Mindful Meditation: A simple way to reduce anxiety and increase inner peace, by Erin Graves, MSW
You have likely heard of meditation and mindfulness, or perhaps you have even tried meditation before but didn’t stick with it. No matter what your level of previous experience, mindful meditation is a worthwhile, stress-relieving practice requiring only a few minutes each day.
Meditation has been practiced by various cultures around the world for thousands of years. Even though the origin of meditation was spiritual in nature, a spiritual approach is not required for meditation to be effective. In fact, meditation is complimentary with any existing spiritual orientation or religious belief system.
In order to understand the benefits of meditation, it is helpful to review the body’s “Fight/Flight” stress response. The surge of hormones released during the stress response is designed to protect us from a perceived threat and then return to normal levels when the threat retreats. Some physiological changes that happen during the stress response include: increased heart rate and blood pressure, release of stress hormones, shallow breathing and decreased immunity (Chopra & Simon, 2009). Unfortunately, for many of us in our modern, busy world, the stress response remains activated, which may lead to long-term impacts on physical and mental health. Regular meditation practice helps mitigate the negative effects of the stress response and promotes emotional regulation leading to increased feelings of relaxation and inner peace (Chopra & Simon, 2009).
One popular form of mindful meditation in the west is “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” or MBSR. MBSR was developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as a way of integrating Buddhist philosophy and meditation with western psychology (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010). Since then, extensive research has been done on the effectiveness of mindfulness on a variety of conditions including: chronic stress and anxiety; reactivity and anger; depression; obsessive compulsive disorder; substance abuse; eating disorders; coping with chronic illness and chronic pain.
Research on the many benefits of meditation and mindfulness is promising. As an example, a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that in as little as 2.5 hours per week, the benefits of a regular meditation practice on depression may be equally effective as taking an antidepressant (Buchholtz, 2015). In addition, a recent study found that with regular mindfulness meditation, patients in active cancer treatment felt more energy, improved mental clarity and improvement in sleep (Carlson & Speca, 2010). In research with college students, mindful meditation was shown to decrease stress and anxiety and improve concentration and attention in as little as 5-10 minutes per day (Campbell, 2014). With so many potential benefits shown in research studies, why not give meditation a try?
There are many ways to begin a meditation practice. You may start by simply dedicating five minutes each day to sitting in a comfortable, quiet location, closing your eyes and noticing the inhalations and exhalations of your breath. Taking a deliberate, mindful break from daily activity is a simple, yet powerful way of reducing stress.
Seated meditation, breathing techniques, yoga and walking meditation are all considered “formal” practices that may be deliberately scheduled into a daily routine. Mindfulness also includes “informal” approaches, which may be present with all activities of daily living. Informal practices may include conscious communication with others, mindful nutritional choices, deliberate practice at sports, music, art and other creative pursuits and general present moment awareness during all activities (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010). With consistent practice, mindfulness has the potential to become an automatic approach to daily life.
If you are interested in further exploration on mindfulness, it may be helpful to do reading on the subject, upload one of a variety of meditation apps or take a class from a certified meditation instructor. A meditation instructor can provide individual or group guidance to cultivate an on-going mindfulness and meditation practice promoting reduced stress, greater wellbeing, peace and happiness.
A variety of free and low cost meditation and mindfulness apps are available for iPhone and Android including: “Stop, Breathe and Think,” “Calm,” “Headspace,” “Mindfulness Training App,” “Omvana,” and “Buddhify.”
Recommended reading on mindfulness and meditation incudes:
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994).
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson (2009).
- A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein (2010).
- Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-day Program by Sharon Salzburg (2011).
Erin Graves, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker and Certified Meditation Instructor who leads a “Monthly Mindfulness” group at the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma. In addition to meditation and mindfulness instruction, she is a pre-licensed therapist who enjoys working with college students, teachers, healthcare professionals and others in helping professions. Her areas of specialty include stress reduction, social anxiety, panic disorder, life transitions, caregiver support, grief and bereavement support. For more information on mindfulness classes at the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma please visit: www.anxietytraumatherapy.com.
Buchholtz, L. (2015). Exploring the promise of mindfulness as medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2449182
Campbell, E. (2014). Mindfulness in education research highlights. University of California, Berkeley: Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/mindfulness_in_education_research_highlights
Carlson, L. E. & Speca, M. (2010). Mindfulness-based cancer recovery: A step by step MBSR approach to help you cope with treatment and reclaim your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Chopra, D. & Simon, D. (2009). Primordial sound meditation: Guidelines for new meditators. Carlsbad, CA: The Chopra Center.
Stahl, B. & Goldstein, E. (2010). A mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.