Meditation is probably the single most overlooked way to prevent anxiety.
Although scientifically proven to provide cognitive benefit, it’s often neglected by those who could benefit from it the most.
This is unfortunate considering meditation is a highly effective practice that for many, is their #1 technique for reducing anxious thinking. So why do so many of us refuse to spend a few minutes a day meditating?
Meditation gets excused as some unnatural spiritual practice.
Sitting in silence with your eyes closed must be for the religious monks, Buddhists, or reincarnation believers, right? This would all be true, except, it’s also for you and I, and doesn’t necessarily need religious ties.
I’m not a religious person, not by any means, and I genuinely love to meditate. I don’t feel as if I connect with any god, but I connect with myself through meditation. Obviously there are going to be those who believe it’s something more. A gateway to a higher dimension if you will. That doesn’t mean they’re right, and that doesn’t mean you have to excuse meditation because there are those who feel this way.
Meditation is a way to calm your mind and prevent anxiety, and not by spiritual awakening or religious transformation. The power of meditation is in its ability to bring awareness, something we as a society and people, struggle with heavily today. We’re often on the opposite end of the awareness spectrum.
We choose to distract ourselves.
Between smart phones, social media, television, computers, medication, video games, alcohol, drugs, porn, and all other things that we use as a crutch to get by, our modern day distractions are a way to escape from anxiety.
We often choose to avoid our own mind and run from our thoughts, rather than face them. We find comfort in distraction. It relieves anxiety and makes us feel better, but it’s only temporarily.
The real damage is when we start to believe that this escapism is helping long-term. It may be providing a temporary distraction, but it doesn’t address the core issue – that you’re seeking an escape to begin with.
The sooner you act and make a real change in your lifestyle, the better.
Anxiety changes your brain and takes a toll.
Anxiety doesn’t just bring you down and make life difficult, it physically changes your brain.
The size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory, can shrink because of long-term anxiety.
Meanwhile, the size of the amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for your fear response, can grow.
Anxiety causes a strengthening of fearful and anxious thinking. As it becomes more repetitive, it’s as if your brain becomes conditioned to this approach. This contributes to an increase in the release of stress hormones, which leads to neurotransmitter imbalances. Neutrotransmitters are what brain cells use to communicate and they are essential to your mood and happiness.
The toll that anxiety takes on your health is significant. Anxiety can increase blood pressure, put strain on vital organs, and cause other complications.
It’s important to recognize these very real, physical health concerns. Meditation is one of the few anxiety treatments that has been proven to help.
Meditation reverses damage and changes your brain.
Meditation has been used for centuries to help us relax. By focusing on the breath, you can take your focus off stressful situations and place your attention in a neutral space.
Fortunately, meditation does much more than just relax the mind and body. It has been shown to physically change our brains, reverting some of the changes and damage that anxiety has caused.
Neuroimaging has allowed us to track and measure the results of a regular meditation practice.
The following are legitimate and proven, physical health benefits of meditation:
- Increases in grey matter
- Increased size of the hippocampus
- Increased thickness of the cortex
- Less reactive and decreased size of the amygdala
- Increased blood flow to the brain
- Enhanced neuroplasticity
- Improved neural connections
- Potential protection from age-related disease – alzheimers
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased levels of GABA – a relaxation neurotransmitter
- Increased levels of serotonin – a happiness neurotransmitter
- Reduced levels of cortisol – a stress hormone that contributes to anxiety
Aside from the physical changes that we can observe, there are also changes in our way of thinking.
- Reduces rumination – deep negative thinking about past events
- Decreases your tendency to worry about the future
- Better control over unwanted thoughts
- Less responsive and influenced by negative thinking
- Alters the way your brain responds to stress
How does it do this?
Meditation brings awareness to your thinking.
Meditation teaches you a lot, but its biggest revelation is that your thoughts aren’t always sensible.
The average person has over 50,000 thoughts per day. Unsurprisingly, many of these thoughts are negative.
Sometimes we think things that are self-destructive and meaningless. What’s worse is we easily get lost in these thoughts. We subconsciously actually start to believe them over time.
You know exactly what I mean. We’re always the most critical of ourselves and we say things internally that we would never say to anyone else. If we let ourselves think these self-esteem damaging thoughts for years on end, it leads to anxiety, self-doubt, and fear.
When you meditate, you start to bring awareness to these thoughts. You observe them, rather than get consumed by them.
Instead of letting thoughts flow through your head with little regard and full control over your mood, emotions, and well-being, you acknowledge each thought and let it pass. As you do this regularly, your thoughts will have less control over your body. They will no longer influence your suffering.