Overcoming Anxiety with Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety is a very normal part of human existence.

Whether you’re applying for a job or speaking in front of a group, chances are you’ve experienced some form of anxiety in your life.

In mild cases you may experience an increase in heart rate and breathing, this is to direct the blood into your brain in order prepare you for the intense task at hand.

However, in cases of severe anxiety, you will begin to feel dizzy and lightheaded which, if left to persist on its own, may wreak havoc on your mental and physical well-being.

Anxiety disorder – which is affecting more and more human beings each day – is when you experience excessive episodes of anxiety which can come between to you and your social, family, and work obligation and often lead to the onset of depression.

This can be very debilitating to you and take a large toll on the health of your mind, body, and soul.

Then again, when it comes to the well-being of your mind, body, and soul, few can match the power to quiet the mind and relax the body the way meditation can.

Meditation is an ancient and powerful tool that has been in practice for thousands of years in numerous cultures and religious traditions.

There is also a myriad of scientific data to support the testimonies of modern practitioners and spiritual wise men alike on the benefits meditation can yield in your life.

Meditation has been proven time and time again to aid in the reduction of stress, prevention of depression, calm the mind, and – of course – the alleviation of anxiety.

mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness Meditation

Deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is the state of mind wherein one brings his or her attention into the present moment by means of meditation.

This can be done (with a certain amount of practice) by meditating into a point of consciousness in which your mind becomes but an observer, regarding your own thoughts and emotions with calm understanding.

To observe but not interact is what they call it.

By allowing your thoughts and feelings to simply float by and not engaging them in such a way that they may begin to negatively affect you, you allow yourself some reprieve from the stresses of everyday modern living.

You also give yourself the chance to sort out all the mental clutter that might have been competing for your attention.

Many large population-based studies have shown that routine mindfulness meditation can indeed reduce rumination or worry, stress and anxiety, combat the symptoms of depression, and is correlated with the improvement of one’s overall well-being.

Mindfulness is now gaining traction in the medical world and is experiencing greater usage by psychologists, hospitals, and medical centers respectively.

The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation:

  1.  Improves Your Cognitive Functions: According to a 2003 study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine (1), in which subjects undergo an 8-week meditation program, the effects of a regular meditative practice can help the development of the brain in so much that the results can be wide-reaching.
    The practicing of mindfulness has been shown to greatly increase activity in the left anterior region – which resides on the front left side of the brain. This region is associated with the resiliency towards stressful situations and negativity.Routine meditations can also cause a thickening of the cerebral cortex – located in the front of the brain – which deals with the processing of audio and visual stimuli, based on a 2005 study published in Neuroreport (2).This is connected to your in-the-moment awareness and the regulation of emotions thus, meditation can work wonders for improving your ability to focus and self-control.
  2. Helps to Lower Levels of Stress, Anxiety, and the Prevention of Depression: Researchers from the University of Oregon have discovered that the practice of mindfulness can, in fact, wire your brain to safeguard itself against mental illness (3).
    By increasing the signals toward the axonal density and raising production of the protective tissue myelin – located in the brain’s anterior cingulate region, meditation improves the brains protective functions.In a 2013 research, published in the journal Health Psychology (4), meditation has been also shown to give you a better grip on your pain and emotions by working at your cortical alpha rhythms, as well as alleviate stress by reducing the hormone cortisol.According to a 2000 and 2004 study published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology (5), those who have been diagnosed with depression in the past are 50% less likely to relapse due to the effect meditation can have on lowering negative ruminative thought by way of repetitive reflection.In adopting the non-judgmental attitude required to execute Mindfulness Meditation, you attack the very heart of your anxiety since you will be able to perceive your fears and worries in a different light.
  3. Enhancing Your Immune System: Also found in the 2003 study in which participants must complete an 8-week meditation program, mindfulness meditation can very well enhance the effectiveness of your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies (1).Antibodies are proteins produced with the specific purpose of destroying viruses and other harmful elements. Stress and stressful situations impede the production of antibodies in your body, so meditation’s ability to reduce stress will result in a bonus for your physical health as well.
  4. You Become a Better Person: The ability to review, one by one, the many thoughts that may have plagued your mind from a new point of view, you are given valuable insight into their true nature.Understanding yourself and your afflictions more will allow you to sympathize even more so with others who might be in similar situations.Your increased ability to remain calm, attentive, and then decide the way you do during meditations shall turn you into a valuable figure to those with whom you have shared your new found wisdom.You find yourself cultivating deeper, more meaningful relationships in turn. Being at peace with yourself (a kind of peace which only meditation can provide) is so rare in the hustle and bustle that was once known as life.The capability to view things in retrospect and realize the greater picture will afford you deeper interactions with other human beings. You are more compassionate now more than ever as a result of the time you spend with your inner self. At balance with your mind, body, and soul.

Mindfulness is a practice that will undoubtedly become an indispensable tool in your personal growth. Do not be afraid to take the step forward into true understanding. You must not become a slave to stress and anxiety. Learn how to meditate, be mindful, and take the time much needed to focus on yourself for a change.

The motivation behind starting Stillmind was to create a simple, pragmatic tool. I wanted the language to be intentionally pared-down and posts to be helpful and easy to understand.

So the suggestions here are concise and easily-implemented. I hope you’ll give them a try. Perhaps today.

What is Concentration?

Have you ever noticed how exhausting rumination can be? It’s wearying to have our attention dissipated across thought after thought, task after task. It requires and drains us of our energy.

Concentration is a wilful focusing of our attention. We “settle down” with our energy so that we can funnel it into a single task. Sometimes this is effortless, such as when we achieve flow. Other times it requires a conscious act of will.

Mindfulness keeps us on track, bringing us back whenever our attention has become scattered. If concentration means being fully engaged, mindfulness means being aware that we’re doing so.

How Mindfulness Helps Concentration

When we become mindful we are instantly reminded of what we ought to be doing, of the intention we have set ourselves. To quote the Buddhist scholar Bhante Henepola Gunaratana from his book Mindfulness in Plain English: “It [mindfulness] re-establishes itself simply by noticing that it has not been present. As soon as you are noticing that you have not been noticing, then by definition, you are noticing and then you are back again to paying…attention.”

We become mindful of our breathing, for example, when we notice we are not being mindful of it. The same is true of our work.

So what we’re trying to do is integrate the habit of mindfulness. We want it to become interwoven with the activity we’re doing, insistently bringing us back to it. Whenever we drift into distraction or rumination, the opposite of concentration, we can “return”. Once we are with our task, once we can trust that our awareness will keep us there, then we can purposefully pour our energy into it.

Equally as important is the need to remain with ONE undertaking. Not only does multitasking increase our work time by up to fifty percent, we’re also more likely to make mistakes. Focus has to be directed on a single point.

In this way, I think there are three components of steady concentration: a single task, the cultivation of mindfulness and our strong intention to fully engage.

Overcoming Boredom

Another step is to change our relationship with boredom. Most flee from bland situations with all their will. I know that I hate being bored. Yet we can see the experience as a prompt to mindfulness, to re-engage with the details of our task and our purpose in doing it.

Tedium, apathy, restlessness, whatever you want to call it, comes from a lack of variety and meaning in our work. Mindfulness, through enriching whatever is in front of us, remedies these gaps.

Another Reason to Meditate

As mentioned, what we want is the habit of becoming mindful. There is no better way to foster this than to meditate regularly. Meditation is the very act of returning, time and again, to a chosen stimulus – whether it’s the breath, the body or a mental object. We are training ourselves, both mentally and physiologically, to come back to our focal point. This will transfer into our daily life.

Take this extract from Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness at Work: “You sit on the cushion so many times, your body and nervous system start to learn the practice, noticing when you’re distracted, and dropping it, taking a breath and coming back. And so, if you’ve done that so many times, it becomes easier to access even in the flow of life.”

I hope you enjoyed the post! Share your own thoughts in the comments below.

Image credit: White Background by Daniel Kulinski

Sources:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12883106
(3) https://uonews.uoregon.edu/archive/news-release/2012/6/chinese-meditation-ibmt-prompts-double-positive-punch-brain-white-matter
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23527522
(5) https://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2000-05084-010

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