Have you ever wondered why meditation helps with anxiety? If so, scientific research has discovered the answers that explain the link between anxiety and meditation.
In my guide to the best meditations for anxiety I shared all the best methods to use. But today I would like to explain why meditation helps with anxiety. So let’s take a look at the scientific research in order to understand things.
Why Does Meditation Help Anxiety?
You might wonder “How can meditation help anxiety?” For me, meditation cured my anxiety, but I wanted to look into the reasons why.
After considerable research into various scientific studies, I’ve learned that there are a few keys reasons why meditation helps with anxiety.
Firstly, meditation gives us the ability to recognise anxious thoughts and to handle them in a logical and objective manner.
The University of Massachusetts Medical School studied the effects of mindfulness meditation for anxiety relief. 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. (4)
Essentially, when we are mindful of anxiety we are able to see it for it is: just an emotion. We can then tackle that emotion objectively. This explains why anxiety effects you less after you meditate.
It increases awareness of anxious thoughts.
We are often controlled by negative thoughts. And if we are not mindful these thoughts can greatly influence our emotions.
Mindfulness let’s us step back, identify anxious thoughts, and change them.
One scientific study looked at evidence from 39 difference studies to see the effect of mindfulness meditation for anxiety ( 5). This included people who had anxiety because they were living with cancer, people who suffered social anxiety, and people who had other forms of the condition. The study looked at 1140 participants in total. Researchers concluded that mindfulness meditation helps anxiety because it makes us more aware of thoughts.
Meditation reduces anxiety in the part of the brain that creates anxiety
Another reason why meditation helps anxiety is because it reduces activity in the amygdala.
A study at Stanford University showed the benefits of 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation for anxiety. 8 weeks mindfulness reduces activity in the amygdala (6). 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 reduces the symptoms of the condition.
Meditation helps because it reduces stress hormones
Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center conducted research on 89 patients to see the relationship between Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (a type of meditation) and anxiety. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction decreases stress-related hormones and cell-signaling proteins. This, the study authors state, shows that meditation is a healthy and effective way of treating anxiety (7).
It gives us more control of anxious thoughts
Researchers at the University of Baltimore looked into nearly 19,000 studies on meditation and anxiety. They discovered that meditaiton helps anxiety-sufferrs to understand different types of thoughts.
“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 [GAD] to understand the different types of thoughts and to respond to them accordingly.
Anxious people 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.
Meditation reduces anxiety because it changes the endocrine system
A recent study in March 2020 revealed that meditation helps anxiety because it changes the endocrine system.
Research conducted by Melbourne’s Victoria University and Belfast’s Queen’s University reveals shows that meditation improve our ability to self-manage anxiety, stress an depression because it positively influences the endocrine system.
The endocrine system is a “chemical messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organism directly into the circulatory system, regulating distant target organs”. [Wikipedia]
In the peer-review study, researchers found a relationship between the endocrine system and meditation. The results of the study were published in the journal Cell Press.
Chantal Ski, one of the authors on the paper, told THE DAILY MEDITATION “Through the comprehensive literature review, we found that there is a clear link between meditation and stress reduction. We focused on studies that analysed how meditation affected the endocrine system and a number of interconnected systems that regulate stress.
Meditation changes the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, a network of three glands located near our brains and kidneys. The hypothalamus regulates the growth of hormones via the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland creates the “fight or flight” response.
Above we have discussed why meditation helps anxiety, and the scientific reasons to explain it.
Meditation helps anxiety sufferers in many ways. Not only does it help with relaxation, it also improves awareness of thoughts and feelings.
What differences have you noticed since you started meditating?
There are also many other healthy ways to treat anxiety. Find out more here.
- Science has also revealed that yoga helps with panic attacks.