Statistics show that the world is in the grips of an anxiety pandemic.
Approximately 40 million adults in the US suffer from anxiety each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That means there is a very good chance that either you yourself or someone you know will suffer anxiety.
The good news is that there is a solution.
Scientific research proves that meditation can cure anxiety. And it’s my job, as a meditation teacher, to show you how.
But first let me ask you a question:
Do you have anxiety?
Or are you trying to help someone with anxiety?
If it’s the latter, read my guide to helping someone with anxiety.
And if you yourself have anxiety, know this: there is a way out of this personal hell. This guide will lead you there.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a stress response to difficult situations that we encounter in life. When this anxiety is prolonged, it is called an anxiety disorder. (1)
There are tons of reasons you might get anxiety.:
- You might have social anxiety disorder
- Anxiety about work
- Anxiety about school exams or university
- Feeling anxious about an upcoming business meeting
- Being anxious about health concerns (even if there are no actual health concerns, such as in hypochondria)
- Some people even get anxiety from phone calls (phone phobia).
- And some people report getting anxiety for no reason at all.
Why do so many people have anxiety? Negativity Bias
Truth is, people are natural born worriers.
The statistics prove it.
25% of people live with anxiety at some point in their life. And absolutely everyone experiences worrying.
Just take a look at these shocking statistics:
- Anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting 18% of the population.
- 2.7% of the population experience panic attacks
- 6.8% of the population have social anxiety
- Anxiety is easily treated. But 2/3 adults do not receive any treatment
- Anxiety is usually caused by a chemical imbalance
- Women are more affected by anxiety than men
- Anxiety disorders are often caused by extended environmental stress
So what’s the deal?
Why do so many people have anxiety?
Scientific studies have shown that the human brain has evolved to have “negativity bias.” (2)
In other words, people think the worst rather than the best. We pay more attention to negative events and to threats than we do to positive events and opportunities.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? We have evolved to be a bunch of worriers.
Thing is, negativity bias served an important role in evolution.
Thousands of years ago man was consistently threatened by predatory animals. In order to survive, it was imperative that we be able to detect threats quickly. Therefore, our brain evolved to be able to find and recognise potential dangers.
Think about it:
Caveman one thinks, “there’s a T-Rex around the corner”. He feels anxious. But he checks for the T-Rex. So he survives.
Caveman two thinks, “this area is safe”. He feels confident. No anxiety at all. He doesn’t bother to check for a T-Rex. Chomp! He gets munched.
Millions of years ago people with anxiety might have survived for longer.
Flash forward millions of years.
Now we’re at the top of the food chain. But we still have negativity bias.
Evolution takes thousands of years. So even though we are no long threatened by predatory animals, our brains still looks for threats. This leads us to think negatively, which in turn makes us worry.
Do you have anxiety? Check these symptoms
It can be easy to confuse an anxiety disorder for plain old regular worrying.
If you are not sure whether you are suffering from anxiety and stress, ask yourself whether you are suffering from the following symptoms:
Symptoms of anxiety (3)
- Fearing what people are thinking
- Panic Attacks
- Sensation of being overwhelmed
- Suffering from numerous types of fear
- Too much self-awareness
- Sleep problems
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension
- Noises in your head
- Teeth grinding
Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety…
These are just a few of the symptoms of anxiety and stress.
If you are suffering from these symptoms, you might like to try using these techniques that beat stress.
Clinical research proves meditation stops anxiety
Scientific research has proven that one of the best treatments for anxiety is meditation.
Take a look at these studies.
The University of Massachusetts Medical School studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on people suffering from clinical anxiety. The study showed that mindfulness teaches us to recognise when we are experiencing troubling thoughts, and to then take steps to handle those thoughts in a healthy way. (2)
Another scientific study looked at evidence from 39 difference studies to see the effect of mindfulness on people with anxiety ( 3). This included people who had anxiety because they were living with cancer, people who suffered social anxiety, and people who had other forms of anxiety. The study looked at 1140 participants in total. Researchers concluded that mindfulness meditation helps people to observe their thoughts and to manage those thoughts, thereby helping them control anxiety.
A study at Stanford University showed that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation significantly reduced activity in the amygdala (4). Anxiety is often caused by greater reactivity in the amygdala region of the brain, which is the region that triggers fear. By reducing activity in this area, mindfulness reduced the symptoms of anxiety.
Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center conducted research on 89 patients suffering from Generalized Anxiety. They found that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction led to a decrease of stress-related hormones and cell-signaling proteins. This, the study authors state, shows that meditation is a healthy and effective way of treating anxiety (5).
Researchers at the University of Baltimore looked into nearly 19,000 studies of meditation and concluded that mindfulness meditation can significantly ease stress and anxiety.
“People who suffer from anxiety can’t tell the difference between nagging worry and problem-solving thought,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders. People who suffer from unproductive worrying tend to think in terms of negative consequences, for example, “I’ll be late and lose my job,” instead of thinking, “How can make sure I get to work in time so I keep my job?”
Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) helps patients with generalised anxiety disorder to understand the different types of thoughts and to respond to them accordingly.
People with anxiety tend to give negative thoughts too much attention. They believe their thoughts control reality. For instance, they believe that if they are thinking they’ll lose their job, they really will lose their job. Mindfulness meditation helps these individuals to distinguish thoughts from reality.
These and numerous other studies prove that we most definitely can use mindfulness and meditation for anxiety. And if you don’t mind paying, Transcendental Meditation is another option.
How does meditation help anxiety?
Anxiety is the brain’s response to stressful situations. Our minds have learnt, over the years, to respond to certain stimuli by creating anxiety.
Let’s say you have a dentists appointment tomorrow. You don’t like the dentist–honestly, who does? So you’re sitting up at night worrying about going to the dentist tomorrow.
In your mind are all sorts of thoughts and imaginings. You may see a certain vision of the dentist or imagine feeling pain in your teeth, or you may simply say to yourself “It’s going to hurt.” These are all mental patterns–things that habitually occur in our minds.
When you learn to meditate you learn to take control of these thoughts and imaginings.
The way to do is to achieve good mental hygiene. This is when the mind has no dirty thoughts (or negative thoughts) and is pure and clean.
Meditation gives you the control to say “This [anxiety] is just a thought.”
Once you realise that your anxiety is just in your mind, you can take control of it.
Meditation works as a brain management system. When you meditate you learn to take control of what’s going on in your mind and you learn to eliminate the causes of anxiety.
Sometimes, all you need to cure anxiety is a few minutes of silence (internal and external silence)
Mistakes To Avoid
I want you to be successful in using meditation to cure anxiety.
With that in mind let me give you a friendly warning.
There is one mistake that a lot of people make when they try meditation. They make instant demands.
If you go into meditation expecting to immediately be revolutionized and to feel absolutely amazing within the first twenty minutes, you are going to fail.
When you practice meditation you might be surprised by the results. Your meditation practice might be different to how you expected. That is fine.
The key to success is trusting the techniques.
You have to allow meditation to take you where it will. When you fight, you just add to your anxiety.
When you simply sit and meditate without fighting, you allow nature to take its own course, to correct problems in its own way.
Let go of expectations.
Meditation will create very positive results, but those results might not take the exact course you expected. Trust in your practice and it will work for you.
Now, let’s look at the best meditation techniques for anxiety.
The Best Meditations For Anxiety
Meditation is one of the best forms of self help for anxiety. But which meditation technique should you start with?
Here’s the good news: virtually all traditional meditation techniques will help with anxiety.
However, there are a handful of meditation techniques that are particularly useful for anxiety.
1. Breathing meditations for anxiety
My readers know that I always start with breathing meditations.
Breathing meditations are simple and very effective. They calm the mind and produce inner peace. They help us to escape anxiety.
No Panic is one of the most helpful anxiety blogs in the world. They state,
If you find that your breathing pattern is irregular or uncomfortable a lot of the time, the best way to reset it is by exercising. Start of gradually and check with your doctor if you are not used to exercise.
Try these deep breathing exercises for anxiety
Deep breathing exercises for anxiety 1: Measured Breathing
- Stand or sit comfortably with good posture.
- Relax your knees and hands and drop your shoulders. Let your jaw relax.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose while counting to four.
- Let the air fill your stomach, breathing deep.
- At the end of the inhalation hold the breath for a short moment.
- Staying relaxed, gradually allow the air to release through your nose
Deep breathing exercises for anxiety 2: Humming breath
This breathing technique is a bit like mindfulness meditation in the sense that you focus absolutely on your breathing while doing it. You’ll also be humming quietly. This is one of best breathing techniques for anxiety relief.
- Stand or sit with good posture, relaxed jaw, relaxed shoulder, relaxed knees.
- Place your thumbs lightly over your ears and your fingers over your eyes.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- Exhale while humming quietly.
- Focus on the sound of the humming. Allow the humming to be the only thing in your mind (meditate on it).
- Breathe out slowly and repeat ten times.
Deep breathing exercises for anxiety #3: Diaphragm Breathing
This is the most commonly used breathing technique for anxiety and arguably the most effective (though I recommend trying all three).
- Stand or sit with good posture.
- Relax shoulders, knees, neck, etc.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- Allow the air to fill your stomach. You will feel your chest rising a little.
- You may find it helpful to place a hand over your stomach and visualize the air filling deep down into your stomach.
- Exhale through your mouth, your lips pursed and your tongue and jaw relaxed.
- Repeat ten times.
Breathing Techniques for Anxiety 4: Alternative Nostril Breathing
Alternative nostril breathing is another great exercise for relieving stress and anxiety.
To do this exercise:
1. Close one nostril with a hand and breathe in through the other nostril.
2. Change your fingers so the first nostril is now closed and the other nostril open.
3. Breathe out through the second nostril (the nostril that was closed when you breathed in).
4, Breathe in again through this same nostril then repeat the process.
2: Smiling Buddha Technique
Smiling Buddha technique is a moderately advanced technique that is best for people who have at least a little experience with meditation.
As you’ve probably guessed, “Smiling Buddha” is all about creating happiness.
This technique involves a combination of mudras (hand position) and mantras (repeated words) to create deep relaxation and happiness.
Vanessa is a leading expert in anxiety and depression. Writing for OvercomingYourAnxiety, she says,
Smiling can reduce stress – and it’s even more effective when your eyes smile too! Nobody is quite sure how exactly facial expressions are related to a person’s underlying mood, but researchers have found a definite connection.
Read my free guide to Smiling Buddha Technique.
3: Zen Walking Meditation
I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that when you’re feeling down, a nice long walk helps.
A walk gives you the chance to escape and allows you to clear your mind.
The only thing better than a walk is a Zen walking.
In Zen Walking you walk up and down a path while meditating on the sense of movement. This allows you to get some fresh air (important for anxiety), to clear your mind and to find relaxation.
Read my guide to Zen Walking.
4: A Relaxing Visualisation
When you think happy thoughts you become happy.
Scientific research proves that positivity makes you healther. It makes you healthier both physically and mentally.
When you think sad thoughts you become sad. When you think thoughts that make you anxious, you become anxious.
One of the best ways to take control of your anxiety is by controlling what’s in your mind. And one of the best ways to do that is be using visualisation meditation.
Visualisation meditation is one of the more advanced meditation techniques because it integrates the imagination into the process.
Essentially, visualisation can be defined like this: imagining specific things to produce specific results.
Try this visualization:
- Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing
- Take ten deep breaths.
- Imagine standing at a beach.
- See the blue water reaching out in front of you.
- Heart the gentle swoosh of the waves.
- Feel the refreshing air on your skin and face.
- Feel the warm sand on your feet
- Smell the fresh air.
- Imagine casting out any negative thoughts. The thoughts low out of your mind into the blue sea.
- Watch as the thoughts vanish into the distance.
An alternative form of visualisation is self hypnosis. If you’re interested, take a look at my guide to using self hypnosis to cure anxiety. You’ll find it below.
5. Body Scan
In body scan meditation we focus on the sensations occurring in the body.
For instance, one of the classic symptoms of anxiety is cold hands or feet and heart palpitations.
As someone with anxiety, when you feel anxiety coming on you might panic. But controlling that initial panic is half the battle. With body scan meditation you learn to recognise the very early stages of an upcoming panic attack. You can then take steps to cut-off the anxiety before it becomes an issue.
Take a look at my free guide to body scan meditation.
6. Mindfulness For Anxiety
Scientific research has proven that mindfulness is one of the best ways how to handle anxiety naturally, provided it’s done correctly.
Mindfulness involves focusing the mind 100% on the present moment.
There are various ways to do this.
- You can mindfully observe your breath (see #1 above)
- You can mindfully listen to music
- You can mindfully observe your thoughts
Mindfulness has been shown to be immensely helpful in treating anxiety and panic attacks and helping many other mental health areas.
Like Lao Tzu says:
Living in the present moment is called being mindful. And new scientific research has proven that mindfulness:
- Helps in the treatment of social anxiety disorder
- Helps prevent relapse in those suffering from major depressive disorder
Try this Simple Mindfulness Exercise For Anxiety
- Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed for twenty minutes
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Specifically, focus on your breath coming and going between the space between your nose and lips.
- While focusing on this spot, be aware of any thoughts or feelings entering your mind. Do not dwell on these thoughts and feelings, do not resist them, do not encourage them, simply observe them, as though you were a mere onlooker to your own mind.
- If at any time you feel yourself losing focus or becoming absorbed in your thoughts, return your focus to the spot between your nose and mouth.
Practice this exercise for twenty minutes and you will notice significant improvements in your anxiety symptoms.
- You might also like to read our guide to using meditation for depression.
I suffered social anxiety for years. I used to get red in the face chatting to just about anyone. Then I started using this meditation for social anxiety.
The first step to overcoming social anxiety with meditation is done somwhere private. Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed for twenty minutes.
1) Focus your mind on your breathing. Specifically, focus on your breath moving in and out of the region between your nose and your mouth. Do this for five minutes. You will find that you are very relaxed after five minutes of breathing meditation.
2) Now think about a social situation in which you would feel anxious. Try to focus lightly on this imaginary situation. (You can use #4 above for this).
3) Notice the thoughts and feelings that come to mind. You may find certain images or sounds entering your mind. These mental sensations will be related to your anxiety. You are going to eliminate these mental sensations, thereby lessening the symptoms of social anxiety.
4) When you notice a mental thought or feeling, image or sound, observe it in a passive way. Imagine the thought is happening to someone else. Now say to yourself, “This is just a thought, it is not real.”
5) Continue this exercise for twenty minutes, focusing on your breathing and reminding yourself that any thoughts you experience are only thoughts.
How To Overcome Social Anxiety with Meditation STEP 2
The next step repeats the process. But this time it is done in a social situation.
- Go somewhere where there are other people around you
- Spend a few minutes observing your breath
- As you interact with other people, observe your thoughts and feelings.
- Every time you feel anxiety tell yourself, “This is only in my mind, it is not real” then focus on your breathing for a moment. This will relax you and completely eliminate your social anxiety.
Recommended Reading: The Mindful Way Through Anxiety
In The Mindful Way Through Anxiety, psychologists Susan M. Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer introduce mindfulness and reveal how you can use mindfulness to stop anxious feelings before they escalate, and to stop fear and worry.
This is a beautifully presented book full of great tips and insight. THE DAILY MEDITATION highly recommends it.
8. Pratyhara Yoga
Anxiety is often caused by the negative information you take into your mind.
For instance, anxiety can be caused by:
- Watching negative news stories
- Playing violent games
- Watching violent movies
- Spending too much time with negative people
Pratyahara yoga targets these sources of negativity.
When we do Pratyahara yoga, we remove sources of negativity from our lives, and we increases sources of positivity.
This can have a tremendous effect on anxiety.
Read my guide to Pratyahara Yoga for more on this.
9. Use mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy
An alternative type of meditation for anxiety is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT)
MBCBT is an extension of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a method of using specific strategies of thinking in order to change negative thoughts.
10. Also use these herbs for anxiety
If you are a natural health enthusiast, you might like to boost your meditation practice by using anxiety.
Recent systematic review of studies, completed by the GNIF (Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation) have shown that natural remedies for anxiety and herbs for anxiety offer effective treatment without serious side effects (6).
These are the best herbal remedies for anxiety.
B Complex is one of the best natural remedies for anxiety. According to the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, B Complex is essential for “stress management, neurotransmitter balance and energy production”. The best supplement for anxiety are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. It’s best to find a B Coimplex that includes all 8 of these essential vitamins.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA):
GABA is known to produce a calming effect on the brain that is similar to the effect of Xanax and Valium. GABA is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that helps to relieve anxiety by preventing neurons firing that create stress and anxiety. GABA is produced naturally but can also be found in supplement form. It is advised to take 200 – 600 milligrams of GABA each day (7).
According to a study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, Magnesium, when combined with Crataegus Oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia (Everygreen Hawthorn and California Poppy) is more effective at treating anxiety than placebos. It is also a highly effective way of dealing with muscle tension. It does also result in loose stool, however and has been known to interfere with other medications. It is recommended to take 200 to 300 milligrams daily.
One of the best herbs for anxiety is Passionflower.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics (8), Passionflower is one of the best natural rememedies for anxiety when 45 drops are taken daily. It is very effective at relieving the symptoms of anxiety and is not known to have any serious side effects, though it can cause drowsiness if used in conjunction with antidepressants.
Relora is a comination of extracts from Amur Corktree and Magnolia Bark. It is used frequently in traditional Chinese medicine. Magnolia Bark is believed to help relieve stress because it contains the compounds honokiol and Magnolol. Be certain to consult a doctor before taking Relora, especially when pregnant.
The Rescue Remedy was created by Edward Bach, a British physician, and was intended to be used to relieve acute emotional stress.
Rescue Remedy is a combination of Clematis, Star of Bethlehem, Impatiens, Cherry Plum and Rock Rose. It is effective at treating shock, inattentiveness, irritation, impatience, irrational thoughts and panic attack.
Valerian is a mild sedative which is very effective in treating insomnia but is also a natural remedy for anxiety, agitation, stress, muscle tension, mental strain and muscle spasms.
Research has shown that Valerian can be an effective a treatment for anxiety (9). It is not known to have any serious side effects though it is advised to avoid the herb if you have liver disease or if taking antidepressants or drugs that depress the central nervous system.
The highest rated supplement for anxiety
At the time of writing this guide, the highest rated anxiety supplement on Amazon was Ashwagandha.
The company calls it an “all-natural 1000mg root powder helps your body adapt to stress faster and experience natural levels of relief, providing you with a zen-state relaxation without any harsh side effects.”
The reviews are seriously impressive: 4.6 out of 5 from 733 reviews. I’m sold.
11. An alternative to meditation for anxiety is self-hypnosis
Self hypnosis is a very practical and healthy way to cure anxiety.
Self hypnosis is all about using the power of suggestion in order to influence your subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind is the most powerful part of your mind and is millions of times more powerful than your conscious mind. If you’re interested in curing anxiety by using your mind, I highly recommend you read my guide to subconscious mind power.
Self hypnosis is used a lot in modern hypnotherapy. And it has been used to cure anxiety, as well as to improve pain management, to cure depression, to relieve sleep disorders, and to combat obesity and other common health conditions.
People who are well practiced in self hypnosis also use it to improve concentration, memory, and cognitive function.
But before you use self hypnosis for anxiety, there are three things you need:
1. Motivation: The first time you use self hypnosis it will require patience. Make sure you have the motivation to do it properly.
2. Relaxation: You want to make sure that you are relaxed before you start. So you can either choose a time when you’re already relaxed (use the breathing meditations we looked at above).
3. Concentration: You will need to focus when you do the self hypnosis for anxiety. So try to get rid of any distractions before starting.
The Right Attitude to use self hypnosis
Before you use self hypnosis to cure anxiety, it is important that you have the right attitude.
Now obviously, if this is the first time that you have ever tried hypnosis, you may be a little skeptical. You might wonder just how on Earth hypnosis will help your anxiety.
Hey, I totally understand.
It’s always best to be a little skeptical before trying something. That’s just natural.
Let me ask you a favor. For the next ten minutes, just go with an open mind.
That is why it is often best to try self hypnosis twice.
The very first time you try self hypnosis, just learn the process. Don’t be too obsessed with immediate results the first time around. That will put too much pressure on you. It will actually stop you from succeeding.
The first time around, just try it out. Have fun. Be relaxed. You’re learning a new technique. Just like learning an instrument. You don’t pick up piano and play Rackmaninov’s 2nd Concerto the first time around. The first time around you have fun, try to play “Chopsticks” and soon hit the wrong key. But the next time you do it you play it better and soon you have it mastered. Same deal here.
First time: be relaxed and experiment.
Second time: take it seriously.
How to use hypnosis to cure anxiety
*** try this exercise now to get to grips with it, then again later when you have more time. ***
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with good posture and a straight back. Close your eyes and focus on your breath for five minutes (meditating). Then begin to meditate on your body and focus on the sensation of your body relaxing. Continue until you feel relaxed.
- Imagine the most relaxing scene you can think of. Maybe it’s a beach or a waterfall, maybe it’s floating above the clouds. . . it doesn’t matter where so long as it is very relaxing (use the visualization from step #4 above if you like).
- Imagine that you are stepping into your imaginary scene. Gradually enter further into the scene. Use your senses. Look at details of the scene. Imagine any scents. Imagine the feeling of the relaxing air on your body and so on.
- Count from one to ten, imagining that with each count you step more into the scene. You are heading towards the most relaxing part of the scene, a special place full of calm and relaxation. As you count, tell yourself that you are feeling more and more relaxed.
- Now establish a “Trigger”. In order for you to be able to recall the sensation of peace and relaxation you need to create a trigger. To do this, say a line to yourself that expresses how you are feeling. For instance, “I am at total peace. I am safe, happy and comfortable.” Use your own words but find a short line that describes how you feel. Say that line to yourself.
- As soon as you finish the line, pinch yourself on either hand on the flabby piece of skin just up from the thumb. re
- Repeat your line to yourself.
- Now exit the scene.
There are lots of natural and healthy ways of stopping anxiety.
Scientific research proves that we can most definitely use meditation for anxiety. And in my experience, the meditation we’ve looked at above are the best meditations for anxiety.
Self hypnosis, natural herbs, and other strategies can help too.
Anxiety is a personal thing. Different strategies seem to work for different people.
Which anxiety technique works for you?
Leave a comment.