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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.