I’ve written before about the problems that can arise when meditating with anxiety. However, meditation is a powerful tool for overcoming anxiety in the long run, with studies showing that eight weeks of meditation literally deactivates the fight-or-flight parts of the brain. We’re talking visible brain changes! I mentioned this recently to an anxious client who had been told by a doctor that she “would always be anxious.” I hear this frequently from new clients freshly diagnosed with anxiety, as if it is an incurable disease, and I site this meditation study just as frequently because it shows that an anxiety diagnosis does not doom you to a life of worry and dread. So let’s put it in perspective. Some people are “wound more tightly,” so when under certain amounts of stress, these tightly-wound people may tend towards anxiety. This is not unlike someone who tends to get colds when the weather changes, or someone who gains weight more easily than a naturally trim person.
When I see people in clinic, anxiety has most likely reeked havoc on their relationships, jobs, and well-being. But that’s just their current state. Once they learn the tools to deactivate the anxiety, they can return to a healthy base-line that simply requires a vigilance in keeping the anxiety at bay the next time life becomes too stressful.
Anxiety is tendency, not a death sentence for your future happiness.
If we take a simplistic view of anxiety, we could say that it is an inability to focus on what is helpful and happy in our lives. Instead, our minds make us focus on things that are worrisome or potentially threatening. That’s where meditation comes in because meditation, at its simplest, is practice in concentration and focus. That’s it. No wonder meditation is good for anxiety. It strengthens our ability to focus on whatever we choose. We’re no longer slave to looping thoughts. In fact, we can call meditation “concentration training.”
Of course, for some people, anxiety can be a little more complex, involving hormones, past traumas, abusive relationships, etc. but for many people, concentration training is all that they need. And for those with complex anxiety, concentration training and meditation will most certainly be a part of recovery.
So the next time you worry that your anxiety is incurable, consider that your anxiety cure could be as simple as strengthening your ability to focus. And that’s something we can all do with a little bit of practice, tightly-wound or not.