiet your anxious thoughts and bring you into a state of relaxation.
Anytime you’re feeling down, it might help to read and even re-read books, passages and quotes that you find truly inspiring. Doing this can give you an instant burst of positivity and hope, and nudge you to keep ploughing on when the going is rough.
- Keeping anxiety and stress under control is critical for mental, emotional and physical health.
- Meditation has been scientifically proven to reprogram neural pathways, improving the regulation of emotions, and reducing anxiety.
- Mindfulness meditation helps slow down the heart rate, lower blood pressure and promote relaxation, which can help to reduce and control stress and anxiety.
- There are many different ways to practice mindfulness including guided meditation, praying, meditative walks, reflection, and working on a Zen garden.
- With a solid foundation, experimentation, and building your meditation practice over time, you may notice that you no longer tend to ruminate as much over past events, or that your sleep has improved, and that you respond to stressful situations more calmly.
- These small day-to-day wins will eventually help you to overcome anxious feelings and reduce the impact of stress on your body and in your life.
- Mindfulness meditation can be practiced at any time of the day, but the key is to do it consistently, even if for just a few minutes each day.