Reports of people suffering from anxiety and general stress are on the rise. It’s no secret that we live in a fast-paced world, and it’s easy to find ourselves overwhelmed at work, while dealing everyday life or navigating family life. While there are medications on the market to help, there are also natural methods to consider. Meditation has been used by yogis and people in other cultures for thousands of years. It can decrease anxiety and promote general well being.
How Anxiety Works
Before we get into how meditation works, let’s talk about what anxiety is, and how it affects us. The National Institutes of Health describes the limbic system of the brain as the physical centers of emotional and stress-related structures. Without getting too scientific, this means that our fearful memories, external triggers of anxiety, our emotional responses to the triggers, and our fight or flight impulses are centered in the amygdala in the limbic system. These parts of the brain recognize a problem (anxiety spike) when a signal is sent over the body’s neurotransmitter system. These neurotransmitters then work with the limbic system to alert the brain, and when the body is stressed and/or anxious, the signal is sent to the brain where it is processed.
How Meditation Works
The purpose of meditation is to center the mind on the moment. Meditation begins by focusing on one breath at a time. The person practicing meditation takes a slow inhale, followed by a slow exhale (often four to five beats per breath). As a memory or thought occurs, the person practicing will gently focus on their breath, releasing the thought. When we take a slow, long breath, there is less movement in the brain centers we discussed above. These focused breaths mean there is less the neurotransmitters have to report to the brain, and this helps to naturally calm and center the body, mind, and spirit. These breathing exercises help the mind to process the impulse that led to anxiety and let it go.
How Meditation Helps Anxiety
Over 19,000 studies have been conducted to discover how meditation affects the brain. In one study at Wake Forest Baptist, 15 people with normal anxiety levels were given an MRI to determine how meditation affected them. They took four 20 minute “meditation for anxiety classes”, learning to gently dismiss thoughts or memories that triggered anxiety with focused breathing. The researchers found that meditation provided relief for anxiety, in particular meditation calmed the prefrontal cortex — portions of which control worry.
Reducing anxiety is as simple as sitting quietly for 5-20 minutes. This practice is free and can be done anywhere. To get started, concentrate on breathing in and out through your nose. As you breathe out, work to let go of the thought or experience that has caused your anxiety. If a thought occurs while you’re concentrating, gently dismiss it in a non-judgmental way. One way to do this is to visualize a breeze ruffling your hair, and as you breathe out, allow the intruding thought or experience to blow away with the breeze.
As you’re concentrating on your breathing, allow today’s experiences to flow through your mind. If a disturbing thought or experience intrudes, allow it to gently be puffed away on the breeze we discussed above. Soon your mind will begin to recognize the triggers of anxiety, send them away on the breeze, and remind yourself they have no power over you. Stay with your breath, and listen to the sound it makes. Continue to relax your body, work to release the thoughts, and breathe deeply.
Things that trigger anxiety are outside of the body, but once anxiety strikes it can be difficult to think about anything else. Eventually, the body believes the anxiety. Meditation helps the brain recognize the triggers of anxiety, process them, and works to help the body relax as the anxiety and triggers that cause it are released. Meditation helps recenter the mind and body one breath at a time.
Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 855-408-2040 for a consultation.