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Anxiety Management

How can mindfulness help with anxiety?

A lot of us worry. The rates vary, but in western countries around 14 to 29% of us are likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in our life time1. So if you're a worrier, don't worry you're not alone. Meditation can help with anxiety management but first we need to know more about worry and anxiety.



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Why do we worry? 

Meditation for anxietyWe’re natural born killer….eh hem… worriers literally! Scientists believe that our brains have evolved a “negativity bias” meaning we’re drawn to threats more than opportunities.  We’re likely to detect negative information faster than positive information and generally have a background level of anxiety as our brain monitors the environment for possible threats.  

This negativity bias was helpful for our ancestors as they lived in an extremely threatening environment. The ones prone to unnecessary worry and upon hearing a rustle in the bushes,   automatically thought  “aaaggrrhhh, sabre-tooth tiger, run!” were more likely to survive and pass on their worry genes down to us, even though 9 times out of 10 there was probably nothing to worry about whatsoever, and it was just a tasty little squirrel. The opportunists on the other hand who thought “Woo hoo,… its probably a squirrel… lunch” …..might have got it right 9 times out of 10, but the one time they got it wrong - they got it seriously wrong!! So, they were less likely to pass their opportunist genes down to us than the worriers. 

Although the environment’s changed and we’re safer than ever before, our brains haven’t and are still constantly on the lookout for threats and reasons to worry. However, help is at hand and research is showing that with a bit of anxiety and stress management training we can start to redress this bias to see the world in a more balanced way.  

How can mindfulness help with anxiety management?

Numerous scientific studies have found meditation for anxiety to be effective. For example a study conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School taught mindfulness to a group of people with clinical levels of anxiety and found that 90% experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression.2 

Another group of researchers looked at how mindfulness has helped with anxiety management across various types of populations, from people suffering with cancer, to those with social anxiety disorders and eating issues.  They looked across 39 scientific studies, totaling 1,140 participants and suggest that the anxiety reducing benefits from mindfulness might be enjoyed across such a wide range of conditions because when you learn mindfulness, you learn how to work with difficulties and stress in general. 3

The bigger worriers of us out there often have greater reactivity in a part of our brains called the amygdala, which triggers fear.  Neuroscientists from Stanford found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks were more able to turn down the reactivity of this area.4  Other researchers from Harvard have found that mindfulness can actually physically reduce the number of neurons in this fear triggering part of our brains5
So if you’re anxiously inclined, like a lot of us are, try meditation for anxiety and let us help you get some Headspace today.

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1. Michael et al., 2007 T. Michael, U. Zetsche and J. Margraf, Epidemiology of anxiety disorders. Psychiatry,  6 4 (2007), pp. 136–142.

2. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 936–943.

3. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169-183. doi: 10.1037/a0018555

4. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83-91. doi: 10.1037/a0018441

5. Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Evans, K.C., Hoge, E.A., Dusek, J.A., Morgan, L., Et al. (2009). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 11–17.

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