Anxiety is perhaps the number one problem that I help my students with in my meditation lessons.
What I find most interesting is the staggering amount of different ways in which people experience anxiety. There’s generalized anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety…
Thankfully, meditation can help with all these problems. And in this guide, I will show you how. I’ll start by discussing different types of meditation for anxiety, and then we will look at the science.
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Guided Meditation For Anxiety
- Sit with good posture, ideally on a chair. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Roll your shoulders back then let them relax. Tuck your chin down a little to elongate your neck.
- [Optional] Place your hands in Gyan mudra. To do this, touch the tips of your index fingers and thumbs together on each hand. Now place your hands on your thighs with the palms facing upwards.
- Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. Breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Repeat ten times.
- Focus your mind on the spot just beneath the middle of your nose. Mindfully observe your breath moving between this space. Observe the breath here for ten breaths.
- Now expand your awareness so you are aware of the breath moving through the spot just beneath your nose, in through your nostrils and your mouth, to the back of the throat. Mindfully watch your breath here for ten breaths.
- Expand your awareness again so you are aware of the entire breathing process. Continue breathing here for ten minutes. While you are doing this, you are promoting the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing amygdala activity, and balancing cortisol levels. All of this is helping you to relax.
- You should now feel calm and relaxed. Next, focus on the energy of calmness. What does it feel like in the body? What kind of energy do you feel? Observe that calm energy and meditate on it for ten minutes.
- Gradually open your eyes to a count of five, bringing the feeling of calmness with you.
This is the best meditation technique for anxiety. In my lessons Ive seen students go from being anxious to being calm in just 20 minutes using this very technique.
11 More Meditations To Try
There really isn’t such a thing as the best meditation for anxiety” because it’s so personal.
I recommend trying each of the meditations below and seeing the results you get. Some people find different methods more effective. So do take the time to try them and find the one that works for you.
1: Mindful Breathing
The ideal place to start is with a simple breathing meditation. Many experts like Jack Kornfield and Dr Oz. recommend this method.
A study published by the National Institute of Health in 2016 found that daily mindful breathing reduces anxiety and increases positive thoughts.
One of the best Buddhist meditations for anxiety is Vipassana.
In Vipassana, we label our emotions while meditating on the breath. For instance, if we are meditating on the breath when we suddenly feel worried, we tell ourselves “This is just a feeling.”
This method is advocated by the likes of Jack Kornfield [founder, Insight Meditation Society] and S.N.Goenka. It helps with both anxiety and depression because it makes us less reactive to our thoughts and emotions.
Research shows that a 10-day training program in vipassana meditation “may help mitigate psychological and psychosomatic distress.”
What I like most about Vipassana is that it trains us to realise that our thoughts are just thoughts and are not real. In my experience, that does wonders for anxiety.
3: Mindful Walking
Another good meditation for anxiety relief is Zen walking. This is a truly relaxing method that combines the relaxation of walking with the mental health benefits of mindfulness.
A trial published by the American Journal of Health found that ten minutes of mindfulness followed by a ten-minute walk reduced anxiety significantly better than a walk by itself, as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Questionnaire.
When you think sad thoughts, you become sad. When you think happy thoughts, you become happy. So, why not fill your mind with positive thoughts by doing a self-guided meditation.
“Self-guided” means you lead yourself through a visualisation that alleviates your symptoms. Basically, spend ten minutes thinking about a relaxing scene. Simple, right?
CalmClinic  states that “Visualisation is not an anxiety cure. What it is, is a relaxation strategy that makes it much easier for you to cope with your symptoms during periods of high stress.”
5 Guided Meditation
Yes, there may be some truth in what Andy Puddicombe of Headspace says: guided methods can sometimes be effective.
Research from the journal Behavioural Brain Research shows that there are indeed benefits of guided meditations. However, Harvard Medical School states that guided meditations for anxiety are not as effective as traditional methods.
Therefore, it may be best to stick with traditional methods unless you find them too difficult, in which case try a guided meditation for anxiety instead.
6 Body Scan
Arguably the most effective exercise for anxiety relief is “Body Scan“. This exercise reduces the physical symptoms of the condition by systematically relaxing the body. It was created by Jon Kabat Zinn as a fundamental aspect of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program [MBSR].
A study published on the National Institute of Health showed that women with breast cancer who used MBSR “experienced a significant improvement in sixteen psychosocial variables compared with [a control group].” And yes, anxiety was one of those variables.
What I like most about this method is that it helps me to stop reacting to physical sensations, such as tension in the chest.
- Breathe in for four counts. Hold for four. Then exhale for another four counts. Continue to breathe like this throughout the meditation.
- Say to yourself, “I am feeling anxious right now, but that it is okay. It is just a temporary feeling. It will pass.”
- Now begin to slowly move your conscious attention up and down your body, starting from the crown of your head and progressing down to your toes one step at a time. Take five breaths per body part (head, face, neck, upper body, stomach, lower back, shoulders, arms, hands, abdomen, legs, ankles, feet). As you breathe into these areas, ask them to relax.
- Tense your entire body. Notice the sensations. Then completely let go. Notice the feeling of letting go. Do this three times.
- Continue to breathe as described above. Then tell yourself, “I welcome relaxation and inner peace.”
Mindfulness involves focusing the mind 100% on the present moment. There are various ways to do this.
- Mindfully observe your breath (see #1 above)
- Mindfully listen to music
- Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings
Being mindful means living in the present moment. And like Lao Tzu says: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. But if you are at peace, you are living in the present moment.”
Focus on the present moment.
Anxiety.org  says, “Research has shown that mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety and depression. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision.”.
I personally believe that mindfulness is a good general solution that works for most people, but that other forms of meditation can be more effective for specific types of anxiety (fot instance, Metta is the best meditation for social anxiety).
This form of meditation originates from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, the father of philosophical Daoism. In Emptiness meditation, we meditate on nothingness. This creates a sense of space in the mind, which is very relaxing.
Pranayama refers to the way we breathe when we do yoga. It is a style of deep breathing that is coordinated with the movements of the body.
By meditating on the breath while doing yoga, we relax both the mind and the body.
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2013 revealed that students who practised pranayama for one semester significantly reduced their anxiety and improved their test results.
I recommend doing yoga and focusing on pranayama while you do it, but also doing at least one of the other methods on this list.
10 Mindful CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
You will certainly want to try Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT).
This style of therapy changes our thoughts.
Ben Martin, Psy.D. states, “Our unique patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving are significant factors in our experiences, both good and bad.” CBT is a way to change those thinking patterns.
MBCBT is an extension of cognitive-behavioural therapy. It uses specific strategies of thinking to change negative thoughts.
11: Loving Kindness
Loving kindness is good for anxiety relief if your worries involve other people. For instance, social or relationship anxiety.
The reason this is better than other methods is that it creates positive feelings about other people. It trains us to receive love from others and to give love too. This creates a sense of emotional support.
A 2015 study by Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine found that loving-kindness led to significant reductions in depression and anxiety, with less rumination of negative thoughts and an increase in positive emotions.
If you’d like to discover more about this method, I highly recommend reading the works of Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg.
The above methods have the most significant scientific research. However, as a meditation teacher, I do recommend that you also consider the following techniques.
- Transcendental Meditation
- Third Eye
- Kriya Yoga
- Tibetan singing bowls
- Apps like Calm and Headspace
- Kundalini Meditation (consult a professional teacher first)
- Inner Vision
- Internal Alchemy
- Qigong Meditation
- Falun Gong Meditation
- Contemplative Prayer
- Contemplation of Religious Teachings
- Binaural Beats
- Guided Imagery
- Nature Sounds
Bear in mind that different people will experience different results. In a 2020 study, Miguel Farias at Coventry University said that some people may experience worsening symptoms after meditation.
- Lifestyle changes (healthy eating and exercise)
- Stress management
Best meditation for Social anxiety?
When you have social anxiety, meditation techniques can help you to relax around other people so that you can enjoy better relationships.
The best techniques are ones in which we change the way we feel about other people. For instance, Loving Kindness [Metta] and Compassion [Karuna]. These help us to develop more compassionate relationships with others.
Stefan. G. Hoffman [Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University] conducted research  into the effect of Loving Kindness Meditation on social anxiety.
In his conclusion he wrote, “Adding an LKM component to traditional psychotherapy (such as CBT) that primarily targets negative emotions, might significantly enhance the efficacy of treating mood dysregulation, possibly by enhancing adaptive emotion regulation.
“We also predict that such a strategy might be beneficial for treating anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, generalised anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.”
Best meditation For relationship anxiety?
Similar to social anxiety, meditation can help us build better relationships by making us more compassionate towards other people.
Buddhist Metta and Karuna help because they train us to give and receive love and compassion from other people.
In his book Altered Traits, internationally renowned psychologist Dan Coleman explains that with Loving Kindness Meditation “You handle stress better, you’re calmer, you’re less triggered, and you recover more quickly.”
He goes on to explain that LKM leads to heightened compassion and empathy, which makes us more understanding of our significant others. In turn, this reduces the symptoms and effects of relationship anxiety.
For panic attacks?
Panic attacks are different to other forms of anxiety. They are about very heated feelings that come on out of nowhere.
In my experience, as someone who has personally used meditation for panic attacks, the best option is mindfulness and Mindful CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy].
Any technique that immediately brings you back into the present moment (such as mindfully holding an ice cube or taking a cold shower and meditating on the sensation of water on your body) are good options. Techniques like these can cut through the panic attack and snap you back into the present moment.
In School / Exams?
We all know how stressful school and university can be. Thankfully we can use guided meditation for school anxiety. One of the best ways to do this is to take mindful breaks.
One of the primary reasons for study anxiety when studying is that we cram the mind with too much information. This is like lifting too many weights at the gym. Studying too hard makes your mind ache. And just like your body, your brain needs a break.
For this reason, it’s better to stick to easy methods that let you relax and take a break, such as basic mindfulness.
When you feel stressed about exams, meditate on your breath. Simply close your eyes and take 108 mindful breaths. Do not listen to a guided meditation, which is just more noise. Your breath should be your guide.
If you are feeling pressure or you’re stressed, your mind is telling you that you need a break. And when the brain needs a break, it wants silence and stillness. So, stick with easy techniques.
Take some mindful breaths or do simple mindful exercises such as tai chi or yoga. This will also help to relax your body if you have been sitting for too long.
Meditation helps with anxiety primarily by reducing amygdala activity.
FMRI studies show that eight weeks of meditation reduces the activity of the amygdala. In turn, this reduces the “fight or flight” response. Plus, it makes us less reactive to stressful stimuli. Therefore, stressful events no longer cause anxiety attacks.
Finally, it creates clarity of mind. We can then change negative thoughts. For instance, by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison