Is Mindfulness Effective for Managing Anxiety Disorders? (2022)

Mindfulness practice has helped calm minds for thousands of years — and modern science agrees it could be a useful tool in reducing anxiety.

Is Mindfulness Effective for Managing Anxiety Disorders? (1)Share on Pinterest

People who experience anxiety will know just how much the condition can impact daily life — creeping into everything from work to relationships to hobbies.

If you’re one of these individuals, it makes sense that you’ll want to do what you can to calm the mind and keep those worries at bay.

While the art of mindfulness has roots stemming back thousands of years, it has more recently been championed by the wellness industry as an approach to help ease stress and encourage relaxation.

But can mindfulness help individuals better manage anxiety?

Put simply, “it’s moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness,” says Katya Jezzard-Puyraud, mindfulness instructor and founder of LightHearts UK.

Mindfulness can involve:

  • accepting how you feel in the present moment, physically and emotionally
  • taking in your surroundings and being aware of yourself in them
  • not being distracted by thoughts from the past or future
  • being kind and nonjudgmental to yourself and others

When it comes to anxiety, practicing mindfulness can provide you with the mental tools to slow things down so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

“Mindfulness can be hugely powerful as a therapeutic tool [as] it involves becoming more consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” explains Jo Howarth, mindfulness practitioner and founder of The Happiness Club. “Once we have more conscious awareness of all of those things, then we can make whatever changes we decide we want to make.”

(Video) Kristin Lothman - Managing anxiety by practicing mindfulness and meditation

No matter how your anxiety manifests, its foundations remain the same.

“When we experience anxiety, it largely means that we are living in the future in our mind. We have imagined some kind of disastrous situation… [and] convinced ourselves that a horrible outcome is going to happen, so up pops anxiety,” Howarth explains.

“Mindfulness helps us come back into the present moment, where we realize none of that horrible stuff is actually happening.”

Jezzard-Puyraud agrees. With mindfulness, “you become an observer of your emotions,” she says.

“Instead of getting caught up in it and being taken down that spiral, your ‘mindful observer’ sort of takes a step back and goes, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s happening here? What’s the real cause of my anxiety?’”

As such, a 2017 research review showed that it’s been incorporated into Western psychological therapies over the past few decades through approaches such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate mindfulness is beneficial for anxiety, science also supports its efficacy.

In a 2015 study, scans revealed that engaging in a mindfulness practice decreases the amount of neural activity in the amygdala — the part of the brain that responds to stress.

Additionally, a small 2018 study found that mindfulness may reduce the levels of hormones that create cortisol (the body’s stress chemical), as well.

The positive effects of mindfulness may help ease symptoms of other conditions, too. Research shows that various forms of mindfulness might help reduce anxiety levels and symptoms of:

(Video) Train Your Brain: Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety, Depression, ADD and PTSD | Daniel Goleman

As with many things in life, mindfulness isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, and what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others.

It’s about trying out different approaches and finding what’s best for you.

Forms of mindful meditation shown to have positive effects on stress reduction include:

  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • body scanning
  • deep breathing techniques
  • observing thoughts

Mindfulness becomes easier with practice and time. You can try these easy steps today to get started.

Breathing techniques

“One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is our breathing,” states Howarth. “When you put all of your awareness on your breath, then you are completely present, [and] no longer in that imagined future.”

There are a variety of techniques to try, which can last for as long as you like. Not only can breath work be a form of anxiety-busting mindfulness, but a

2017 research review

showed that slowing down and regulating your breathing also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which can calm the body down.

Acknowledge your surroundings

Utilize everyday activities as opportunities to ground yourself in the present. Take a car journey, for example.

“Turn the radio off and label everything that you see. So, you’d think, ‘nice tree’, or ‘she’s got a nice coat.’ That kind of thing,” Jezzard-Puynaud explains. “You’re looking properly and being aware of what’s around you. It becomes second nature after a while.”

(Video) Brief Mindful Breathing for Anxiety

Body scanning

A 2021 study with animals on virtually-led body scanning found that participants experienced reduced stress and anxiety from this meditation practice after just one session.

Essentially, body scanning involves the participant slowly working up or down their body and recognizing various sensations. This easy step-by-step guide will help see you through.

Tune into a guided session

For mindfulness newcomers (and seasoned pros), settling your mind can sometimes be challenging. But listening to a guided session is one way to help set your mind on the right path.

An array of apps offers this type of practice, and you can discover six of our favorites here.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Another full-body exercise, this approach requires the individual to gently engage and squeeze different muscles throughout the body before releasing and feeling them relax.

Despite its simplicity, PMR can have a big impact: A 2015 study found that patients who practiced PMR for 12 weeks experienced a dramatic reduction in anxiety.

Active listening

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone and didn’t find yourself distracted by a to-do list, Instagram, or the kids? “Sit down and really listen to what that person is saying to you,” Jezzard-Puynaud says.

If you have a favorite music artist, you could practice mindfully listening to their songs: taking in words, considering their meaning, and being aware of how they make you feel.

A small 2020 study found that people who mindfully listened to music or nature sounds over 8 weeks had reduced feelings of anxiety and stress.

Meditation vs. mindfulness: What’s the difference?

(Video) The extraordinary effect of mindfulness on depression and anxiety | Daniel Goleman | Big Think

With similar foundations and results, it’s easy to get these two concepts confused.

Meditation is an activity that you specifically set aside time to complete, whereas mindfulness is something that eventually becomes a part of your consciousness. “It is a way of existing, a way of being,” Jezzard-Puyraud states.

However, there is a crossover. “Meditation is very much part of the practice,” she continues. “When I teach people, we do lots of meditations and lots of different types, because everyone is different.”

But if meditation isn’t a right fit for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t practice mindfulness. “Meditation can be part of a mindfulness practice, but it doesn’t have to be,” notes Howarth.

An array of anecdotal evidence and scientific research supports the role of mindfulness in helping reduce levels of anxiety and stress at varying severities and manifestations.

There are numerous ways to get started incorporating mindfulness into your daily life, with steps as easy as practicing active listening or breath work.

However, whatever route you take into mindfulness, it’s important not to put pressure on yourself.

Becoming fully mindful might take some effort and practice, but you don’t necessarily have to master anything to enjoy benefits. A 2019 study showed that just 13 minutes each day could be enough to make a difference, but consistency over at least 6 to 8 weeks is key.

As Jezzard-Puynaud states: “The thing about mindfulness is that whatever you do to help yourself is fine. It doesn’t have to be every single minute of every single day. As long as you can do some of it, some time, you’re doing OK.”

(Video) How to Manage Stress and Anxiety Through Mindfulness

FAQs

How effective is mindfulness for anxiety? ›

Researchers reviewed more than 200 studies of mindfulness among healthy people and found mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can also help treat people with specific problems including depression, pain, smoking and addiction.

How does mindfulness help those who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? ›

How Mindfulness Calms Anxious Feelings. Mindfulness helps you learn to stay with difficult feelings without analyzing, suppressing, or encouraging them. When you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your worries, irritations, painful memories, and other difficult thoughts and emotions, this often helps them dissipate ...

Is mindfulness-based therapy effective? ›

MBIs have demonstrated efficacy in reducing anxiety and depression symptom severity in a broad range of treatment-seeking individuals. MBIs consistently outperform non-evidence-based treatments and active control conditions, such as health education, relaxation training, and supportive psychotherapy.

Does mindfulness help anxiety and depression? ›

Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.

Does mindfulness help social anxiety? ›

Research suggests that a mindfulness-based meditation practice can be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating social anxiety. Specifically, meditation could give you more power over negative self-beliefs, such as “I'm not normal” or “I'm socially awkward” and help you foster self-compassion.

What are the benefits of mindfulness? ›

Among its theorized benefits are self-control, objectivity, affect tolerance, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to others and one's self with kindness, acceptance and compassion.

How does mindfulness help students with anxiety? ›

Mindfulness teaches students to understand how their brain reacts to stress, and how to train their brain to interrupt anxiety. Mindful breathing and listening are two strategies that help students self-regulate themselves. A mindfulness program will provide students with tools to help reduce stress and anxiety.

What meditation is best for anxiety? ›

Mindfulness meditation is a technique that can relax the mind and body to help manage stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation strives to focus the mind on the present moment, allowing it to notice sensations and feelings without evaluating them.

How can I reduce anxiety immediately? ›

How to calm down quickly
  1. Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
  2. Name what you're feeling. ...
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
  4. Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
  5. Run. ...
  6. Think about something funny. ...
  7. Distract yourself. ...
  8. Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)
22 Jun 2021

What are the basic principles of mindfulness related to anxiety? ›

Combining relaxation, self-acceptance, and sensory awareness, mindfulness helps people tune into their experience, with acceptance and curiosity. This mindset of curiosity allows for pause—even thinking—about what his happening, which in turn precludes reacting.

What are the strengths of the mindfulness-based treatments? ›

If you are struggling, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, also known as MBCT, may help. MBCT and other meditative practices have been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, lower stress and cortisol levels, and are beneficial for all ages.

Is mindfulness an effective treatment for depression? ›

Studies have suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is just as effective as medication in preventing depression relapse among adults with a history of recurrent depression, and in reducing depressive symptoms among those with active depression.

Does mindfulness work for everyone? ›

Although some people find mindfulness helpful, not everyone does. Mindfulness might not be the best option for you. Or it might help you at some times and not others. If you've tried something and it hasn't helped, it's important not to blame yourself.

What happens in mindfulness therapy? ›

Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander. Yoga and tai-chi can also help with developing awareness of your breathing.

Does meditation help with anxiety? ›

If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can help restore your calm and inner peace.

What are mindfulness interventions? ›

Mindfulness interventions aim to foster an open and accepting awareness of one's thoughts and feelings, including an observant attitude toward the thought patterns and body experiences that occur when one feels acutely anxious or depressed.

What causes high functioning anxiety? ›

Some of the common risk factors for high-functioning anxiety include: A family history of anxiety disorders. Certain physical conditions, most commonly related to thyroid issues. Growing up in an environment with triggers, such as having parents or siblings who suffer from anxiety.

How do you know if your mindfulness is working? ›

Here are 5 signs that meditation is working for you, even before you've reached your first moments of silence.
  1. You become more aware of your body. ...
  2. You'll notice when you're in a bad mood and be able to just drop it. ...
  3. Things that used to irritate you no longer irritate you. ...
  4. Your usual mental patterns will break.

What is another word for mindfulness? ›

In this page you can discover 15 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for mindfulness, like: carefulness, heedfulness, heed, careful, caution, dhyana, regard, samatha, unmindfulness, care and satipaiihana.

What effect does mindfulness have on the brain? ›

Mindfulness and creativity.

The pre-frontal cortex is the area of your brain responsible for things like planning, problem solving, and controlling your emotions. The grey matter in this area can become thicker after practising mindfulness, showing increased activity in these areas of thought.

What's the difference between mindfulness and meditation? ›

Mindfulness is the awareness of “some-thing,” while meditation is the awareness of “no-thing.” There are many forms of meditation. Some are aimed at developing a clear and focused mind, known as 'Clear Mind' meditations.

How long does it take for meditation to help anxiety? ›

How Long Should You Meditate to See Results? According to a 2018 study published in Behavioural Brain Research, meditating for 13 minutes a day for eight weeks led to decreased negative mood state, enhanced attention, working memory, recognition memory, and decreased state anxiety.

Can you be too mindful? ›

The Side-Effects Being “Too Mindful”

Excessively high levels of observing awareness (intentionally directing attention to one's present-moment experience) are associated with increased depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance abuse, and decreased ability to tolerate pain.

How do you treat anxiety without medication? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
6 Dec 2017

How do you beat anxiety without medication? ›

6 Options for Anxiety Treatment—Without Medication
  1. Physical Activity. There is a large body of research showing that physical exercise is an effective way to treat anxiety. ...
  2. Meditation. ...
  3. Healthy Diet. ...
  4. Psychotherapy. ...
  5. Flotation Tanks. ...
  6. TMS Treatment.
1 Sept 2019

How does mindfulness reduce stress? ›

This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response. Mindfulness practice reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so effectively, your background level of stress is reduced. You are better able to focus.

What type of therapy uses mindfulness? ›

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT, is a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices that include present moment awareness, meditation, and breathing exercises. This therapy was formulated to address depression.

How do you apply mindfulness in everyday life? ›

Remember, mindfulness means to be present, in the moment. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not do it while out shopping, drinking a cup of tea, eating your food, holding your baby, working at the computer or having a chat with a friend? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness, to be aware.

What are the limitations of mindfulness? ›

Mindfulness has potential downsides that are often ignored. For some people, mindfulness practices could increase the stress response, negative emotions, dissociation, and even inhibit sleep. As with any intervention, before we recommend mindfulness we must understand its potential risks.

What theory is mindfulness based on? ›

In brief, the Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory asserts that mindfulness allows one to decenter from stress appraisals into a metacognitive state of awareness that broadens attention to previously unnoticed pieces of information about one's life, accommodating a reappraisal (i.e., a reframing) of adverse circumstances that ...

Who invented mindfulness? ›

Origin of Mindfulness

Mindfulness originated from ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy and dates back around 2500 years. The concept of mindfulness was introduced to the western world by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction evidence based? ›

Is MBSR evidence based? In summary, yes. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is based on a framework of psychological science. It was developed for use in a medical setting to help patients cope better and to decrease pain and stress they were experiencing.

What is mindfulness and how does it work? ›

Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

How can mindfulness improve a person's ability to regulate their emotions? ›

Mindfulness works the other way round, by increasing our ability to bear with discomfort, both on the physical and emotional level. When our capacity to bear with emotional discomfort is enlarged, we are less likely to react to our emotions or to let them control us.

Is mindfulness always beneficial? ›

ABSTRACT. A growing number of interventions have sought to cultivate mindfulness, an accepting awareness of body and mind experiences. A great deal of prior research has shown mostly beneficial effects of mindfulness interventions. However, cultivating mindfulness may not always be beneficial for everyone.

Why do people struggle with mindfulness? ›

Many people grow frustrated with mindfulness because they are still focusing on expectations, rather than simply seeing how things really are. These folks have misunderstood what mindfulness is and are instead mistaking their own deep-rooted beliefs as clear seeing.

How long does it take for mindfulness to work? ›

One study indicates that it takes up to 8 weeks for your brain to start seeing benefits from meditation. These benefits include improved focus, enhanced emotional regulation and control, and better decision-making.

How do you develop mindfulness? ›

Here are 6 tips to help you practise mindfulness.
  1. Observe your breathing. Take a few minutes from your day to focus on your breathing. ...
  2. Go for a nature walk. ...
  3. Take mini breaks throughout the day. ...
  4. Avoid doing too many things at once. ...
  5. Create a journal. ...
  6. Check out these mindfulness apps.
27 Dec 2018

Does mindfulness work for everyone? ›

Although some people find mindfulness helpful, not everyone does. Mindfulness might not be the best option for you. Or it might help you at some times and not others. If you've tried something and it hasn't helped, it's important not to blame yourself.

What meditation is best for anxiety? ›

Mindfulness meditation is a technique that can relax the mind and body to help manage stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation strives to focus the mind on the present moment, allowing it to notice sensations and feelings without evaluating them.

How often should I meditate for anxiety? ›

Mindfulness-based clinical interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) typically recommend practicing meditation for 40-45 minutes per day. The Transcendental Meditation (TM) tradition often recommends 20 minutes, twice daily.

How do you know if mindfulness is working? ›

Here are 5 signs that meditation is working for you, even before you've reached your first moments of silence.
  1. You become more aware of your body. ...
  2. You'll notice when you're in a bad mood and be able to just drop it. ...
  3. Things that used to irritate you no longer irritate you. ...
  4. Your usual mental patterns will break.

Who is not suitable for mindfulness? ›

But despite these findings, mindfulness isn't appropriate for some patient groups as Dr Christina Surawy, a clinical psychologist, warns: “MBCT isn't suitable for patients who are in the grip of a drug or alcohol dependency, as they won't be able to fully engage with the therapy.

Is mindfulness always beneficial? ›

ABSTRACT. A growing number of interventions have sought to cultivate mindfulness, an accepting awareness of body and mind experiences. A great deal of prior research has shown mostly beneficial effects of mindfulness interventions. However, cultivating mindfulness may not always be beneficial for everyone.

Can anxiety be cured? ›

Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Most patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.

Is meditation good for anxiety disorder? ›

And these reductions were correlated to the subjective feeling that one's stress levels were lower. A meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins in 2013 found that meditation was linked to significantly reduced anxiety (and depression and insomnia).

How can I reduce anxiety immediately? ›

How to calm down quickly
  1. Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
  2. Name what you're feeling. ...
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
  4. Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
  5. Run. ...
  6. Think about something funny. ...
  7. Distract yourself. ...
  8. Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)
22 Jun 2021

How long does meditation take to work for anxiety? ›

How Long Should You Meditate to See Results? According to a 2018 study published in Behavioural Brain Research, meditating for 13 minutes a day for eight weeks led to decreased negative mood state, enhanced attention, working memory, recognition memory, and decreased state anxiety.

Does meditation Stop overthinking? ›

Any type of meditation will help quiet overthinking, but mindfulness meditation is a particularly good place to start. To reduce negative thoughts, try just 10 minutes of meditation daily, sitting and observing your breath.

Can you be too mindful? ›

The Side-Effects Being “Too Mindful”

Excessively high levels of observing awareness (intentionally directing attention to one's present-moment experience) are associated with increased depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance abuse, and decreased ability to tolerate pain.

Videos

1. Everyday Mindfulness for OCD and other Anxiety Disorders
(Mark Freeman)
2. Mindfulness for Anxiety 💓 A Beginner's Guide 21/30
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
3. How to cope with anxiety | Olivia Remes | TEDxUHasselt
(TEDx Talks)
4. Tools for Managing Stress & Anxiety | Huberman Lab Podcast #10
(Andrew Huberman)
5. Turning Fear into Power: Understanding and managing anxiety - Longwood Seminar
(Harvard Medical School)
6. How mindfulness changes the emotional life of our brains | Richard J. Davidson | TEDxSanFrancisco
(TEDx Talks)

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