Here’s How to Use Meditation for Anxiety and Restore Your Inner Calm


How 2 Minutes of Meditation a Day Can Totally Change Your Life

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A rise in anxiety

We are living through stressful times, and many of us are finding solace in our daily meditation practice.

There is a lot to be anxious about given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the influx of new and possibly more infectious strains, and the constant bombardment of news on the subject. About four in 10 adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, which is up from one in 10 before the virus radically altered our lives and lifestyles, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

And many of the hundreds of thousands of people who had Covid-19 are still feeling anxious even six months later, a recent study in Lancet Psychiatry reports. Sometimes there is a trigger, but other times anxiety can come on seemingly out of nowhere, leaving you blindsided.

“Anxiety is worry about the future, and mindfulness of or any type of meditation is about focusing on the present moment so you get some distance from those thoughts,” says Neda Gould, PhD, director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

What is anxiety?

More than just thinking that the sky is falling, anxiety also causes physical symptoms, some of which can be really scary.

Your heart can race, your breath can quicken to the point of hyperventilation, you may start to sweat or shake, and you can experience gastrointestinal problems. That’s why it’s called a nervous stomach.

Anxiety jumpstarts your sympathetic nervous system, which releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol that can increase heart rate and blood pressure, but meditation can teach your body and brain how to hit pause on this response and tap into your inner calm, Gould says.

A review of 41 trials including 2,993 participants showed that mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, helped reduce anxiety, depression, and perceived stress/general distress. The study appears in AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews. Mindfulness involves paying close attention to what you are feeling in the moment.

Next time you get a breaking news alert with not-so-good news, consider taking a mindfulness break.

A recent study by researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina found that one 15-minute online mindfulness session reduced in-the-moment anxiety, stress, and Covid-19 concern among people who are fearful about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom had never tried mindfulness before. The research appears journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine.

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Types of meditation for anxiety

Mindfulness is one type of meditation that has proved to help with anxiety, but there are many others.

Movement meditation involves moving through various positions with a mindful or slow pace. (Think yoga, tai chi, or even just going for a walk.) Another popular type of meditation, transcendental meditation, calls for repeating a personalized mantra over and over and is practiced 20 minutes twice a day.

Appreciation-based meditations can be powerful anxiety remedies, says Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer at Healthy Minds Innovations and a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Appreciation is simply the skill of orienting the mind to something positive in oneself, in another person, or in one’s environment,” he explains. “Since anxiety gets our mind laser-focused on the negative, appreciation can bring in a broader perspective.”

How to practice mindfulness and appreciation-based meditation

Before you practice any type of meditation, it’s important to find a quiet place and a comfortable position (whether it’s sitting, standing, or lying down). The goal is to be free of distractions and potential interference from family, friends, roommates, or pets.

Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, calming breaths. Notice the sounds in your environment and how your body feels, says Dahl. Bring different people or situations to mind and notice one positive thing about each.

“You can even imagine expressing appreciation and what that would feel like to another person to be truly seen and valued,” he says.

“Combining mindfulness and appreciation in this way activates a constellation of brain circuits that promote resilience and emotional well-being,” Dahl says. “Over time, by activating these same circuits repeatedly through short moments of mindfulness and appreciation, it gets easier and easier to shift from overwhelm and anxiety to inner calm and a positive outlook.”

(These 8 mini meditations may also relieve stress and anxiety.)

Like anything else, cultivating a meditation practice takes time. If you tack it on to an existing routine, it is more likely to stick, he says. There are free apps and courses that can teach you the ropes and give you a feel for the various types of practices.

How long should you meditate to reap benefits?

“We don’t know the magic number of how long you need to practice meditation to reap these benefits,” Gould says. “It depends on the severity of the anxiety but, in some individuals, meditation can have a similar benefit as an antidepressant or antianxiety medication.”

See how meditation makes you feel. the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health points out that meditation could cause or worsen anxiety and depression.

“Over time most people find it helps them feel calmer and more focused, and it does get easier over time,” says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center in Los Angeles and the author of The Little Book of Being.

The biggest sign that you’re “doing it right” is how it impacts your life. Do you feel calmer in the day, less reactive? Is it positively impacting your relationships? Is it supporting you? If you answer yes then you are doing it “right.”

(Learn more about the science-backed benefits of meditation.)

When to see a doctor

What’s the best way to manage anxiety? Sometimes meditation is not enough to truly reduce your anxiety, Gould notes.

“There is anxiety, and then there are anxiety disorders that occur when the anxiety is impairing or interfering with your daily activities in some capacity,” she says. In these cases, medication and/or counseling may also be helpful and necessary.

There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that meditation can help with anxiety in addition to other health benefits. Give it a try and see how it makes you feel, but if it is not enough and your anxiety is getting in the way of doing the things you want and need to do, talk to a therapist to see if you could be doing more to alleviate your fears.

Next, learn how to use morning meditation to start your day.

Pinpointing what’s behind a stomachache can be hard, but pain in the lower abdominal area could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, says Steven Fleisher, MD, chief of gastroenterology and director of interventional endoscopy at the Center for Digestive Disease at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Waking up with some stomach pain in the morning is probably your digestive system trying to kick-start after a night of sleeping, but a trip to the bathroom should help. “The hallmark is that once you get to the bathroom and are able to have a bowel movement, typically the pain or discomfort is relieved as part of the process,” he says.

Because stomachaches are such a vague symptom, calling a medical expert could help you figure out if you need to worry. (Or visit your doctor or head to an urgent-care center, especially if the pain is more severe.) Depending on factors like the location and sensation of your pain, a doctor can advise whether you should go to the ER, make an appointment with your primary care doc, or start with some at-home treatments, says Jonathan Cohen, MD, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone School of Medicine and partner at Concorde Medical Group in New York City. “There’s no downside to calling your general doctor and talking it over,” he says: “Doctors, by asking a few questions, can help make a better, smarter decision as to whether it’s an alarm.” Definitely call your doctor immediately if your pain is severe, basic remedies don’t help, you have bloody diarrhea or vomit, or being sick is making you lightheaded, Dr. Fleisher says. Don’t miss this guide to what 7 different stomach pains mean.

Fear food poisoning? If you ate at a restaurant, you might hear on the news that others got sick too. Check-in with your family or anyone else you ate dinner with to see if they’re feeling symptoms like stomach pain in the morning the next day. “Often, more than one person will be afflicted,” says Dr. Fleisher.

There are a few factors to consider when deciding if you should call in sick. If the stomach pain is nothing new (even if it’s a bit worse than usual) or OTC medications seem to be working, you could probably handle a day in the office. But if the stomachache feels atypical or could be a symptom of the stomach flu, take the day off. “If pain is sudden and out of the blue, that should give one pause,” says Dr. Fleisher. “Especially it’s severe, you might want to check in with your provider before heading in to work.” And make sure you keep an eye out for these 15 signs your upper abdominal pain is an emergency.

No need to skip breakfast if a stomachache is your only symptom and the thought of eating doesn’t make you queasy. Getting something in your stomach could help ease any tummy troubles, says Dr. Cohen. But hold off on your usual greasy egg sandwich, says David Greenwald, MD, director of clinical gastroenterology and endoscopy at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Stick to things that are more bland or simple to digest,” he says. He suggests avoiding foods that are bad for digestion by spreading toast with jelly instead of oily butter and swapping out complex multigrain dry cereals for simple oatmeal.

If acid reflux is causing some belly issues like stomach pain in the morning, consider cutting down or, even better, cutting out. Caffeine is a double whammy in people with digestive issues, says Dr. Fleisher. For one thing, it can relax pressure on the valve between the esophagus and stomach, making it easier for the acid to splash back up. Plus, it makes the intestine work harder, which could lead to diarrhea, he says. If you think coffee could be the culprit, try eliminating it for a week, suggests Dr. Greenwald. “The only way to know is to limit it for a defined period of time and see if the symptoms get better,” he says. “It’s hard to say ‘don’t do it forever,’ but it’s easy to do for a week.” That said, if you’re constipated and bloated, caffeine is just one of the many foods that act like a natural laxative. It helps things move along naturally so you can get relief from a bathroom break quicker, says Dr. Cohen. These are the 10 pain symptoms you should never ignore, including stomach aches.

Exercise helps digestive problems, so following through with your morning workout could actually relieve those tummy issues, says Dr. Fleisher. Just don’t push your body if the pain makes movement unbearable. “You would want to exercise only if you were able to have the pain somewhat relieved before embarking on anything strenuous,” he says. If the pain isn’t going away, hold off on physical activity until you know what’s wrong and can treat it.

Look to OTC medications for some relief. Dr. Fleisher recommends going straight for proton-pump inhibitors—or the “big guns,” as he calls them. PPIs such as Prilosec or Nexium reduce acid by blocking acid production in the stomach. As long as you take them for only ten to 14 days, “they are probably pretty safe and probably most effective, and give you the most bang for your buck,” he says. Reach for PPIs when the pain is primarily a burning/heartburn type of pain. Stop taking the medication and talk to your doctor if you get side effects like diarrhea, worsened stomach pain, or muscle cramping.

The OTC anti-gas drug simethicone, in name brands like Gas-X and Phazyme, can ease your stomachache when you’re feeling gassy. “It basically just bursts bubbles,” says Dr. Greenwald. “So if you get a glass of water with a bunch of bubbles, it breaks up the bubbles, and it basically does the same thing in your stomach.” Because your body doesn’t absorb simethicone, the medication doesn’t have any common side effects, so you can use it four times a day without concern, he says. Here’s what your right side abdominal pain could mean for your health.

For an OTC option that isn’t so severe, give an antacid a try. “They are probably going to take the edge off of some symptoms and give some immediate relief,” says Dr. Fleisher. But they’re targeting the symptom, not any underlying condition, so talk to your doctor if the pain doesn’t get better.

Peppermint oil, ginger, and turmeric could ease your pain if you’re dealing with gas and bloating. “They help the stomach empty and help food absorption,” says Dr. Cohen. If your problems are from acid reflux, though, peppermint could actually make your symptoms worse, warns Dr. Greenwald. Taking enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules can calm the stomach without causing reflux. Also, contrary to what you might think, ginger ale for upset stomach actually doesn’t work either! Here are 9 more natural stomach ache remedies you can try.

A heating pad can help relieve a stomachache, especially if it’s from severe IBS pain, says Dr. Fleisher. Consider replacing an old-fashioned water bottle, which can get too hot and burn your skin if you’re not careful, with a newer model. “Microwavable bean bags are proving quite effective in milder situations where we have oftentimes chronic pain in the form of IBS,” he says. Don’t miss these 21 other health secrets your gut is trying to tell you.

12/12 SLIDES

The post Here’s How to Use Meditation for Anxiety and Restore Your Inner Calm appeared first on The Healthy.

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