Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Meditation Relieves Anxiety and Depression

A study published in August 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that meditation is effective in managing anxiety and depression.

Drs. Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang led the study of a type of mindfulness meditation called integrative body-mind training (IBMT). Adapted from traditional Chinese medicine by Dr. Tang, it uses a focus on present-moment experience rather than on a mantra.

After just 11 hours of IBMT, brain scans showed significant favorable changes in white matter around the anterior cingulate, a part of the brain involved in managing emotions and self-control. These changes did not take place in the brains of control group participants who practiced relaxation techniques.

A University of Oregon news release said that Drs. Posner and Tang found in 2007 that students who did IBMT for five days before a test showed low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They were also better able to pay attention, and had less anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue than those in the relaxation control group.

Speaking on NPR’s Science Friday, Dr. Posner recommended practicing any form of mindfulness meditation. I discuss a number of ways in this blog to use mindfulness practice to help manage anxiety, depression, and other issues that bring people to therapy. An article you may find useful describes a short practice that uses your body’s wisdom to develop a more peaceful relationship with anxiety. If you try this practice, I’d like to hear your comments about your experience with it.

A Mindful Approach to Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, worry — whatever we call it, many of us are much more familiar with it than we would like to be. Our natural tendency is to fight it, try to make it go away, or distract ourselves with activities that waste our time or even harm us. Unfortunately, this just makes it stronger.

A mindful approach to anxiety, even when it is severe and persistent, starts with acceptance. Does this mean just giving up and feeling miserable, gritting your teeth and enduring it? No. Mindful acceptance of anxiety is a very active approach. It is quite different, though, from how most of us naturally try to do battle with worry or tension. And the good news is that, paradoxically, it lowers your fear and helps you feel much better.

How can you use mindfulness to work with anxiety? One method involves locating a place in your body where you feel fear, tension, or worry. You may feel it as a cold pit in your stomach, “butterflies,” or tightness in your chest, back, or jaw. Close your eyes, take two or three deep breaths, and go to that place. Feel the sick feeling, tightness, trembling, burning. Sit with the feeling like you would with a loved one who is ill, with warmth and caring. Do this for a few minutes without looking for any particular outcome. Just see what happens, see what you notice.

A friend who is troubled by mild yet bothersome panic attacks finds that going to the “awful feeling” in her chest quickly lowers her discomfort. You may or may not experience relief so readily. The important thing is that you are developing a new relationship with anxiety. Rather than trying to get rid of it, you are going towards it with kindness and attention. Your symptoms may well be trying to tell you something that your body and mind cannot communicate in any other way.

There is no need to run from anxiety. Your fear may simply be inviting you to make changes that will bring you greater happiness and peace of mind.