Meditation and Anxiety


Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

She was invited to the home of her new husband’s children for Thanksgiving. She was the wife that came after. After her now husband had left his wife (and his children’s mother). While that was years ago, she still felt she was considered a culprit. A thief of some kind. Even though years went by before she even met her husband. As the day approached, her nervousness increased until anxiety filled her and she dreaded the evening.

He is a dedicated worker, with strong feelings of loyalty and support for his company. They’d had a reorganization and he was now in a different part of the organization with a new supervisor. No matter what he did, it seemed he could not please him. With 17 years of being promoted early and stellar reviews, this year he got the worst review of his career. When he woke each morning with a headache and chest pain. Sometimes he experienced intense feelings of needing to run away, to leave, in intense fear, trembling and wondering what was wrong with him.

About Anxiety:

Anxiety is our body/mind reaction to apprehension, worry, unease, and fear. With anxiety comes the fight, flight, freeze reaction that occurs with distress. The impact of anxiety can range from mildly irritating to disabling. Panic attacks are an extreme version of anxiety in which intense fear occurs, sometimes with a trigger and other times with no readily apparent source. Anxiety interrupts an individual’s ability to function in daily life activities of work, play, rest, sleep, as well as maintaining healthy boundaries and relationships. 

Many forms of anxiety exist and some common symptoms that are pervasive across anxiety types are shown in Table 1.


Table 1. Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Order
(National Institute of Mental Health, 2022)
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Excessive worry that is hard to control
  • Feeling ‘on-edge’
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping

Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the U.S. (ADAA, 2020), with 62% of respondents in a 2020 U.S. survey reporting experiencing some level of anxiety (SingleCare, 2020) and 31% of all adults experiencing an anxiety disorder in their lifetime (ADAA, 2020). Women are more susceptible than men; all age groups experience anxiety but especially those between 30 and 44 yrs. of age; and those with a less education are more susceptible (NIMH, 2022; SAMHSA, 2022).

Mental, behavioral and life experiences can increase ones’ propensity for developing anxiety, as shown in Table 2 (SingleCare’s 2020 anxiety survey). Significant times in ones’ life can also bring about greater susceptibility, such as death of loved one, worry about prevalent world conditions (COVID, War in Ukraine), or undertaking a strenuous activity such as university attendance, being a single parent, for experiencing trauma.


Table 2. Items that may Increase Susceptibility to Anxiety
Potential Cause Rationale
Health Condition (of self or others) Worry about future, chronic condition, and current and future symptoms
Sleep Disorder Lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of being ineffective, irritable, and lack of focus and attention
Difficulties at work, school, or home Feelings of overwhelm or helplessness contribute to excessive worry
Financial Problems Finance problems contribute to worry and feelings of being ineffectual within limited time periods.
Traumatic Events Individuals who have experienced traumatic events are more prone to anxiety disorders
Low Self Esteem Low self-esteem can contribute to anxiety, especially among younger populations.
Substance Abuse Twenty percent of those with an anxiety disorder also experience substance abuse (The Recovery Village, 2022). Those with anxiety may try and self-medicate to manage their symptoms of anxiety. Alcohol and substance abuse can alter the brains chemistry, potentially creating anxiety in those with a substance abuse disorder.

How Meditation can Help Anxiety

Meditation research has demonstrated that it can and does reduce anxiety (Bajaj, Robins, & Pande, 2016; Jankowski & Bąk, 2019; Mantzios et al., 2022;  Raphiphatthana, Jose, & Kielpikowski, 2016), although it appears that ongoing mindfulness practice may be warranted for consistent and long -erm reduction of anxiety (Oberoi et al. 2020). According to one meta-analyses, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are successful for anxiety and mood disorders as well as for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression symptoms (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010). Mindfulness meditation has a constructive positive effect on regions of the human brain involved in emotion regulation and stress impulse response (Hölzel et al., 2011). Mindfulness training has a constructive influence on brain regions involved in emotion regulation and the fight, flight, freeze (sympathetic nervous system) response to stressors. (Hölzel et al., 2011). 

During Mindfulness Meditation, participants are taught to focus their thoughts on one thing on one thing, such as their breath – wherever they feel it the most and each time they lose their focus to gently, yet firmly, bring it back to their attentional focus. They do this again and again. Overtime the length of time they can attend to something lengthens. Participants also learn to focus on a variety of things through their senses, at exactly the time it is happening, such as sound, vision, touch. Ultimately, being able to do any task as a mindful activity. Participants do this with thoughts that arise, as well as memories and emotions. In order not to get carried away by what comes to mind, participants are taught to fully experience the present moment, sometimes as if they were an outside observer watching themselves, simply seeing without judging. This frees the mind from worry, anxiety, self-judgement, and sadness, at least for those moments when they are wholly experiencing the present, one moment at a time. Over time, meditators recognize that there is a moment between the inbreath and the outbreath during which their brain can process what is happening, giving them time to decide to respond to situations, rather than reflexively reacting. These abilities to decide what ones’ response will be, to be fully present to what is happening, and the knowledge that this form of gently processing their experiences leads to feelings of self-awareness, self-confidence, and a self-certainty about their ability to handle their future. 

It may be hard to imagine, yet through mindfulness we become re-acquainted with our innermost being…the Wise-One-Within…who we have been from birth, but lost touch with during life’s challenges. This core being has many positive qualities we have neglected to nurture. Becoming reacquainted with our core being begins to reverse our mindless reactions and inform us of the meaning of our lives and the power within. Inner peace and stillness. Here is how it works:

  1. Mindfulness develops physical and emotional awareness. Awareness lets us know what our triggers are and when the stress response of fight, flight, freeze occurs. Even labeling our emotions helps dissolve them.
  2. Focusing on the present moment with awareness allows you to deal what is occurring right now, not what is in the past or in the future.
  3. Being aware of emotions, thoughts, memories, and physical sensations, without becoming upset, but with non-judgmental observation, helps us to recognize what is bothering us.
  4. Sitting with ‘what is bothering us’ allows us to see all aspects of it and for further processing to occur in a gentle, mellow manner.
  5. You do not need to remember the issue, try to solve it, or fret about it. After sitting with it and observing it, you can simply let it go. Because if it is a remaining issue, it will come up again during another meditation. It is likely the softest, most self-compassionate way to deal with past concerns and future apprehensions you will ever experience. 
  6. You will face each struggle you’ve undergone in your lifetime, overtime…and resolve it. It may take many iterations, as we continually encounter, past, present, and impending tribulations. In fact, it may take meditating on a regular basis for the rest of your life. However, this is a small ‘price to pay’ for a life of goodwill, tranquility, and harmony. In truth, most look forward to each days meditation, after a time.

For Right Now. Read through this before, trying it!

  1. Sit comfortably, with 3 good supportive contacts, perhaps your buttocks and the bottom of each foot. Sit proudly, with your back straight, as if you are going to meet someone important. You are. You are meeting yourself. 
  2. Set your alarm (hopefully a soft sounding alarm) for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This helps two meridians connect, the governing and the central meridians.
  4. Begin to breathe naturally. Do not try to make your breathing rhythm or depth into anything it is not, just breathe as normally do. It may take practice to let your breathing be just what it is.
  5. Notice your breath and where in your body you feel it the most.
  6. Place your attention, right there…where you physically feel it the most. 
  7. Become deeply aware of how it feels. Sustain your attention on the first place where you feel it the most. Every breath is different, even when feeling it in the same place where you physically felt it the most. 
  8. This focuses your attention on the present moment. When your attention wanders from the physical sensation of your breath, invite it back to the same place where you originally felt it the most. Welcome your attention back to that place.
  9. Acknowledge any thoughts, emotions, sensations, smells, or tactile sensations, proprioception, or special awareness that occurs. You may even name them…and then let them go and wait for the next thought, emotion or sensation to come into your awareness….again and again. Do not judge any of these, just be aware of them, watch them, and let them move on.
  10. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes. Then stop. Take two or three deep, cleansing breaths. 
  11. Recognize that you just spent 10 minutes on yourself, with no agenda, no over-arching goals, simply experiencing what is here for you, right now. Congratulations! 

Then, get up and move through you day, knowing you can do this exercise, whenever you like. Whenever you need to return to You. Whenever you want to let your mind, body, and soul process whatever is already there. 

For a few short, free guided meditations, check my website: https://vitalifecenter.com/2020/05/25/meditation-recordings-as-a-gift-to-you/ 


ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), retrieved Sept 4, 2022. https://adaa.org 

Bajaj, B., Robins, R.W., Pande, N. (2016). Mediating role of self-esteem on the relationship between mindfulness, anxiety, and depression. Personality and Individual Differences, 96, 127-131. doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.02.085

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018555

Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 30;191(1):36-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006. 

Jankowski, T. and Bąk, W. (2019). Mindfulness as a mediator of the relationship between trait anxiety, attentional control and cognitive failures. A multimodel inference approach. Personality and Individual Differences, 142, 62-71. doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.01.034.

Mantzios, M., Tariz, A., Altaf, M., and Giannou, K. (2022). Loving-kindness colouring and loving-kindness meditation: Exploring the effectiveness of non-meditative and meditative practices on state mindfulness and anxiety. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 17(3), 305-312. doi.org/10.1080/15401383.2021.1884159

NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), retrieved Sept 4, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders

Oberoi S, Yang J, Woodgate RL, et al. (2020). Association of Mindfulness-Based Interventions With Anxiety Severity in Adults With Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysisJAMA Netw Open, 3(8): e2012598. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.12598

Raphiphatthana, B., Jose, P.E., Kielpikowski, M. (2016). How do the facets of mindfulness predict the constructs of depression and anxiety as seen through the lens of the tripartite theory? Personality and Individual Differences, 93, 104-111, doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.08.005.

SAMMC (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), retrieved 28 August, 2022. https://search.usa.gov/search?utf8=&affiliate=samhsa_main&query=anxiety&commit=Search  

SingleCare, 2020 (retrieved 30 August 2022). https://www.singlecare.com/blog/news/anxiety-survey/ 

The Recovery Village (retrieved 4 September, 2022). https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/anxiety/substance-abuse/