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"Meditation" comes from a Latin root that means "to heal", and it may be able to help you do exactly that. What should everyone with an anxiety disorder know about the potential of meditation in helping you overcome anxiety?

The word meditation comes from the Latin root mederi, which means “to heal” — which is exactly potential that many specialists have seen in it as a therapeutic tool. Meditation is not only a group of techniques that work like an improved and sophisticated form of relaxation, but seen by many as a way of life that can produce positive effects in physical and psychological functioning through changes in unconscious behavior.

Meditation is mostly used as a stress management strategy, but can it work as a main component of anxiety disorder treatment?

In the modern world, filled with responsibilities and noise, you can face tremendous difficulties if you have an anxiety disorder. That being said, self regulatory strategies (such as meditation, which you can learn and practice on your own for most situations), may offer an excellent treatment approach to improve focus, self-esteem, creativity, learning flexibility and control of emotions and reactions, all of these being weakened as an effect of anxiety disorders.

Most meditation techniques share common elements, such as a quiet environment with minimal distractions, a comfortable position, a specific focus of attention and an open attitude towards the practice.

What types of meditation help treat anxiety disorders?

All types of meditation produce similar effects in the reduction of trait anxiety, however, it's also a fact that not all of them will fit your situation, availability, and needs. This is why you should read about different techniques and choose the one that's best for you. Here are some of the types of meditation that can be really effective in overcoming anxiety symptoms.

1. Transcendental meditation

This is by far the most common and studied meditation technique, and some specialists consider it more effective than other techniques.

Transcendental meditation aims to be effortless use and repetition of a specific sound (mantra) which allows the mind to settle until reaching a silent state of transcendental consciousness. Mantras don't have any particular meaning, since their power lies in the vibratory effects of the sound that they produce when spoken verbally or psychologically, working as an anchor to steady the mind as it experiences wavering thoughts and distractions.

It's one of the easiest and safest ways to practice meditation, and anyone can do it — anytime and under any circumstance. It's recommended to be practiced for 20 minutes sessions, twice a day.

2. Mindfulness meditation

To be mindful is to have a non-judgemental awareness of experiences in the present moment. This technique aims to focus attention, acknowledging all sensations and situations as temporary, and releasing them without an emotional reaction. It may improve anxiety symptoms by changing the way you perceive stressors permanently. It can be practiced with very little training, independently, and as needed.

Mindfulness approaches have shown to be so effective that they form the guidelines for a widely know stress management technique — Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

3. Breathing meditation

Controlled breathing meditation includes several sequential rhythm-specific breathing components that alternate with regular breathing while sitting with your eyes closed. It's usually compared to mindfulness meditation, but rather than focusing on the present moment, the biggest goal of this type of meditation is to control the breathing. The major disadvantage is that it requires special guidance through it all, whether is in person or through audio or video.

4. Zen meditation

This type is similar to breathing meditation but without the structured techniques. It's done by sitting in a quiet room with eyes closed, and by feeling and focusing on one's breathing, without high expectations of clearing the mind or achieving full awareness. It can also be done anywhere, without special training, and although it may take some time to master, it eventually becomes a way to face any stressful moment of the day.

5. Chakra meditation

Chakras represent the major nerve branches of the spinal cord, which all go to specific regions of the body. In this meditation each of them have different colors, energetic manifestations and emotional functions. It's done by sitting or lying with eyes closed, and with an external voice guidance, the key is to make a mental path through these chakras from bottom to top with awareness of the passage of breath.

Although this is a basic explanation, it does take more training, concentration and time than other types of meditation. It pays off, though, as it leads to body awareness and relaxation, both really useful to manage the symptoms in anxiety.

6. Focused attention meditation

This practice requires to focus attention on a previously chosen object or event (a memory, a light, breathing), and to maintain this attention for a considerable amount of time by constantly monitoring the concentration so the mind doesn't wander.

7. Open monitoring meditation

Usually seen as the next step when focussed attention meditation has been mastered, it's about concentrating on monitoring the state of awareness itself, with no object or event to focus on. The goal is to observe any experience whether internal or external that might come up, without focusing on it, taking a part on it or judging it.

8. Loving kindness meditation

In this type of meditation the practitioner must cultivate love and compassion, first for themselves and then extend it to all living beings, replacing negative associations for positive and nourishing ones in every field of life through affirmations, visualisations and other social exercises.  

How much can meditating help when dealing with an anxiety disorder?

In order to achieve a better quality of life when suffering from an anxiety disorder, coping mechanisms for staying centered and calmed are more than necessary. Meditation has very few contraindications; most of its techniques can be self-taught which makes it remarkable as a low to zero cost therapeutic strategy; and it neutralizes excessive stress without affecting alertness and/or effectiveness in day to day life.

Even if, like with most approaches, it takes time to master any chosen type of meditation, there's a considerable decrease in anxiety symptoms positively related to frequency of practice. The willingness to initiate any meditation technique that suits you best as part of your self-care can really help you overcome the impairing effects of these disorders.

  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth
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