Every year, October 10th marks World Mental Health Day. Created by the World Health Organisation, this global event promotes education and awareness of issues related to mental wellbeing.
One of the greatest challenges for mental wellbeing is anxiety. The modern world can feel like a fraught place, and anxiety is a common experience. Whether it’s nerves before a big event, a tight stomach over a difficult conversation or tension due to stresses, it’s natural for us all to feel anxious at times. Yet when the sense of worry doesn’t relent and anxiety becomes a default state, it can be debilitating, spiralling into excessive rumination, loss of rational perspective and even panic.
If anxiety is out of control, it’s important to seek help. Anxiety is a complex issue and can require professional therapeutic support – especially if it is severe and ongoing.
Alongside this, mindfulness and meditation can also offer helpful tools for navigating anxiety. Many people around the world now use meditation techniques of all kinds to support their mental wellbeing. The information here isn’t intended as a treatment path or a replacement for clinical support. Instead, it’s a resource that can be useful as part of a comprehensive strategy for managing anxiety.
Mindfulness for anxiety
Mindfulness techniques guide us to be aware in the present moment, and to not be overly reactive to what is happening inside and around us.
In mindfulness practice, we learn to acknowledge thoughts and feelings that can cause anxiety and to simply allow them to be, without suppressing or identifying with them. This helps to create space around thought processes and bring gentle awareness to unhelpful patterns. As a result, mindfulness can lead to new-found perspectives and greater capacity to cope with discomforting situations.
The effects can be profound. Research shows that mindfulness is related to lower levels of anxiety, thanks to its ability to reduce worry and rumination.
Studies have found that after an eight-week course of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), the concentration of grey matter increases in areas of the brain connected to emotional regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking – all of which can help to mediate anxiety. Other research supports these findings, including a study showing that MBSR is effective in reducing symptoms of panic and anxiety, and in maintaining these reductions.
Breathwork for anxiety
Breathwork is another resource that can be helpful for anxiety. Working with the breath through meditative breathing techniques has a soothing effect on our autonomic nervous system. By bringing the breath into a regulated rhythm, we cue our minds and bodies to feel safe and at ease. This helps to calm the fight-or-flight state associated with stress and anxiety and initiate our body’s relaxation response. Focusing on the breath also invites us to shift attention away from distracting or upsetting thoughts, interrupting anxiety loops.
There are many different breathing exercises that can be helpful when we’re feeling anxious. One of the simplest is diaphragmatic breathing, a calming deep breathing technique also known as abdominal breathing. Another is box breathing, a simple relaxation technique that involves inhaling, exhaling and retaining the breath for equal lengths of time. There’s also alternate nostril breathing, a gentle breathwork that helps to quiet the mind and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Click on the links above for explanations of how to practice these breathing techniques.
Like all meditation, breathwork is most helpful when practiced consistently. It’s a wonderful practice to weave into a daily morning or evening routine. Regular practice at these times can also make it easier to use breathwork in moments when we’re experiencing feelings of stress or overwhelm.
Anxiety: finding a healthy way forwards
There are many other meditation techniques that can also be useful in dealing with anxiety. From body scans to guided exercises and visualisations, meditation offers numerous ways to help us alleviate stress and tension and learn to relate differently to ourselves. In doing so, it can help to promote a sense of calm and create a wider container for all of our experiences.
When it comes to managing anxiety, there are no quick fixes, and one solution doesn’t fit all. If you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s important to seek advice from a healthcare professional to find the right path and support for your individual needs. By finding the treatment program that works for you, it is possible to learn to manage anxiety differently and to move forwards in a healthier, more balanced way.Back to News