How to Reduce Anxiety With Only One Mindfulness Meditation Session
8 minute read
Stress is something we all experience. The key to stress is controlling it so that anxiety does not take over your life and your health.
With anxiety being one of the most common mental health disorders in the country, it is important to take control sooner rather than later.
Mindfulness meditation has long been practiced as a way to relieve anxiety. Recent research has shown that the benefits can be seen in as little as one session.
Mindfulness Meditation Study
A recent study has shown that one single session of mindfulness meditation can reduce the stress on your arteries. Given that anxiety takes a large toll on your cardiovascular system, this is exactly where we need to see the relief.
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One session lowers blood pressure and reduces stress on your cardiovascular system, which can benefit your heart, brain, and other important organs. With continued sessions, there is significant improvement by the end of a week.
Anxiety increases your risk for cardiovascular disease because it hardens your arteries, which interferes with blood flow. Arterial stiffness is a predictor of heart disease as well as stroke and can be triggered by traumatic events in your life, job stress, and depression.
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As more pressure is placed on your heart and blood vessels, more damage occurs, and you run the risk for high blood pressure and heart attack. If not addressed, serious health problems can occur with time; it’s why many people look to heart-healthy supplements for help.
Researchers looked at the effects of mindfulness meditation on 14 individuals with normal blood pressure but high levels of anxiety. They recorded heart rate, blood pressure, and arterial stiffness both before and after an hour-long meditation session.
The type of meditation used focused on deep breathing and awareness of one’s own thoughts. The one session showed improvements in each of the measured factors, indicating that even a brief intervention can reduce anxiety and, therefore, protect your overall health.
Anxiety and Your Health
Your body is equipped with a stress response that is necessary for survival. The flight-or-fight response has evolved as a means of protecting you from danger. When a physical threat presents itself, this response is triggered.
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The same thing happens when you are worried or stressing over something. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat and a perceived one, so the stress response is initiated.
Hormones released in response to stress can cause a number of physiological changes in your body. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, causing increased heart rate, increased breathing, and decreased digestive activity. It also causes you liver to release stored glucose to give you an instant burst of energy.
During times of danger these changes allow you to do what is necessary for survival. But they have deleterious effects otherwise.
Prolonged exposure to this hyperactive state puts your body and your health at risk. Anxiety involves constant worrying, which means your brain is always thinking there is a threat looming.
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Your body remains in a ‘stressed’ state for longer than necessary, lacing great physical strain on your heart and other vital organs. Persistent anxiety begins to negatively impact your overall health. Here’s how:
Stomach Problems: A substantial proportion of anxiety sufferers also suffer from gastrointestinal disorders. The nerves that regulate digestion become hypersensitive and you are more likely to experience abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Respiratory Complications: Anxiety-related panic attacks cause you to hyperventilate, which disrupts healthy airflow. Air is moving so fast that it does not remain in your lungs as long as it should.
Not only can you hyperventilate to the point of passing out, but over time disrupted airflow causes chronic respiratory disease.
Heart Disease: With an increased heart rate and blood pressure, great physical strain is placed on your blood vessels, arteries, and heart. Prolonged exposure causes arteries to harden, blood vessel damage, and eventually heart attack or stroke.
For those individuals already suffering from heart disease, any additional anxiety experienced significantly increases their risk of death.
Mindfully Mending Your Brain
Your body can withstand a good deal of stress when needed, but this is not a state you want to be in for an extended period of time. Anxiety causes your brain to remain in an overactive state, prompting the physical stress response.
The threat may just be in your head, but the physical outcomes will be all too real. With mindfulness meditation having been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms, it seems the most logical choice for protecting your health.
Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on the present. The top causes for anxiety include worrying about future events and nonstop reminiscing over past experiences (usually negative ones).
Since you do not have the ability to control either of those, the more you focus on them the less control you feel you have. You end up feeling uncertain and anxious.
By focusing on the present, mindfulness meditation allows your brain to pay attention to the here and now only.
What You Should Do
To practice mindfulness, you first need to set aside time each day. You don’t need a special studio, just a quiet place and some time alone.
The idea is to quiet your mind and focus on your present situation. This can be tricky at first, so counting your breaths or chanting a meditation mantra helps to keep your brain focused on one thing.
Thoughts will naturally occur, and they need to be handled in a very specific way. Acknowledge thoughts when they arise, but then let them pass and do not hold on to them.
Using imagery can help with this—try imagining the thought as a feather or balloon that you let go and watch float away. What is important is bringing your brain back to the focal point (chant or counting) each time a thought disrupts you.
With time and practice, this gets easier, and, eventually, you will control your wandering mind, allowing it to better cope with anxiety.
The Bottom Line
There is growing research that mindfulness can actually change the physical structure of your brain too. Just as stress and anxiety can change your brain, so can meditation, but this time for the better.
Mindfulness meditation can help relieve symptoms of anxiety in one session, so imagine what it can do when it becomes part of your regular daily routine. Protect your mental and physical health by preventing anxiety from running your life.
Find a quiet place and start mindfully meditating today.