Mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety
‘I want to thank you. Your meditation course and the way you teach about the breath and mindfulness have really helped me to deal with my anxiety.
I have stopped taking medication. At first, coming off it was difficult, but now with the meditation practices, I know I am learning a new way to deal with things and it feels so right.’
When I received the above email, I was delighted that a six-week meditation course had played a part in helping to create this wonderful change. Though credit must go to the student for putting the mindfulness and meditation concepts into daily practice.
I reflected on the courage and determination it takes for someone to break free from an intense cycle – and find ways of creating personal change and growth.
Everyone feels anxious at times but this response usually disappears after a challenging situation is over.
Anxiety becomes chronic when it is your constant response, where thoughts and worries dominate your life and you feel totally overwhelmed.
Worrying is really an intellectual form of fear – you lose your sense of perspective and become distressed abut anything and everything. When your mind keeps conjuring up the worst scenarios, this affects how you approach all aspects of your life – work, study, family and the wider world in general.
The beyondblue support organisation has described anxiety as the most common mental health condition in Australia, affecting about one in four people – one in four women and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their life.
Drawing upon the mind-body connection, severe anxiety also creates a range of emotional and physical problems, including insomnia, fatigue, irritability, headaches, muscle tension, and stomach and digestive disorders.
On a positive note, research continues to confirm how mindfulness meditation assists in reducing anxiety.
A quieter mind
Mindfulness meditation helps to quieten the overactive mind that tends to be characterised by negative self-talk.
In meditation, you centre yourself and instead of being distracted by fearful thoughts you start connecting with your breath, your physical body and the gaps between the thoughts.
You also come to recognise that you thoughts are just thoughts and not your reality.
A healthier brain
Anxiety changes the structure and function of the brain in numerous ways.
For instance, anxiety increases the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain associated wth regulating emotions, including fear, anxiety and stress. Conversely, mindfulness meditation decreases the size of the amygdala, making you less reactive.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and improve neural connections between various areas of the brain. It also enhances neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change) by encouraging you to view your thoughts differently – and when you create a new thought pattern, you are training your brain to be less anxious.
Meditation also balances the brain’s chemicals by increasing levels of the ‘feel-good’ hormones of GABA and serotonin, and reducing the cortisol stress hormone.
American psychotherapist Tom Corby, the executive director of the OCD Centre of Los Angeles, says, “Ultimately, meditation helps us slow down, get perspective, and think more objectively and with less knee-jerk reactivity. And that helps us be less anxious.”
Experience the health and wellbeing benefits of mindfulness meditation at the Meditation Pathways’ beginners courses starting in early May. The focus is on discovering and experiencing mindfulness and meditation, and exploring simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your everyday life.
I look forward to sharing this meditation journey with you.