People with chronic anxiety aren’t anxious because of external events. Rather, they’ve developed a habit of fearful thinking that they can (and often do) apply to nearly any event, real or imagined. To overcome anxiety, you need tools that help you re-train your mind’s habits. One of those useful tools is mindfulness meditation.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness Meditation is a Western, non-religious, research-based form of meditation derived from a 2,500-year-old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. Vipassana, which means “to see things as they really are”, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. Practitioners pay attention to what’s going on in their body, their mind, and also what’s going on around them in the present moment. It’s non-judgmental. You invite and observe whatever pops up in your awareness without judging it.
What Are the Benefits?
The thoughts you think and how you perceive and respond to stimuli create neural pathways in your brain. When you constantly think worrying, anxious thoughts, the amygdala (the fear center of your brain) grow larger and more reactive, which leads to more worry, anxiety, and stress.
Several research studies have shown that meditation, and Mindfulness Meditation especially, helps people minimize the symptoms of both anxiety and depression1,2. It helps you relax and eliminate worrying about the future, but it does more than that.
Recent studies using neuroimaging techniques show that mindfulness meditation actually changes the function and structure of your brain – in good ways3. Your brain creates and strengthens different pathways that enhance calm and diminish fear and worry. It affects several parts of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, frontal and medial cortices, and more. Meditation helps you relax, focus better, it trains your attention, and enhances the capability to sustain non-judgmental awareness of one’s thinking patterns, emotions, and sensory perceptions. This awareness helps you gain distance from thoughts and emotions so that they become less powerful and compelling.
Mindfulness Meditation increases levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter essential for feeling happy and relaxed. It stimulates production of serotonin, another neurotransmitter vital to happiness. It also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol which significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and memory loss.
How Long? How Often?
For best results, it’s helpful to practice Mindfulness Meditation a little each day. However, you don’t have to meditate for an hour a day. studies show that people get benefits with just 5-10 minutes a day. And it’s better to just get in the habit, regardless of how long you do it. As you continue doing it, you can increase your sessions to 20 or 30 minutes a day.
The goal isn’t to not think any thoughts. The goal is to simply be aware of your thoughts and the present moment, observe the thoughts, then let them flow through and pass by. It’s best done sitting in a chair with your eyes closed, but you can do whatever works best for you. You don’t have to control your breathing – you just notice your natural breathing. When thoughts come, simply notice them, let them go, and focus on your breath again.
7 Guided Mindfulness Exercises
- 10-Minute Guided Mindfulness Meditation from The Honest Guys
- Jon Kabat-Zinn Guided Mindfulness Meditation
- Guided Mindfulness Meditation on the Present Moment
- 31-minute Guided Mindfulness Meditation with Jane Monica-Jones
- Guided Mindfulness Meditation on Overcoming Anxiety and Fear
- Jon Kabat-Zinn Guided Meditation – Mindfulness of Breath
- Mindfulness Guided Meditation – 5 Minutes
What do you think? Have you tried mindfulness meditation? Please share your experience in the comments below.