Ever since I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. It has varied in severity throughout my life, but it has always been present — a weight I have carried and tried to manage, sometimes more successfully than others.
It helps to know I am not alone. According to the National Institute
of Mental Health, just over 18 percent of US adults struggle with
anxiety lasting for at least 12 months. Just under 23 percent are
estimated to be living with anxiety classified as “severe.” At times,
mine has reached this level. As anyone who has struggled with anxiety
knows, it can make day-to-day life very difficult, indeed.
However, the purpose of this piece is not to complain, seek
solidarity, or vent frustration. It is to highlight one practice that
has quite literally been a saving grace to me throughout the years:
is an ancient practice that has been around for about 5,000 years — or
perhaps even longer. It originated in the ancient Hindu and Buddhist
traditions, and today, has evolved into many forms.
At its root, however, meditation centers around focusing one’s mind
entirely on the present. Through this practice, worries of the past, and
anxieties about the future, are given a channel to fall away.
It’s not an instant solution: Like anything worth doing, meditation
requires dedication and repetition for maximum benefits to be reaped.
However, it’s so worth it. Through daily meditation (in the morning and
then again before bed is ideal for me), I am able to calm the anxiety
and refocus myself to take on the world.
Through the discipline of getting back to the present, I am able to
separate the nervous energy from myself. Through the cultivation of
mindful breathing, it finds a way to leave my body as I exhale. I am
left in a state of peace where it becomes much easier to let things
slide, and get back to my core stability.
The connection between meditation and anxiety relief has been
researched. To name just one example, a 2003 study performed at Texas
Tech University tested the effects of a mindfulness-based program on
women with heart disease, the results supported the hypothesis that the
program might indeed lower the women’s anxiety levels.
Of course, anxiety is not the only thing that meditation can help
with. There are so many things that can benefit from this practice, and
science is just starting to scratch the surface of the possibilities.
Besides relieving stress and anxiety, the following are seven more
reasons to meditate every day:
Elevate your energy levels
Stress can not only zap your mental energy… it can deplete your
physical energy as well. When we get caught up in the cycle of stress
and anxiety, our bodies release a hormone known as cortisol, sometimes
called the “stress hormone.” Cortisol leads to an adrenaline spike,
characterized by quickened heart rate and muscle tension, and a
Regular meditation can help train your mind and body not to go into
this stress mode when challenging situations occur, leaving your energy
levels intact. Additionally, taking a few moments to yourself to
meditate when you begin feeling this way can calm the reaction, and
allow you to get your focus and gusto back.
Boost your mood
Meditation has the notable potential to not only ease stress, but to
elevate mood and lift depression, as well. A study performed in 2004,
published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, surveyed 23
participants who were diagnosed with “lifetime mood disorders,” and had
histories of experiencing depression.
On the results of their analysis, the study authors wrote:
“Mindfulness practice can help to anchor a person in the present
moment by identifying, even labeling, what arises in the stream of
consciousness without becoming engrossed in or judging it… Thus, rather
than avoiding or becoming absorbed in the content of the body and mind,
MM [mindfulness meditation] teaches attentional skills that balance
these extremes while remaining alert and observing the patterns of the
The study authors further added:
“With time, this awareness and pattern recognition can contribute to a
decentered perspective of thoughts, sensations, and feelings—a sort of
metacognitive awareness—which can help reduce the potency of the literal
meaning of thoughts and feelings and the tendency to become absorbed in
a ruminative state of mind.”
It is this “ruminative state of mind” that the researchers say can
lead to increased depression, and meditation was linked to helping
participants break out of this mental state.
Enjoy a higher quality of sleep
Meditating regularly may help you to get a better night’s sleep. A
2009 study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine surveyed
the effects of Kriya Yoga, a type of relaxation meditation, on sufferers
of chronic insomnia.
On their results, the study authors wrote:
“Results indicate that patients saw improvements in subjective sleep
quality and sleep diary parameters while practicing meditation. Sleep
latency, total sleep time, total wake time, wake after sleep onset,
sleep efficiency, sleep quality and depression improved in patients who
Be more productive
When we are outside the present moment, it becomes extremely
difficult to get anything done. This is because action happens in the
present. If your mind is caught in the past or future, your work will
suffer – there’s no way around it.
If you meditate regularly, however, you can train your mind to stay
focused on the present, which infinitely benefits any task that you have
on your plate, be it creative, professional, or something as simple as
cleaning the house.
In fact, a study published by the Academy of Management Journal found
that transcendental meditation was linked with improved job
performance, higher job satisfaction, and better relationships in the
Take your parenting skills to a new level
Meditating on a regular basis can really help you to connect with your kids on
a new level. When you are at peace and in the present, you can really
zero in on activities with your child, and may find you are much better
able to communicate with and understand them. I know this is true with
my son: The more I meditate, the more easily I am able to engage with
him, and the more fun we have!
Fight stubborn belly fat
This one may seem odd, until you really think about the mechanics at
work. When we are stressed, agitated, or miss out on valuable sleep, our
bodies’ levels of cortisol spike. When cortisol levels are chronically
high, it can actually lead to the accumulation of belly fat .
On the other hand, meditating regularly can help to keep cortisol
levels down, which does its part to help keep belly fat at bay — along
with a healthy diet and exercise, of course.
Protect your brain
It’s true: Some research has shown that meditation, especially over the long term, can actually protect the gray matter of the brain ,
and increase the size of the hippocampus, which is associated with
learning and memory. We use our brains a lot in our lives — it pays to
A few tips
If you’re just getting started with meditation, I suggest checking out a guided meditation session in
your area. Many of these are free, and welcome walk-ins. If you find a
session where you feel comfortable, it is a great way to learn the
basics of meditation, including deep breathing and mantras, which you
can then use at home. You can also receive many helpful tips and
Of course, you don’t need to attend a session to meditate. Find a
comfortable spot to sit on a stable surface (such as a cushion on the
floor), relax yourself (doing a scan of your body to make sure you
aren’t tensing any muscles), and breathe deeply and deliberately.
Try to focus on your breath, and observe yourself as you are in that
moment. If you feel thoughts running through your mind, acknowledge
them, and let them exit your body as you exhale. If you can meditate
outside among the beauty of nature … well, that’s even better.
Remember, it’s okay to start small. Even five minutes of meditation
when you wake up in the morning, and five minutes at night, can yield
positive effects. As you get more into the swing of things, try to
meditate for longer sessions.
If you keep up this habit for the long term, you’ll see your life
starting to change. It certainly changed mine for the better, and
continues to do so to this day!