Meditation for Anxiety

Headspace for Anxiety
A set of sessions focussing on meditation for anxiety, to help you deal with worries and feel calmer.

When you learn mindfulness, you learn how to work with difficulties and stress in general.

Meditation for Anxiety

Do you worry a lot?

Many of us worry. The rates vary, but in western countries between 14 and 29% of us are likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in our lifetime.1 So if you’re a worrier, don’t worry - you’re not alone.

Meditation for anxiety can help with these feelings, but first let’s learn a bit more about worry and anxiety.

Mindfulness & Anxiety

One recent study, published in the Psychological Bulletin, combined the findings of 163 different studies. These suggested that mindfulness-meditation practice had an overall substantial positive effect on improving psychological factors including negative personality traits, anxiety and stress.2

Why do we worry?

We’re born worriers. Scientists believe that our brains have evolved a “negativity bias”, meaning we’re drawn to threats more than opportunities.

We’re likely to detect negative information faster than positive information and generally have a background level of anxiety as our brain monitors the environment for possible threats.

The positive effects of mindfulness

Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, taught mindfulness to a group of people with clinical levels of anxiety and found that 90% experienced significant reductions in anxiety - and depression too.3

It’s in our genes.

This negativity bias was helpful for our ancestors, as they lived in an extremely threatening environment. Some were prone to unnecessary worrying, and upon hearing a rustle in the bushes, might fear the worst and think something like, “Sabre-tooth tiger! Run!” As a result, they were more likely to survive and pass on their worry genes down to us (even though nine times out of 10 the noise was probably nothing more than a squirrel!).

Then there were our other ancestors who didn’t worry as much, and assumed the rustling meant they’d found a squirrel for lunch. They might have got it right nine times out of 10, but the one time they got it wrong, they got it seriously wrong. So, they were less likely to pass their genes down to us than the worriers.

Although the environment’s changed and we’re safer than ever before, our brains haven’t adapted and they’re still constantly on the lookout for threats and reasons to worry.

How can mindfulness help with anxiety management?

Numerous scientific studies have found meditation to be effective for treating anxiety. One group of US researchers looked at how mindfulness had helped with anxiety management across various types of people: from those suffering with cancer, to those with social anxiety disorders and eating issues.

They examined 39 scientific studies, totalling 1,140 participants and discovered that the anxiety-reducing benefits from mindfulness might be enjoyed across such a wide range of conditions because when you learn mindfulness, you learn how to work with difficulties and stress in general.4

“Turning down” the worries

The bigger worriers of us out there often have greater reactivity in a part of our brains called the amygdala, which triggers fear. Neuroscientists at Stanford University found that people who practised mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks were more able to turn down the reactivity of this area.5 Other researchers, from Harvard University, have found that mindfulness can actually physically reduce the number of neurons in this fear-triggering part of our brains.6

If you’re an anxious sort, you needn’t let your worries get to you. Just treat your head right by getting mindful with Headspace.

References
  1. Michael, T., Zetsche, U. & Margraf, J. (2007). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders. Psychiatry. 6, 4. 136-142.
  2. Sedlmeier, P., Eberth, J., Schwarz, M., Zimmermann, D., Haarig, F., Jaeger, S., & Kunze, S. (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. 138, 6. 1139-71.
  3. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. & Santorelli, S. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 149. 936-943.
  1. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 78, 2.169-183.
  2. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.
  3. Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Evans, K.C., Hoge, E.A., Dusek, J.A., Morgan, L., Pitman, R. & Lazar, S. (2009). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 5. 11-17.