How To Use Meditation To Reduce or Eliminate Anxiety: 6 Awesome Exercises Backed by Research

Reading time: 9 minutes

anxietyThe world is an ever-demanding, chaos-laden place to live these days.

It’s not always easy to know how to navigate the swampy mess of toxic emotions that come to call. Too often, tension, fear, and anxiety become frequent companions in our waking hours.

So, how do we process these turbulent feelings?

What if there was a way to quell the tides of anxiety and depression? A simple practice, easy to learn, and even easier to integrate into the rhythms of our day-to-day lives?

Guided meditation can help us grapple with feelings of unease, anxiety, and depression. It can serve as the anchor we need when we feel abandoned in the rolling, thunderous waters that are the ceaseless demands of our lives.

Meditation brings us back to a home within ourselves:Click To Tweet
 To a place where…even amidst the disarray…we can find a place of solace.

Together, we’ll explore where anxiety and depression come from, what the common symptoms are, and what everyday triggers may be contributing to these emotional states. Then, we’ll talk about how the integration of guided meditation can help shift you, body, mind, and spirit, into a place of holistic healing.

Anxiety and depression – two sides of the same coin

What is anxiety? What is depression? Where do they come from?

These are difficult questions to answer, because the truth is, anxiety and depression are felt differently by each person that experiences them. But there are a few things you should know about these cognitive states that may help you understand how they work, and how they’re triggered.

The part of your brain responsible for processing fear and regulating your emotions is called the amygdala. It’s been demonstrated that those who experience frequent anxiety have a highly sensitized amygdala. This means that for individuals susceptible to anxiety, the part of the brain responsible for coping with stress is easily overstimulated.

What’s particularly interesting about this research is that 58% of participants with a chronic anxiety disorder also reported symptoms of clinical depression.

The bottom line?

An over-stimulated amygdala contributes to symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Two sides of the same coin, my friend.

Common Anxiety Symptoms and Triggers

Picture this. You’re on your way home from a meeting that ran late. You’ve still got to pick up some groceries before you head home to walk the dog, make dinner, and guess what? It’s garbage night. Your phone buzzes in the seat next to you…it’s your boss, asking if you can come in early tomorrow to cover for what’s-her-name because she’s got a doctor’s appointment. And wham, that’s when you hit gridlocked traffic.

Your fingers squeeze the steering wheel until your knuckles go white. You can feel your pulse in your temples. You swallow back the tightness in your throat. A cool sweat breaks across the top of your brow. You feel dizzy, lightheaded, your vision tunneling ahead of you as you stare into a line of traffic six blocks deep.

Feeling panicky? Apprehensive? Uncomfortable? That’s anxiety.

anxiety

Let’s take a look at some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Upset stomach
  • Excessive sweating

Symptoms of depression closely mimic those of anxiety, but depression sufferers also report difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, and an overall lack of energy.

If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety or depression, you know it can be difficult to identify the circumstance acting as the underlying culprit. It could be anything, from an unpleasant confrontation with your partner, to catching a particularly gruesome story on the 6 o’clock news.

Here are some of the most commonly cited triggers for anxiety and depression. Have you recently experienced any of these?

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Stressful workplace
  • Financial strain
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Sudden change in routine
  • Traffic
  • Disorganized home
  • Too much ‘screen time’ (phones, tablets, computers, etc.)

Now, while you certainly can’t control every detail of your life (that would be exhausting…not to mention, impossible!) what you can take charge of is the way you approach these circumstances.

And that’s where guided meditation comes in.

Feelings of loneliness, frustration, anger, guilt, and shame are all part of the human experience. But you don’t have to let these states govern you. And with a little practice, coupled with a healthy splash of persistence, you’ll be astounded by the peace that awaits.

How meditation changes your mind, body, and spirit

“Any condition that’s caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through meditation. The relaxation response (from meditation) helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves,” says Cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Sounds pretty sweet, right? Oh, and did we mention the decrease in cellular inflammation, improved immune system, and reduction in chronic pain? And those are just the short-term benefits.

The long-term benefits to meditation? Numerous studies show actual physiological changes to the brain that indicate improved working memory, learning ability, perception, and focus.

Guided meditation has also been found to improve many of these chronic health conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • IBS
  • Sleep disorders
  • Migraines

New research from Harvard University published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, shared MRI documentation of the actual changes in brain chemistry that occur as a result of a regular meditation practice.

With daily guided meditation over the course of 8 weeks, study participants had a decrease in gray-matter density in the amygdala. Remember the amygdala? The part of your brain that handles stress? In just 8 weeks, these study participants changed the physiology of their brains, making them less susceptible to stress and anxiety.

All right, but what does all this really mean? Gray-matter density? Brain physiology? We know. You’re likely not a brain scientist and want to get to the juicy stuff.

So, here’s the rundown on how guided meditation helps improve your cognitive state:

  • Increases compassion and empathy
  • Improves introspection
  • Helps regulate emotions
  • Increases creativity
  • Increases ability to multi-task
  • Increases memory function

Integrating guided meditation into your daily life to quell anxiety

Now, we can talk about the benefits of meditation until the cows come home, but how do you actually go about doing it? We’re glad you asked.

Whether it be a quiet mindfulness practice you do at home on your bedroom floor, or a guided meditation led by an instructor in a group, there’s a little something out there for everyone.

Need a meditation for anxiety to quell a prickling of disquiet? Or how about just some uninterrupted silence for you to sit and process your thoughts? There’s really no wrong way to meditate. No set time, or goal to achieve. As you’re finding a moment to anchor down within yourself, that’s meditation. Really. That’s all there is to it.

But if you’re looking for a place to get started, here are some of the best guided meditation exercises to try.

1.Meditating At Work: Stillness Amid the Hustle and Bustle

anxiety

Yes, it’s possible.

In fact, not only is it possible, it can be wholly life-changing for those that are able to integrate this practice into their daily routines.
Computers and screens can be a big drain on your mental energy, contributing to ‘computer vision syndrome.’ The excess of screen time doesn’t just stress your eyes, it stresses the rest of you too!

Try to take frequent breaks from your screen when possible. Get up, grab a hot beverage, go for a walk, stretch your stiff muscles. If it’s not possible to step away from your screen as often as you’d like, consider investing in blue light filtering glasses, or change the display settings of your device to filter out more of those pesky blue wavelengths.

All the blue light streaming from our computer screens and mobile devices seriously meddles with our circadian rhythms. A Harvard study found that blue light suppresses melatonin production, the hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps us sleep.

Finding time for meditation at work may not be the easiest thing to do, but luckily, many guided meditation exercises only take a few short minutes, and can drastically decrease your stress.

2.Two Minute Mindfulness Meditation For Peace

This exercise is called The Countdown Practice. You can try it right at your desk! The goal of this technique is to ground yourself in the present moment by focusing on tangible things that surround you using your five senses.

  1. Look around you. Quietly name 5 things you can see, either out loud, or in your head. You could say, ‘table,’ or ‘stapler,’ or ‘pen.’
  2. Next, name 5 things you can hear, either out loud, or in your head. You could say, ‘typing,’ or ‘phone ringing,’ or ‘talking.’
  3. Now, name 5 things you can smell. You could say, ‘perfume,’ or ‘books,’ or ‘grass.’
  4. Name 5 things you can taste. You could say, ‘gum,’ or ‘coffee,’ or ‘toothpaste.’
  5. Finally, name 5 things you can feel with your body. You could say, ‘chair,’ or ‘shirt,’ or hair elastic.’

If you’re having trouble coming up with some of the items on the list, that’s good! This exercise can be a real challenge, but it’s something you can do that will help you reconnect with the present moment, encouraging a state of mindfulness and self-awareness.

Or, if you’d prefer to follow along with someone guiding you through a meditation exercise, check out this guided meditation for a short, two-minute mindfulness break at work. No previous meditation experience needed!

3.Meditating At Home: Finding Space and Solace

Not an easy feat, we know. But a worthwhile one, to be sure.

Meditating at home can be vastly rewarding, but it can be difficult to set aside the time. At home, there are a lot of demands on your attention, and sometimes, at the end of a long day, all you want to do is curl up in your comfies on the couch.

Many believe that meditation requires the use of a special room or yoga mat, or that you need a huge cushion of undisturbed time at your disposal. But practicing mindfulness can be as simple as taking a few grounded, mindful breaths while you’re doing the dishes! Bringing awareness to the breath, to the body, and to the contents of the mind, even in the midst of another activity, means you’re bringing present moment awareness to your experience. And that’s all meditation really entails.

Check out this guided meditation for anxiety to relieve the tension that’s accumulated over the course of your day. The best part? It’s just 5 minutes long. That’s all you’ll need to experience a powerful shift in your energy, from stress, to spacious stillness.

4.Meditating In Public: A Powerful Spiritual Practice

As we’ve learned, difficult and challenging emotional states aren’t always waiting for the most opportune moment to pay you a visit.

As we go about our day, we’re met with stress inducing circumstances, and it’s at times like these that it can be helpful to have a meditation strategy in your back pocket. On the bus, waiting for the train, stuck in traffic, in line at the coffee shop, you can practice meditation at any time—anywhere!

If you’ve got your mobile device on hand, and you need a quick fix as you’re out and about, try this guided meditation that focuses on mindful breathing.

Or, if you want to stay unplugged, try this short mindfulness exercise:

Wherever you are, take a moment to become aware and mindful of the present moment. Your mind may be full of thoughts, plans, ideas, anxieties, or feelings of disquiet. That’s okay. Notice what’s present, but try not to judge what you observe. What you feel is what you feel, and that’s okay.

Now, shift your focus to the things taking place around you. Are there people around you? Vehicles? Are you alone?

Next, ask yourself: What do I hear?

See how many things you can quietly name that you can hear around you. Do not judge the sounds that you hear. Rather, simply try to notice the sounds that surround you in the present moment. How many sounds can you name?

5.Meditating with Loved Ones: Share the Tranquility

Meditation is so often perceived to be a solitary experience, but a guided meditation in a group setting can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

When approaching the topic of meditation with your loved ones, remember that not everyone understands what mindfulness and guided meditation is all about, and they may have questions for you.

Try to remain as open, honest, and empathetic as you can. People will be curious, and that’s okay!

Practicing a guided meditation with your loved ones is a great way to heighten the bond of connectivity and compassion you share. But remember, this may be the first time your loved ones are practicing these techniques, so they may feel nervous or hesitant.

Here’s a great beginner friendly guided meditation you can try in a group setting with your family or friends. It’s a fantastic way to introduce your loved ones to the practice of meditation with a simple, easy to follow mindfulness practice.

Meditating with those you love helps deepen the intimacy you share, while simultaneously amplifying your collective consciousness. It’s a genuinely rewarding experience to be shared by all.

However, not everyone you ask to meditate with you will be open to the experience. And you know what? That’s alright. There are meditation exercises you can do even while surrounded by others.

6Short mindfulness technique

This helps develop your present moment awareness and combats stress and anxiety.

  1. Wherever you are, pause, and take a moment to focus on your breath.
  2. Is your breath fast? Shallow? Slow? Observe your breath.
  3. Notice how the air feels as it enters your body. Notice where you feel the air most. Do you feel the air in your belly? In your chest? In your nose?
  4. Observe the next 5 breaths as they come and go. Do not control the breath. Simply notice how each breath feels as it enters and exits your body. Observe, and be present in your experience.

Which Guided Meditations Will You Try?

Are you ready to try incorporating some of these meditation practices into your daily life? Which guided meditations would you like to try?

Sources

Common Anxiety Triggers for Anxiety and Panic. http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/causes/triggers

Davis, Jeanie Lerche. Meditation Balances the Body’s Systems. http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/transcendental-meditation#1

Goodwin, Guy M. “The Overlap between Anxiety, Depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 17.3 (2015): 249–260. Print. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610610/

Harvard Health Publications. Blue light has a dark side. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Anxiety Symptoms, Signs, Treatment. http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms.shtml

LaBier, Douglas, Ph.D. How Meditation Changes the Structure of Your Brain. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-resilience/201502/how-meditation-changes-the-structure-your-brain

Seppälä, Emma, Ph.D. 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today

Shin, Lisa M, and Israel Liberzon. “The Neurocircuitry of Fear, Stress, and Anxiety Disorders.” Neuropsychopharmacology 35.1 (2010): 169–191. PMC. Web. 17 May 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3055419/

What Is Computer Vision Syndrome? http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/computer-vision-syndrome#2

Mindvalley Academy

Mindvalley Academy

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4 Comments

  • I love how simple these meditation exercises are. It makes meditation feel very approachable. Anxiety and depression are reaching epidemic proportions. It’s good to have these helpful tools that can really make a difference.

  • Elle,

    Seems we had the same idea for a blog this week! 🙂 Mindfulness is SO effective for anxiety and depression. I think doctors should be prescribing meditation, not medication. I especially like your two-minute meditation for peace. Good one.

    • I’d like to claim credit for being on the same page as you Debbie…but it was a complete surprise to me when MindValley send me this guest post! I do love the simple techniques they shared…so easy to incorporate into any life. 🙂

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