Guided meditation for anxiety: how meditation changes the brain

Guided meditation for anxiety: how meditation changes the brain

19 augustus 2021
Updated on 7 juni 2023

Find out how meditation for anxiety can help reduce stress, deal with a panic attack and cope with restless feelings.

Anxiety is your body’s reaction to excessive stress. In a way, we all suffer from anxiety at times. And that's totally okay. But if anxiety is a constant presence that affects your daily functioning, it's time to seek help.

The information provided in this article is not meant to be medical advice or a treatment method. If you do have mental or physical symptoms and need medical advice from a specialist, please consult a doctor or psychologist.

How guided meditation works for anxiety

Recently, science has been exploring the options of using (guided) meditation for anxiety. Studies are being done on a regular basis and the results are hopeful.

For example, Steven Laureys discovered back in 2017: meditation helps against stress and anxiety. The Belgian neurologist and author of the no-nonsense meditation book conducted a study on meditation techniques and their influence on the brain.

During a period of eight weeks he taught research subjects about meditation techniques. Brain scans were made before and after the study. These showed that the areas in the brains of the research subjects, that play a major role in anxiety and stress, had become smaller.

On the other hand, the networks that are important for emotion regulation and memory had improved. Those networks had clearly changed. The research subjects also indicated that they felt better after eight weeks of meditation.

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The effect of meditation equals that of antidepressants

What is striking about Steven Laureys' research is that people not only felt better due to meditation, but their brains had also changed.

Another study on the relationship between guided meditations and anxiety was done by the Johns Hopkins University. This study examined the relationship between mindfulness meditation and the ability to reduce symptoms of pain, depression, and anxiety.

It also showed that meditation can be a tool in managing these symptoms. In fact, the study revealed that the effect size of meditation is 0.3. This might sound low, but not if you compare it to the effect size of antidepressants, which is also 0.3.

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How to practice meditation for anxiety

Anxiety can be overwhelming. You've probably experienced it before and you probably also know that a moment of overwhelming fear will eventually pass. It always comes to an end.

Are you feeling anxious? Acknowledge the fact that you feel anxious and look for things you can do to make it more bearable or to reduce it.

For example, follow a guided meditation for anxiety, take a deep breath and surrender to the pleasant voice guiding you through the meditation.

Assume a comfortable meditation pose

Find a meditation pose that is comfortable for you. This can be sitting down (in a lotus position or on a chair), lying down or perhaps walking.

Acknowledge your thoughts

If you want to meditate while you are experiencing intense emotions, you may find that it is difficult to sit still. Your thoughts are working overtime and your mind is all over the place. So the first exercise is to acknowledge these thoughts. You do not have to try to suppress them, but notice that they are there and wait for them to pass. There is no need to be preoccupied with your thoughts or to react to them.

Turn inward

Instead, focus your attention inward. Close your eyes and notice your breathing. Again, you don't have to do anything with it yet. Just notice the breath in its natural state and stay in that rhythm.

Deepen your breathing

Eventually you will notice your mind becoming calmer and you can start to deepen your breathing.

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How long should you meditate for anxiety?

How long should you meditate to reduce symptoms such as stress and anxiety? The opinions on this matter differ. The ‘followers’ of Transcendental Meditation (TM) say that meditation is effective if you do it for 20 minutes, twice a day. Monks in Tibetan monasteries, on the other hand, meditate more often and for longer periods.

Basically, it’s not about how long you meditate. Even a short meditation of a few minutes can be very effective. What’s more important is that you make meditation a regular part of your day.

Compare it to exercising. If you exercise once for an hour and then don't exercise again for another month, that hour has not been very useful. But if you exercise 10 minutes every day, it's much more effective. It works the same way with meditation.

See what suits you and how you can fit meditation into your life. The Meditation Moments App is designed for different moments of the day, and is here to help you along the way!

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