A person who lives life in the midst of chronic anxiety often suffers many trials in the course of an average day.
Getting stuck in a traffic jam or being on a train that’s delayed may push a person with anxiety to thoughts of, “I’m late. I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time and it will be a disaster,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“That’s why mindfulness mediation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety,” says Hoge. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hoge, “you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently.”
Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There are several types of anxiety disorders and they variety in intensity of emotions and interference with daily functioning. That anxiety begins as a normal human reaction to a stressful or dangerous situation, and in the case of a disorder, the intensity accelerates and becomes chronic. The time to be concerned and seek help from a professional is when these feelings or issues interfere with relationships, work, health and overall daily functioning. The most general form of anxiety disorder has some of these characteristics:
- Feeling restless, keyed up or irritable
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle aches or tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling easily fatigued
Mindfulness helps recognize the thought that may cause anxiety and put it into perspective.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment experience. It includes being aware of sensations, thoughts, bodily states, consciousness and the environment. Mindfulness encourages openness, curiosity and acceptance, according to Stefan Hofmann in a research report, “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression,” published by the National Institutes of Health.
“The basic premise underlying mindfulness practices is that experiencing the present moment nonjudgmentally and openly can effectively counter the effects of stressors,” says Hoffman. “That’s because excessive orientation toward the past or future when dealing with stressors can be related to feelings of depression and anxiety.”
Research has also shown that the slow and deep breathing involved in mindfulness meditation may alleviate bodily symptoms of distress by balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic responses, says Hofmann.
How to Learn Mindfulness Skills
While mindfulness derived from ancient Buddhist and yoga practices, extensive research showing positive results has made it an increasingly common element in psychotherapy.
The important first step is an accurate diagnosis and an identified focus on the areas of anxiety or stressors that are most critical. Recorded guided meditations can give people with anxiety a convenient way to develop coping skills, often in collaboration with a therapist. Medication is sometimes suggested in combination with psychotherapy.
In his book Being Peace, Buddhist monk and global advocate for meditation and peace Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
Corliss, Julie, “Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress,” Harvard Health Publications, Jan 15, 2016
Hofmann, Stefan G., “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression,” National Institutes of Health, April 2010
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, Massachusetts General Hospital, 2016