Struggling with anxiety is not a small problem. If you have anxiety, then you know its truths: it lives in every part of you, voicing opinion about what you do and don’t do. You feel it in your body as much as in your mind, your heart. It controls everything and often it can feel like it takes your life and your joy away from you. But some studies suggest that the act of mindfulness and practicing meditation can help weaken anxiety’s hold over you.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that meditation can actually assist in overcoming anxiety—it isn’t just a myth. The researchers found that meditation effects activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which controls thinking and emotions, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which controls worrying. Meditation was found to increase activity in the ventromedial cortex while decreasing activity in the anterior cortex.
The study worked with 15 people who had normal levels of ordinary anxiety with no history of anxiety disorders who had never meditated before. Participants had brain scans before and after meditation before they took four 20-minute classes about how to do mindful meditation.
“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest. “These findings provide evidence that mindfulness meditation attenuates anxiety through mechanisms involved in the regulation of self-referential thought processes.”
Mindfulness meditation is not difficult and it does not require space or additional materials. To make it happen, find a quiet spot that is generally free of clutter. Stay in the light. Set a time limit. Once you’ve gotten comfortable, pay attention to what’s around you. Pay attention to your body, your breath, and your thoughts. Relate first to the body: feel yourself breathe, and let your eyes rest where they fall. Just let them rest. Focus on your breathing. When thoughts arise—and they will—they might try to carry you away. But they don’t get to. Return to your breathing, and let it relax you.
“Perhaps most importantly, remember that mindfulness meditation is about practicing being mindful of whatever happens. It is not about getting ourselves to stop thinking,” says Psychology Today. You aren’t trying to shoo the anxiety out of your life—you can’t. But you can find ways to simply shift it over to the side of things a bit. Through mindful meditation, you may find that it no longer feels that your anxiety defines you.