Roughly 3% of the U.S. population (around 7 million adults) suffer from anxiety, and 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) have an alcohol or substance use disorder. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that meditation is becoming a widely-accepted practice for not only managing stress, but other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. In this article we explore what meditation is, the benefits of mindfulness-based meditation for anxiety disorders, and how you can start the basics of this practice today and on-the-go.
What is Meditation?
There are many types of meditation, but overall it tends to fall into two categories: mindfulness and mantra-based meditation. Mantra-based meditation, such as chanting or repetition of certain prayers or sounds, helps lead to a calm mind. Mindfulness, often referred to as “the heart of Buddhist meditation,” has its roots in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) which was founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. This practice is primarily about bringing your attention and awareness into the present without judging yourself in the process. Your taught to observe your thoughts like waves in the ocean, quietly noticing how they come and go while staying present in the moment.
While this practice may sound easy, for those who suffer from stress and anxiety disorders, sitting with your thoughts can pose a significant challenge. Health professionals are now using simple but effective techniques to help teach mindful-based meditation therapies to individuals who suffer from a range of mental, physical, and emotional issues, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Does it work, and is it a legitimate form of treatment? Let’s look at the research.
Research Supporting Mindfulness – A New Frontier
Not too long ago, when anyone mentioned meditation as a tool to help improve physical pain or mental health disorders, most physicians would dismiss the idea or just consider it a “compliment” to traditional medicine. Today, the medical community is thinking very differently about mindfulness. Eric Loucks, director of the Mindfulness Center at the Brown University School of Public Health, published a recent study in Plos One that included an eight-week mindfulness-based program to help reduce high blood pressure in adults. The findings showed that not only did mindfulness help significantly lower high blood pressure, but it also maintained it for a year.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that researchers from Johns Hopkins University found 47 trials (out of 19,000 meditation studies) that met their strict criteria in the study of meditation. Out of these trials, they tried to determine the efficacy of meditation programs in improving physical and mental health issues in adult populations. What did they find? Mindful meditation does ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, states, “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit (Harvard Health, 2020).” Hoge (whose study was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) reveals how mindfulness “teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.’”
Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Meditation for Anxiety Disorders and Addiction
From a scientific point of view, meditation therapy for anxiety disorder directly affects the brain’s neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), which in turn has shown to reduce stress and anxiety. This form of treatment is also known to release endorphins throughout the body – reducing pain and increasing a feeling of calm. Here are some additional benefits of mindfulness for anxiety disorders, especially for those in addiction recovery:
- It allows the individual to examine the internal reason for the anxiety in their physical body in order to arrive at the root cause of the issue.
- It helps individuals to observe thoughts without judgment and eventually learn to understand them better.
- Encourages being aware of actions in the present and supports letting go of the past.
- Induces relaxation, increases blood flow, boosts mental clarity, and helps promote better sleep.
Start With the Basics
Setting aside time for meditation, even a few minutes, is an important way to begin a routine and get comfortable with the practice. A free guided meditation recording recommended by Harvard Health is called www.mindfulness-solution.com by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Mindfulness apps also make it easy to take this practice with you anywhere you go, and many are free such as Insight Timer Meditation, Smiling Mind, and Aura.
At Silver Lining Recovery, we also offer individual or group meditation therapy for addiction and anxiety disorders in a nurturing and supportive environment. Our goal is to use these techniques, in addition to other programs, to help individuals manage feelings of anxiety and addiction differently, essentially changing the relationship to the cause, the feelings it produces, and the way it is viewed. Let our trained professionals help you identify the root cause of addiction, find self-healing, and live a healthy, substance-free life. Call Silver Lining Recovery today at (866) 448-4563 for more information about our programs.