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Meditation and Mindfulness for Anxiety

Research findings show significant benefits.

How Meditation Works to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

The practice of meditation is used in many cultures to reduce stress and anxiety and to maintain optimal psychological and spiritual health. Meditation has been extensively studied as a treatment of anxiety. Beneficial physiological effects of meditation include decreased oxygen consumption, respiratory rate and blood pressure, as well as EEG changes associated with decreased autonomic arousal. Regular meditation results in an increased capacity for self-awareness or 'mindfulness.' Research findings show that regular mindfulness meditation, in which an individual practices detached self-observation, significantly reduces generalized anxiety and other anxiety conditions. The cultivation of increased mindfulness in the present moment helps anxious individuals learn how to avoid potentially stressful situations or cope more effectively when stress is unavoidable.

MBSR—A Highly Effective Approach

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), an integrative approach pioneered by Kabat-Zinn, has been validated as a highly effective approach for reducing the physical, emotional and mental consequences of chronic stress. MBSR incorporates elements of different Eastern meditation practices and western psychology. Increasing numbers of psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in MBSR, and its methods are now widely employed in health maintenance organizations.

Extensive research findings support the benefits of MBSR for chronic stress and anxiety in both healthy populations and individuals struggling with chronic health problems. In one study 93 percent of patients (322 total patients) who started a 10-week MBSR program successfully completed it, and the majority of those reported significantly decreased physical and emotional distress, improved quality of life, a greater sense of general well-being, increased optimism and increased feelings of control (Abbey 2004). In another study, individuals diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a frequent concomitant of generalized anxiety, experienced significantly fewer symptoms of both IBS and anxiety when they engaged in two brief (15 min) daily sessions of mindfulness meditation (Keefer 2001).


Keefer L Blanchard E The effects of relaxation response meditation on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: results of a controlled treatment study Behavior Research and Therapy 2001 July 39:7;801-11.

About the Author
James Lake, MD

James Lake, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works to transform mental health care through the evidence-based uses of alternative therapies.

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