Meditation for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression: How-To, Tips, and More
An estimated 31 percent of adults in the United States have fear at some point in their life. But with (* gestures by and large *) that number almost feels weirdly low.
Anxiety comes in a variety of packs – but there are more ways to deal with it. Meditation is a fantastic (and often free!) Way to take control of anxiety. Let’s examine how this ancient practice works.
Meditation is an ancient practice to train your mind to break away from the not-so-good vibrations, and to focus your mind on your body and breath. It reduces worry and restores balance, calm, and focus.
Meditation lovers refer to it as a practice. Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it?
Know your meditation jargon
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
- This is a popular 8-week group program that combines mindfulness and yoga to connect your breath with your body, release anxious thoughts, and reduce stress.
- It introduces the participants to the idea of ”mindfulness” and alternates between focus and awareness in order to identify thought patterns and tensions within themselves.
- Programs like this can be found in health centers around the world. In addition to fighting stress and anxiety, it is also used to treat health conditions such as immune disorders, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- A narrator or teacher orally guides you through a meditation session.
- You can find this in apps like Headspace and Calm.
- Ideal for beginners who are just beginning to explore meditation.
Transcendental Meditation® (TM®)
- The goal here is to go deep or transition into a state of relaxation, or at least a state of restful alertness.
- You sit still with your eyes closed and repeat a mantra in your head for 20 minutes. When intrusive thoughts come in, return to the mantra.
- Mantras are given by certified teachers in a sacred process.
- This form of meditation was catapulted into mainstream culture by GOOP, Oprah, Howard Stern, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Meditation as a stress reliever: TTYL, stress!
A 2014 review of studies involving more than 3,500 adults confirms the anecdotal chatter that meditation programs actually reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and even pain.
The stress hormone cortisol activates cytokines (chemicals that cause inflammation) that disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, and fog up your brain.
It turns out that meditation – specifically MBSR – can be the antidote. In a small 2013 study, participants who did MBSR for 8 weeks showed a less significant inflammatory response to stress than participants who participated in other health-promoting activities.
Wonder if * your * stress is too legitimate to ever really stop? Research suggests that meditation has a greater impact on people with high levels of anxiety compared to other forms of treatment.
How Meditation Reduces Anxiety
A review of about 600 studies suggests that the TM® technique reduces anxiety and is most effective for people with the highest levels of anxiety. People with chronic and severe anxiety showed a 40% decrease in anxiety and still felt the good mood 3 years later.
But don’t count out MBSR. Research suggests that just one session could be significantly better than regular stress management training for reducing anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder.
Research with MRI scans suggests that the amygdala – the part of your brain responsible for emotional perception – actually shrinks, thickens, and is better able to fight off fear in response to meditation. Aren’t brains great ?!
How meditation relieves symptoms of depression
When you or someone you are close to is dealing with depression, you know that finding the right combination of therapies, medications, and good habits can be difficult. Meditation is a helpful tool at any stage of the depression journey.
A review of studies involving more than 12,000 participants found that meditation is comparable to traditional, evidence-based options like cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants. Meditation was stronger than minimal treatments, placebo groups, one-time psychological treatments, or no treatment than any other.
Ready to try meditation? Here is an example to start with:
- Find a comfortable sitting position in a chair or on the floor with your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes.
- Scan your body for tension and sensation. How do your feet feel on the floor? How does your back feel against the chair?
- Next, turn your attention to your breath. Notice that your body inhales and exhales. Don’t try to change your breath – just watch.
- Your mind may start wandering – that’s fine. When you feel your focus shift, pull it back into your breath.
- When your fear starts to bubble, let it go. Acknowledge each fearful thought, then let go of it and return to your breath.
- After 10 minutes, start wiggling your fingers and toes, awakening your body as you step back into the present moment.
- Finally, open your eyes. Take stock of how you are feeling physically and mentally. Don’t judge, just watch.
Ready to go all-in with meditation? These are some solid starters:
If you’ve already become obsessed with yoga with Adriene …
Begin your meditation practice with something familiar: your 14-minute anxiety meditation.
When you have 15 minutes and need to escape the rat race …
This guided meditation from the Breathe People podcast is designed to help combat anxiety, stress, and burnout.
When you have 30 minutes to kill and you really need to clean the house …
This full-service anxiety and stress meditation from Mindful can help you get back to earth.
When your fear builds up and you have to go away …
Listen to this 8 minute meditation and emerge from the hall closet / bathroom stand / parked car as the centered badass that you are.
When your fear rages and you need to fall asleep, like now …
Here is a three hour session (with the occasional 2.5 million views) to help you get into dreamland.
Meditation is an ancient practice to train your mind to detach yourself from everyday stress and at the same time to increase awareness and focus. And while it helps after a really shitty day, meditation should be practiced consistently.
Several major medical research suggests that meditation- and mindfulness-based therapies are effective in reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Meditation triggers physical changes in your brain and changes your body’s response to stress. So it can be as effective as many drugs.
Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable (or free) meditation apps and other digital resources out there. Let’s get zen out!