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Meditation for Anxiety

Vicky Davis

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/3/2021

Up to 33.7 percent of people develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime, making anxiety one of the most common mental health issues.

If you’ve researched treatments for anxiety, you’ve likely seen recommendations for therapy and medications such as benzodiazepines, beta-blockers and antidepressants

These treatments can be highly effective at controlling anxiety, but they’re certainly not the only options that are available if you’re prone to feelings of anxiety, concern or acute symptoms such as panic attacks.

One popular natural treatment for anxiety is meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is designed to help you slow down your racing, anxious mind and let go of the thoughts and feelings that can cause you to experience anxiety.

Meditation is popular for a reason — it works, and research is increasingly starting to support its role in the treatment of anxiety.

Below, we’ve explained what anxiety is, as well as the symptoms you might experience if you’re affected by an anxiety disorder.

We’ve also explained how you can use meditation to improve your anxiety symptoms, either on its own or in combination with other treatments.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling or fear or uneasiness about something in your future. You might feel anxious before performing in front of other people, taking a test or making an important decision that can affect your future.

Feeling anxious occasionally is a normal part of life. However, people who feel anxious all of the time, or people who have severe anxiety, may suffer from anxiety disorders.

There are several different common anxiety disorders, including the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with this form of anxiety face anxiety and worry on a persistent basis. If you have GAD, you may worry excessively about your job, social life or everyday activities.

  • Social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder feel afraid or anxious when they need to interact with other people. If you have this form of anxiety, you may develop anxiety symptoms before parties, performances or other social situations.

  • Panic disorder. People with panic disorder experience persistent panic attacks that may involve intense, severe symptoms. If you have this form of anxiety, you may have attacks at random, or when triggered by a specific situation, event or item.

  • Phobia disorders. People with phobias have intense fears of certain situations, objects or other items. For example, you may have a phobia of spiders, needles, heights or deep bodies of water.

Some people are also affected by other types of anxiety, such as separation anxiety (fear about spending time away from a partner, relative or other attachment figure) or agoraphobia (anxiety related to public spaces, such as open areas, crowded spaces and transportation).

Does Meditation Treat Anxiety?

Practitioners of meditation have long claimed that it can improve mental health and treat certain psychological issues, and science is increasingly starting to back their claims up.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2013, researchers studied the effects of mindfulness meditation in people with DSM-IV-diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder.

As part of the study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was instructed to take part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, while the other was treated as an active control.

The researchers found that while both interventions produced improvements in anxiety severity, the people that took part in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program showed a greater reduction in anxiety symptoms using several clinical anxiety scales.

They concluded that mindfulness-based treatment may improve stress reactivity and assist with managing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Other research has produced similar findings. For example, an analysis of existing research by experts at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that mindfulness meditation may be as effective as antidepressants at providing relief from anxiety and depression symptoms.

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Other Benefits of Meditation

In addition to reducing the severity of anxiety, regular meditation can provide other benefits for your mental and physical health. Other benefits of meditation include:

  • Reducing blood pressure. Some research has found that a form of medication called Transcendental Meditation (TM) may lower blood pressure in people with an increased risk of developing hypertension.

  • Controlling pain. Although research findings are mixed, some studies have found that people with chronic pain experience improvements through meditation.

  • Improving insomnia and depression. Several studies have found that meditation has other mental health benefits in addition to improving anxiety, such as reducing insomnia and depression symptoms.

  • Assisting in quitting smoking. Findings from several studies suggest that meditation can help smokers control their cravings and reduce their risk of relapsing while trying to quit smoking.

  • Reduce the severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although findings are mixed overall, some research suggests that regular meditation may reduce the severity of IBS symptoms and improve quality of life for people with IBS.

Research has also found a link between meditation and some aspects of brain health, including an increase in the total number of folds in the outermost layer of the brain (an area of the brain related to information processing) in people who meditate.

It’s important to keep in mind that research into the overall benefits of meditation is still ongoing, meaning we may not yet be aware of some advantages offered by meditation. 

How to Meditate for Reduced Anxiety Symptoms

Meditation is something that you can do with others or by yourself. There’s no minimum amount of time required to meditate. 

In fact, it’s often possible to experience the benefits of meditation in just a few minutes a day. 

Try Relaxed Breathing Exercises

One simple form of mindfulness for treating anxiety is mindful breathing. This is something that you can do in just a few minutes a day.

To practice mindful breathing, focus your attention on the act of breathing — the physical inhale and exhale. Place yourself in a relaxed position, such as sitting down. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth and put your hands in a comfortable position.

Let your body relax and focus on the rhythm of your breathing. Take natural breaths and focus on where you’re breathing from. 

Try to feel the physical sensations of each breath. If your mind starts to wander, let it, but make sure to eventually bring it back to your breathing patterns.

As you breathe, pay attention to your entire body. After five to seven minutes of breathing, take a break and return to your normal day.

Find a Meditation Center in Your City

Another way to get started with meditation is to find a meditation center in your neighborhood or city. 

This allows you to take part in meditation with others in a guided, focused environment that makes learning easier.

You can find local meditation centers by searching for phrases like “mindfulness meditation” or “meditation center” and your city’s name. 

Use a Meditation App

Another great way to get started with meditation is to use a mobile app. Many apps offer guided meditations that you can use to relax, reduce stress and practice mindfulness each day, without having to attend classes or rely on other people to guide you.

If you’re interested in making meditation a long-term habit, look for an app that tracks your daily progress. 

Practice Mindfulness Informally

Sometimes, you don’t need to meditate to practice mindfulness. For example, you can take part in mindfulness practice while you eat, bathe or do chores around the house by focusing on each moment and keeping your mind in the present.

Many mindfulness-based stress reduction programs involve this type of informal mindfulness, as it can help you to focus on present experience.

Other Ways to Treat Anxiety

While meditation can often improve the symptoms of anxiety disorders, it’s definitely not the only way to treat anxiety. 

If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to talk to a mental health provider to learn more about your treatment options. 

You can do this by searching for help in your city, or by using our online mental health services to connect with a licensed provider from home. 

If you’re formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider may prescribe one or several of the following treatment options.

Use Medication to Control Your Symptoms

Several medications are used to treat anxiety, either on their own or in combination with therapy, lifestyle changes and habits such as meditation.

Currently, the most common medications for treating anxiety are:

  • Benzodiazepines. These medications relieve anxiety in the short term. They’re quick to start working and produce immediate improvements, but they can cause side effects and dependence if they’re used too often or for an extended period of time.

  • Antidepressants. Some antidepressants, such as SSRIs, are used to treat anxiety over the long term. Antidepressants can take several weeks to start working, making it vital to keep using your medication even if you don’t notice immediate improvements.

  • Beta-blockers. These medications are used to treat the physical symptoms caused by certain forms of anxiety, such as performance anxiety. They’re often used “as needed” for anxiety that occurs before a speech, job interview or other public event.

Our guide to anxiety medication provides more information on how these medications work to reduce the severity of anxiety, as well as the potential side effects that you should be aware of before using medication to treat anxiety. 

Take Part in Psychotherapy

One of the most effective ways to treat anxiety disorders is through psychotherapy. Therapy for anxiety can take a range of forms, with several different methods used to treat common anxiety disorders. 

One form of therapy that’s used to treat anxiety is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness exercises. 

As part of therapy, you may take part in more conventional cognitive therapy with your therapist, then use mindfulness exercises at home to reduce the severity of your symptoms and act on the techniques you’ve learned with your therapist. 

Another form of therapy that’s used to treat anxiety is exposure therapy, which involves directly confronting your fears and worries in a controlled, safe environment.

Your mental health provider will work with you to select a form of therapy that helps you to make real, measurable progress towards overcoming your anxiety. 

Make Changes to Your Lifestyle

Sometimes, even small changes to your lifestyle and daily routine can have a big impact on how you think, feel and behave. 

For example, scientific research suggests that regular exercise not only improves your physical health, but also that it can reduce stress, stimulate anti-anxiety effects and improve your mental wellbeing.

Even a small amount of daily exercise, such as 30 minutes of moderate-pace walking, may help to calm your mind and ease feelings of anxiety or tension.

Other habits, such as limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol, eating a balanced, healthy diet and identifying and avoiding your anxiety triggers, can all help to reduce anxiety and make your life less stressful. 

Our full guide to coping with anxiety goes into more detail about natural techniques that you can use to keep your feelings of anxiety under control. 

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Is Meditation for Anxiety Worth It?

Meditation can have numerous positive effects on your health and wellbeing, including helping to control feelings of stress and anxiety. 

If you’re feeling anxious, even a small amount of meditation practice may help to improve your moods and focus your thinking on the present.

While meditation can produce real improvements in anxiety symptoms, it may not be enough to treat severe anxiety on its own. 

If you have severe or persistent anxiety, it’s best to consult with a licensed mental health provider.

You can do this by reaching out to a mental health specialist in your city, or by connecting with a mental health provider online using our online psychiatry and online therapy services. 

Interested in learning more about dealing with anxiety? Our free online mental health resources share proven, effective strategies that you can use to overcome anxiety, stress, depression, and other common mental health issues. 

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Bandelow, B. & Michaelis, S. (2015, September). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 17 (3), 327–335. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610617/
  2. Anxiety Disorders. (2018, July). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  3. Hoge, E.A., et al. (2013, August). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 74 (8), 786-92. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772979/
  4. Meditation for Anxiety and Depression? (2014, January 6). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/meditation_for_anxiety_and_depression
  5. Meditation: In Depth. (2016, April). Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth
  6. Mindful Breathing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing
  7. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. (2019, October 30). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation
  8. Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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