How to Use Meditation for Anxiety
Anxiety can hit us at any time, any day, and often without warning. It’s uncomfortable, stressful, and often physical. Fortunately, you have the ability to change these situational stressors by using meditation for anxiety.
“When experiencing anxiety, we are focused on the future,” says Samantha Monk Grigsby, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. She uses mindfulness meditation in her sessions. “We are essentially trying to protect ourselves from an impending catastrophe. By practicing mindfulness, we train ourselves to focus our attention on the present moment, rather than frightening thoughts about an uncertain future.”
“With meditation, we exercise our minds through the strength of our awareness, and we condition our minds to be stronger, more focused, more at peace,” adds Scarlett de la Torre, international sound meditation facilitator and creator of Sound Meditation on Openfit.
Read on to learn more about how anxiety specifically affects the body, how meditation can help, and a few ways to incorporate meditation into your life.
How Anxiety Affects the Body
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to a stressful situation or a perceived risk. “When we encounter something we believe is a threat,” says Monk Grigsby, “the part of our brain that processes and modulates emotions sends a distress signal to other parts of our brain to activate the sympathetic nervous system.”
Anxiety and the brain
When the amygdala activates in a stressful situation, it tells the sympathetic nervous system to amp up. Then the body reacts accordingly:
- increased heart rate
- increased sweating
- release of epinephrine (adrenaline).
“This is experienced as the hyperarousal of the fight-or-flight response in order to respond to perceived dangers,” Monk Grigsby says.
Anxiety and weight gain
Another downside of anxiety? Potentially weight gain and impaired physical performance. A 19-year study in the British Medical Journal found a direct association and risk between anxiety (and depression) and weight gain.
“When our nervous system is shot from everyday stressors, a lot of that stress starts to manifest in a physical nature,” says Cody Braun, CPT, Openfit’s Assistant Manager of Fitness. “Stress does make it harder to lose body fat and build muscle. And in sports, anxiety can lead to your body tensing up in a way that isn’t beneficial if you are trying to stay relaxed and have some type of motor control.”
How Meditation Can Help You Manage Anxiety
Meditation can actually change your brain, just like strength training can change your body. “Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce both the size and the activity of the amygdala,” says Monk Grigsby. “Furthermore, mindfulness increases activity in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which can be involved in emotion regulation.”
Plenty of research supports using meditation for anxiety and stress.
- A review of 47 trials with 3,515 participants in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of psychological stress, including anxiety.
- A study of nursing students found a mindfulness meditation routine decreased anxious feelings.
- College students also saw decrease in stress after using a guided meditation app for eight weeks.
How to Use Meditation to Calm Anxious Feelings
When it comes to anxiety and nerves before a test, a race, or some other nail-biting event, there are quite a few ways to slow down racing thoughts and feelings.
Sound meditation, which incorporates gentle music into the sessions, is an incredibly beginner-friendly form of meditation. With the sound present, there’s no pressure to quiet your thoughts or free yourself from distractions. All you have to do is focus on the guide’s voice and the tones of her instruments — the sounds will do the rest to help you achieve a serene, balanced headspace.
Openfit offers a variety of sound meditations, created by international sound meditation facilitator Scarlett de la Torre. Ranging from 10 to 45 minutes, each meditation uses soothing sound frequencies to shift your brain into a more relaxed, meditative state. Try it today!
You can also use mindfulness mediations as a tactic. These simple meditations include breath work, body scans, or mantras. “Mindfulness meditation only needs to take a moment to be effective,” says Monk Grigsby. “You can use mindfulness on the go, wherever you go.”
Monk shared a four-step technique that helps you tap back into your senses. “This technique helps us take our focus off of the overwhelm of anxiety and to focus on the present moment and in our surrounding environment instead,” she says.
- Observe and name three things you can see in your immediate environment. For example, “I see a brown table, a leaf on a tree outside, and a picture on the wall.”
- Next, observe and name three things you can hear: the hum of an air conditioner, a dog barking, or your co-worker typing.
- Finally, name three things you can feel: your chair underneath you, your sweater on your skin, and your ring on your finger.
- Once you’ve connected with the present moment through these three senses, focus on three long, slow breaths.