Anxiety and stress are a normal part of today’s normal living. One does not consider anxiety and something severe until it interferes with routines
Here are some general articles on Anxiety that help one understand what is anxiety and the various types of phobias
Treatment for anxiety is most successful when accompanied with psychotherapy, behavioral interventions and neurofeedback. At Healthy Within, one of our most successful treatment for any type of anxiety is to conduct behavioral treatment coupled with Neurofeedback.
Furthermore we have experienced the first hand benefit that our patients experience when they begin to actively meditate.
How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety at a Neural Level?
Researchers identify brain areas linked to mindfulness and anxiety reduction.
In recent years there has been a steady stream of research showing the power of mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety. Until now, the specific brain mechanisms of how meditation relieves anxiety at a neural level were unknown.
On June 3, 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study titled “Neural Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief” in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience which identifies brain regions activated by mindfulness meditation.
Anxiety is a cognitive state connected to an inability to regulate your emotional responses to perceived threats. Mindfulness meditation strengthens a person’s cognitive ability to regulate emotions. “Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.”
How does mindfulness meditation reduce anxiety at a neural level?
Mindfulness meditation has long been known as an antidote for anxiety. However, the brain mechanisms involved in meditation-related anxiety relief were unknown. To isolate the brain mechanisms behind mindfulness training the researchers at Wake Forest Baptist employed pulsed arterial spin labeling MRI to compare the effects of distraction in the form of “Attending to the Breath” (ATB) before meditation training and to mindfulness meditation (after meditation training) on the state of anxiety in test subjects.
For the study, the researchers recruited fifteen healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or known anxiety disorders. All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.
Anxiety was significantly reduced in every session that subjects meditated. Brain imaging found that meditation-related anxiety relief was associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These areas of the brain are involved with executive function and the control of worrying. Meditation-related activation of these three regions was directly linked to anxiety relief.
Activation of the anterior cingulate cortex—the area that governs thinking and emotion—is the primary region believed to influence a decrease in anxiety. These findings provide evidence that mindfulness meditation attenuates anxiety through mechanisms involved in the regulation of self-referential thought processes. Subjects who exhibited a greater default-related activity (i.e. posterior cingulate cortex) reported greater anxiety, possibly reflecting an inability to control self-referential thoughts.
Interestingly, previous studies on altruism have found that the anterior insular cortex, is the activity center of human empathy. For more on this research please check out my Psychology Today blog, The Evolutionary Biology of Altruism.
Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation are Complementary
There are many different types of meditation. In general, neuroscientists have been studying the benefits of both mindfulness meditation, in which you focus on sustaining attention and guiding thoughts; and loving-kindness meditation, in which you focus on compassionate thoughts towards yourself and others. Both types of meditation have been proven to change brain structure and have dramatic physical and psychological benefits.
“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”
For more tips and research on mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation please check out my Psychology Today blogs: Compassion Can Be Trained, Mindfulness Made Simple, Social Connectivity Drives the Engine of Well-Being and Mindfulness Training and the Compassionate Brain.
Conclusion: Meditation is Secular
Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders. “The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement the growing body of knowledge about the benefits of mindfulness training by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people,” Zeidan said. Adding, “This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety.”
Mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation are secular. You don’t need to become a Buddhist to incorporate mindfulness training into your daily routine. The Dalai Lama has said that, “In the twenty-first century, even in countries with no previous tradition of Buddhism, interest is growing among ordinary people and scientists. The ethics and discipline described in the Vinaya are the foundation for training both in concentration (shamatha) and insight (vipassana).” He clarifies that with the help of focused concentration our minds have the ability to remain still and by applying analysis we can achieve higher understanding.
By MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S. (Psychcentral)
“Anxiety is a normal, predictable part of life,” said Tom Corboy, MFT, the founder and executive director of theOCD Center of Los Angeles, and co-author of the upcoming book The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD.
However, “people with an anxiety disorder are essentially phobic about the feeling state of anxiety.” And they’ll go to great lengths to avoid it.
Some people experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), excessive anxiety about real-life concerns, such as money, relationships, health and academics, he said.
Others struggle with society anxiety, and worry about being evaluated or embarrassing themselves, he said. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might become preoccupied with symmetry or potential contamination, he said.
“The bottom line is that people can experience anxiety, and anxiety disorders, related to just about anything.”
Some people may not struggle with a clinical disorder, but want to manage sporadic (yet intrusive) bouts of anxiety and stress.
Whether you have occasional anxiety or a diagnosable disorder, the good news is that you can take small, effective and straightforward steps every day to manage and minimize your anxiety.
Most of these steps contribute to a healthy and fulfilling life, overall. For instance, “making some basic lifestyle changes can do wonders for someone coping with elevated anxiety,” Corboy said. Below, you’ll find 15 small steps you can take today.
- Take a deep breath.
“Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response, switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system,” according to Marla Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia and Psych Central blogger.She suggested the following exercise, which you can repeat several times: Inhale slowly to a count of four, starting at your belly and then moving into your chest. Gently hold your breath for four counts. Then slowly exhale to four counts.
- Get active.
“One of the most important things one can do [to cope with anxiety] is to get regular cardiovascular exercise,” Corboy said. For instance, a brisk 30- to 60-minute walk “releases endorphins that lead to a reduction in anxiety.”You can start today by taking a walk. Or create a list of physical activities that you enjoy, and put them on your schedule for the week. Other options include: running, rowing, rollerblading, hiking, biking, dancing, swimming, surfing, step aerobics, kickboxing and sports such as soccer, tennis and basketball.
- Sleepwell.Not getting enough sleep can trigger anxiety. If you’re having trouble sleeping, tonight, engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or taking several deep breaths. (You’ll find more tips here.)And, if you’re like many people with anxiety whose brains start buzzing right before bed, jot down your worries earlier in the day for 10 to 15 minutes, or try a mental exercise like thinking of fruits with the same letter. (Find more suggestions here.)
- Challenge an anxious thought.
“We all have moments wherein we unintentionally increase or maintain our own worry by thinking unhelpful thoughts. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or, to some extent, unreasonable,” Deibler said.Thankfully, we can change these thoughts. The first step is to identify them. Consider how a specific thought affects your feelings and behaviors, Deibler said. Is it helpful or unhelpful?Unhelpful thoughts usually come in the form of “what ifs,” “all-or-nothing thinking,” or “catastrophizing,” Deibler said. She gave these examples: “What if I make a fool of myself?” “What if I fail this exam?” or “What if this airplane crashes?”These are the types of thoughts you want to challenge. Deibler suggested asking yourself:“Is this worry realistic?” “Is this really likely to happen?” “If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?” “Could I handle that?” “What might I do?” “If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?” “Is this really true or does it just seem that way?” “What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”Then, “reframe or correct that thought to make it more accurate, realistic and more adaptive.” Here’s one example: “I would feel embarrassed if I tripped on the stage, but that’s just a feeling; it wouldn’t last forever, and I would get through it.”
- Say an encouraging statement.
Positive, accurate statements can help to put things into perspective. Deibler gave these examples: “Anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling.” and “This feels bad, but I can use some strategies to [cope with] it.”
- Stay connected to others.“Social support is vital to managing stress,” Deibler said. Today, call a loved one, schedule a Skype date or go to lunch with a close friend. “Talking with others can do a world of good.” Another option is to get together and engage in an activity that improves your anxiety, such as taking a walk, sitting on the beach or going to a yoga class.
- Avoid caffeine.
Managing anxiety is as much about what you do as what you don’t do. And there are some substances that exacerbate anxiety. Caffeine is one of those substances. As Corboy said, “The last thing people with anxiety need is a substance that makes them feel more amped up, which is exactly what caffeine does.”
- Avoid mind-altering substances.
“While drugs and alcohol might help to reduce anxiety in the short term, they often do just the opposite in the long term,” Corboy said. Even the short-term effect can be harmful.Corboy and his team have treated countless clients whose first panicattack occurred while they were taking drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy or LSD. “Panic attacks are bad enough if you are straight and sober, so imagine how bad they are if you are high, and can’t get un-high until the drug wears off.”
- Do something you enjoy.
Engaging in enjoyable activities helps to soothe your anxiety. For instance, today, you might take a walk, listen to music or read a book, Deibler said.
- Take a break.
It’s also helpful to build breaks into your day. As Deibler said, this might be a “simple change of pace or scenery, enjoying a hobby, or switching ‘to-do’ tasks.” “Breaking from concerted effort can be refreshing.”
Deibler suggested considering how you can address the stressors that are causing your anxiety. Today, make a list of these stressors and next to each one, jot down one or two solutions.
- Pick up a book.
There are many valuable resources on anxiety, which teach you effective coping skills. Corboy recommended Dying of Embarrassmentfor people with social anxiety; The BDD Workbook for body dysmorphic disorder; The Imp of the Mind and The OCD Workbook for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Deibler suggested Stop Obsessing for adults with OCD (and Up and Down the Worry Hill for kids with OCD).For people with panic attacks, she suggested Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks. For a general overview of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety, Corboy recommended The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. He also recommended Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life and The Wisdom of No Escape.(You can find more book recommendations at Corboy’s website.)
- Engage in calming practices.
According to Corboy, “meditation, yoga, or other calming practices can help minimize anxiety in both the short and long term.” Sign up for a yoga class or watch a yoga video online. (Curvy Yoga is a wonderful resource for yoga for all shapes and sizes.) Meditate right now for just three minutes. (Here’s how.)
- Contact a therapist.
“Sometimes anxiety can be difficult to manage without professional help,” Deibler said. Many organizations include databases of providers who specialize in anxiety (along with helpful information). She suggested these organizations: www.ocfoundation.org, www.adaa.organd www.abct.org.
- Accept your anxiety.
“If you really want to effectively manage your anxiety, the key is to accept it,” Corboy said. This might sound counterintuitive. But anxiety, “in and of itself,” isn’t the real problem. Instead, it’s our attempts at controlling and eliminating it, he said. “Not accepting these unwanted inner experiences is the actual source of so much of our self-induced suffering.”Accepting anxiety doesn’t mean “resign[ing] ourselves to a life of anxious misery. It simply means that we are better off recognizing and fully accepting the existence of anxiety and other uncomfortable emotional states that are inevitable, but transitory,” Corboy said.So if you experience anxiety today, simply observe it, Deibler said. “Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in, experience it, and ride it out.”
Anxiety can feel overwhelming. It can feel like chains around your feet, weighing you down. But by taking small steps – like the ones above – you can minimize your anxiety and cope effectively.
For help with your anxiety please contact Healthy Within Staff.