You’ve probably heard that meditation can help with anxiety, but perhaps you’re a bit skeptical.
Does meditation really work for anxiety? How would thinking about my thoughts help me remove anxiety?
I remember being skeptical about meditation too.
When I first started to meditate I was a teenager working as a lifeguard at a pool. Because I heard that posture was important to meditate properly, I tried to improve my posture by sitting perfectly upright during my lifeguard shifts.
I tried really hard. But soon my back hurt!
This made my lifeguard job even harder because let me tell you something: those lifeguard shifts were boring and anxiety-provoking at the same time, and my perfectionistic attitude just made things worse!
Boring because watching kids swim all day is boring. But anxiety-provoking because you never knew if one would slip, fall or need help!
So when I was elsewhere trying to meditate perfectly while being bored and slightly anxious …
I remember hating meditation! Thinking it was too tough for me. Thinking that I was a failure because my mind wouldn’t calm down.
Fortunately though, I stumbled across some simple meditations that helped me.
Now, 12 years later, I am still meditating.
I also lived as a Zen Monk for 13 months and have done countless retreats, and nowadays I teach mindfulness to people to help them overcome their food cravings.
I’ve come a long way on my meditation journey, from being perfectionistic to passionate.
Down below you can see my top 3 recommendations for meditations to help with anxiety.
And I’m limiting my choice selection to just three because I want to keep things simple.
Then after listing my top 3 recommendations, I’ll answer these frequently asked questions:
- Can meditation reduce anxiety?
- How long should I meditate for anxiety?
I hope that by answering these questions in depth, you can better understand meditation and be able to make your own decisions about what meditation style is best for you.
Because let’s face it – everyone is different. These three choices listed down below are good entry points to get started with meditation.
But ultimately, if you really want to get over anxiety, you’ll have to explore meditation more deeply on your own and really make it personal to you.
With that being said, these three meditations are great places to get started with when you are just learning about a health care practice like meditation to reduce anxiety.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the Eating Enlightenment top 3 list of best meditations for anxiety!
What’s The Best Meditation For Anxiety?
1 – Three Minute Breathing Space
This guided meditation is short and free.
Overall, I really like this mindfulness meditation because of how simple it is.
There are three simple steps to this guided meditation:
- Embrace The Present Moment – Your attitude must be open and willing. Your heart must be willing to simply be in the present moment.
- Focus On Your Breath – There is tons of information in the present moment with different noises, sights and sounds. Narrow your focus to just your breath.
- Feel Your Body: After you pay attention to your breath, you can begin to wide your awareness to include your body.
Now check this video to see more on this simple meditation:
And please note the three steps above – 1) attitude, 2) breath, and 3) body – are highly important principles of meditation for anxiety in general.
I’ll talk extensively down below in the frequently asked questions about why breath, mind and body are so important to reducing anxiety.
For now though, I just really want you to appreciate how this simple three minute meditation with three simple steps introduces these three powerful principles:
Plus, you don’t need to fully understand these principles in order to experience less stress and anxiety in your body.
For example, just take a deep, deep breath right now and let it out fully.
Just by breathing deep and exhaling 100%, you can reduce some of the anxiety in your mind and body. Maybe not all your anxious thoughts will go away by deep breathing, but you can definitely see a little reduction in just a few deep, slow breaths.
How much more about breathing do you really need to know?
Do you need to know about oxygen, or how many breaths per minute? No!
You just need to be able to experience directly for yourself how breathing leads to less anxiety. That’s it!
Here’s Another Example Of Why You Only Need To Know The Basics Of Meditation To Get Started
When I first meditated as a teenager, I thought I had to have a perfectly straight back or that I needed to sit cross legged.
After lifeguarding I would practice meditation at home and I would sit with my legs crossed until my feet would fall asleep.
Then when I would stand up my feet would feel like they were on fire!
See, back then I thought my body had to be in a certain position, upright or legs crossed.
But in this three minute meditation with these three simple steps, there is not much mention of posture or putting your body in the ‘right’ position.
There is no ‘right’ position! This is a theme you’ll see me come back to again and again.
Now is your body important? Yes!
Knowing how to do certain things with your body is highly important, things like:
- Feeling your body
- Understanding how anxiety manifests in your body
- Being able to detect subtle signs of anxiety in your body
- Being able to notice what feels pleasant to your body
Summary: Attitude, breath and body are important
If you want more simple and great meditations, then I highly suggest you take a look at the SoundsTrue website.
SoundsTrue has a variety of beginner-friendly guided meditations, presented in multiple formats:
- Links to many different free meditations
In all my years of meditation I’ve yet to come across a better meditation resource. Seriously!
2 – Quick Coherence Meditation
This next Quick Coherence meditation has only 2 steps!
It’s even easier than the previous three minute mindfulness meditation!
Here are the 2 steps to practice the Quick Coherence Meditation:
- Heart-Focused Breathing: Focus your attention in the area of your heart, imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area. Breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.
- Activate a Positive Feeling: Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life.
Here is a TED talk where they actually demonstrate this technique!
As you can see in this TED talk, the woman on the stage is quickly able to harmonize her Heart Rate Variability.
Heart Rate Variability tends to vacillate when we are stressed out. For example, the woman in the beginning of the video when first called upon stage had a high Heart Rate Variability.
However, after doing this Quick Coherence technique her Heart Rate Variability quickly calmed down. Even in front of a huge live audience!
Notice The Similarities Between The Two Meditation Techniques!
Do you see the similarities between these two techniques?
- Both emphasize deeper, slower breathing
- Notice the emphasis on Attitude; the first technique asks you to have an open attitude, while the second technique asks you to genuinely reflect on something positive.
Summary: Breathing and attitude are hugely important principles behind successful meditation practice to reduce anxiety.
3 – Biofeedback Meditation Devices
One of the best ways to meditate for many people is to get a biofeedback meditation device.
Biofeedback is where a device tells you if you are calming down, by reading your body signals like:
- Whether or not your breathing is slowing down
- If your heart rate is even
- Blood pressure is too high or too low
- If your brainwaves are harmonized
And yes! Your brain waves! There are plenty of devices like Muse that can read your brain waves in real time and provide live feedback on whether you are calming down.
These devices often have breathing exercises and other health care practice tips, too.
I actually tried Muse myself, as you can see in this video here which was filmed years upon years ago!
Disadvantages Of Using Biofeedback
Of course the main disadvantage of using biofeedback devices is cost.
The muse headband runs for $209. While there are a few cheaper options, as far as I can tell they are all pretty much in the same ballpark range, for example:
Advantages Of Using Biofeedback
The main advantage of using biofeedback is that you don’t have to worry ‘if you’re doing it right.’
Biofeedback devices measure your body to give you definitive real time feedback to see if you are calming down.
No more guesswork if you’re doing meditation correctly to deal with anxiety.
No more anxiety about if you’re thinking too much.
Now admittedly, you really can’t screw up meditation, as I’ve discussed in this beginner meditation blog post here.
However, even if you logically ‘know’ you can’t screw up meditation, it’s still entirely possible that you will emotionally worry that you are screwing up!
The biofeedback devices, while pricey, offer a solution to the fear of screwing up.
(Of course, Amazon does have an amazing customer return policy, so effectively you can get a free trial for these devices!)
Summary: At a cost, biofeedback devices can be some of the best tools to learn meditation for dealing with anxiety.
Best Anxiety Meditation Concluding Thoughts
Overall, I think the best anxiety meditation is the one that resonates and feels ‘right’ to you.
Back when I was learning meditation I wanted to find the absolute best way to meditate.
But my quest to find the right way was also very perfectionistic and anxiety-provoking itself! I was obsessed with these types of thoughts:
- Which meditation was best for anxiety?
- Which was best for sleep?
- What if I didn’t do it right?
- Was I thinking too much?
Nowadays I don’t think there is a single best meditation. I also don’t believe there is a ‘right’ way to meditate.
Some styles of meditation like Zen Meditation have no preference towards thoughts, while other styles of meditation try to have you ‘let go’ of your thoughts.
Honestly, the best guided meditations are up to you. It just depends on your preferences and your preferences may be different than mine!
I’ve tried to select a few of the best meditation techniques and approaches in this article.
Let me know your thoughts down below. What’s your favorite meditation for anxiety?
Frequently Asked Questions About Meditation and Anxiety:
Can Meditation Reduce Anxiety?
Generally speaking, yes meditation can reduce anxiety because meditation trains you to work with your thoughts in a more skillful manner.
Here are 5 principles that explain more why!\
However, there are certain types of anxiety like OCD in which meditation may be less effective. I’ll discuss these different types of anxiety down below …
But for now let’s just be clear on something: mindfulness meditation can help with most cases of anxiety because most cases of anxiety are caused by your thoughts!
In other words, the main cause of most anxiety is your own thinking, where you:
- Worry about the future
- blame yourself for your past mistakes
- Think about stuff that’s outside of your control
- Make doomsday predictions
However, in meditation we learn two extremely important principles:
- Your thoughts are often untrue
- Your thoughts oftentimes only appear to be meaningful, but in reality most of your thoughts are meaningless.
With that being said, there are different types of anxiety which I discuss down below. Meditation may not work as well with some of these forms of anxiety.
When Meditation For Anxiety May Not Work
Not all types of anxiety are created equal.
I remember taking a psychology class in graduate school and hearing that 40% of Americans had some form of anxiety.
The majority of these Americans have what I call ‘normal anxiety’.
Normal anxiety is when you experience anxiety and stress before doing things like:
- Giving a speech
- Going on a first date
- Hosting a party
The anxiety and stress of ‘normal anxiety’ is part of everyday life, and meditation will definitely help with this normal anxiety.
Normal anxiety is not a clinical disorder, unlike Generalized Anxiety Disorder which is a clinical, medical anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is defined by:
- Fears and worries that don’t reduce
- Worries that worsen into a feeling of dread and doom
- Constant thinking and ruminating
GAD is more severe than ‘normal anxiety’ but guided meditations will still be effective if taught properly.
Here are two other forms of anxiety that are more intense than normal anxiety but in which meditation will still be effective if taught properly.
- Social anxiety – extreme anxiety in social situations
- Separation anxiety – fear of abandonment from loved ones
- Panic attacks – extreme debilitating sudden panic attacks
For Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, And Separation Anxiety, the best initial approach to meditation will be a body scan meditation combined with Biofeedback.
In body scan meditation practice, you learn to scan your body’s muscle groups one at a time and you don’t focus on your thoughts.
Basically you learn to relax your body first in this way of meditating, and this is best for GAD.
Biofeedback devices also will be great for these more extreme cases because very tangible progress is possible. Again, you ‘see’ results on the device and don’t need to worry if you are doing it correctly.
Here’s a video I made where I do a guided meditation to teach how to body scan:
Meditation Will Not Be Effective For Obsessive Compulsive Disorder And Agoraphobia
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a compulsion to ritualically repeat behaviors or rituals.
Agoraphobia is where extreme panic occurs when leaving the house.
In these forms of extreme anxiety, a person will need a combination of medication, therapy and other tools to manage.
Meditation by itself will not work.
Our last question is down below!
How Long Should I Meditate For Anxiety?
The answer, of course, depends on the individual person and situation in question.
But in general, you should meditate daily until you feel some relaxation and stress reduction.
Basically when you meditate your guiding rule should be to feel better, or less worse. And you ideally should practice meditation daily if you are serious about reducing anxiety.
But, you don’t need to practice meditation for a super long time!
You just need to feel better, or less worse.
If that takes you two minutes, great. If you need longer, like 10 minutes, then that’s what best.
But some discipline is necessary to bring more order and peace to your ruminating mind.
With that being said, leave me a comment down below with any questions!