- Meditate Your Way to Better Asthma Control
- Why Is Asthma on the Rise?
- When Asthma Gets Scary: Meditation and Relaxation Practices
- Manage Stress to Keep Asthma in Control
- Common Symptoms of Stress
- Make a Plan to Reduce the Stress in Your Life
- Tips for a Low-stress Life
- Steps to Better Breathing with Asthma
- Psychological Interventions in Asthma
- Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
Meditate Your Way to Better Asthma Control
Stress is, of course, unavoidable, and the point of stress reduction and stress management programs is not to eliminate it entirely. Meditation is a technique that, if practiced for as few as 10 minutes each day, can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation.
A patient recently asked me if meditation for stress relief might also improve her asthma. There is no doubt that asthma can be stressful, or that having a child with asthma adds stress on top of an already difficult job. Turns out that meditation may help you get control of your asthma in addition to helping out with the day to day life.
Stress is a potent trigger for inflammation, part of the pathophysiology of asthma, in patients with chronic illness.
Not surprisingly, patients with diseases that result from inflammation will often look for methods to reduce stress as a possible treatment or adjunct.
In fact, as much as 40 percent of the diagnoses leading people to try complementary and alternative medicine practices (CAM) are conditions that lead to inflammation, including asthma.
Mindfulness techniques to promote openness and acceptance have been advocated as a way to decrease stress and resulting inflammation. Given the relationship between inflammation and asthma control, the benefits of a meditation program are obvious if the techniques are effective.
In one study comparing an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a control group, the MBSR group experienced less inflammation after stress. This suggests that interventions targeting emotional reaction may be effective in reducing inflammation and, potentially, outcomes in chronic inflammatory conditions.
This study also references a growing body of literature pointing out that interventions designed to decrease emotional reactivity are beneficial for patients with chronic inflammatory conditions, and that these techniques may be more effective at relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.
There are very few potential side effects of meditation, especially when compared to the benefits. The practice may also reduce costs because patients can practice in their own homes any time they need to.
Want to try meditation for better asthma control? Consider these options.
1. Concentration meditation: A concentrative meditation technique involves focusing on a single point. This could be watching the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a flame, or listening to a repetitive noise.
Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations. In this form of meditation, you just refocus your awareness on the chosen center of attention each time you notice your mind starts wandering. Instead of pursuing random thoughts, let them go. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.
2. Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation techniques encourage you to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but to be aware of each mental note as it arises.
Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your ideas and feelings tend to move in certain patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge experience as “good” or “bad.” With lots of practice, you develop an inner balance.
Some practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.
If relaxation is not the goal in meditation, it is usually one result of it. Studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
These tips are meant to help you get started and hopefully continue your practice in meditation.
- Sit for a few minutes. This will seem incredibly easy, to just meditate for a few minutes. Start with a few minutes a day for a week and if that goes well, increase your time a little more for another week. Continue this process until you feel you are comfortable to do it more and more.
- The key is to do it first thing each morning. Set a reminder every morning when you get up because it is easy to forget about something that will only take a few minutes.
- Don’t get caught up in the how—just do. Most people worry about where to sit, how to sit, what cushion to use and any other aspects they think are important. This is all nice, but it’s not that important to get started. Start just by sitting on a chair, couch, or bed. If you’re comfortable on the ground, sit cross-legged. It’s just for a few minutes at first, so just sit and relax. It is important that you are comfortable.
- Check in with how you’re feeling. As you first settle into your meditation session, simply check to see how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? What is the quality of your mind? Busy? Tired? Anxious? See whatever you’re bringing to this meditation session as completely OK.
- Count your breaths. Now that you’re settled in turn your attention to your breath. Just place the focus on your breath as it comes in, and releases your nose. Try counting “one” as you take in a breath, then “two” as you breathe out. Continue counting until you reach 10 and then repeat the process.
- If you find your mind wandering, start back at one. It is normal for your mind to wander. There’s no problem with a wandering mind. When you notice your mind wandering, smile, and simply gently return to your breath. At first, you might feel a little frustration, but it’s perfectly alright not to stay focused, we all do it. This is the practice, and you won’t be good at it for a little while.
- Develop a loving attitude. When you notice thoughts and feelings arising during meditation, as they will, look at them with a friendly attitude. See them as friends, not intruders or enemies. They are a part of you, though not all of you. Be pleasant and not harsh.
- Don’t get fixated too much that you’re doing it wrong. It is a process that you have to get used to getting it down. It's important to remember that it's not considered wrong.
- Don’t worry about clearing the mind because a lot of people think meditation is mainly about clearing your mind, or having no thoughts, but that isn't true. That is not the goal of meditation. If you have thoughts, that’s normal. Our brains are meant to think constantly, and we can’t just shut them down at any time. What you should try to do is practice focusing your attention on one particular thing, and practice even more when your mind wanders.
- When thoughts or feelings arise, they will most ly stay with you. We tend to want to avoid feelings of frustration, anger, or anxiety. An amazingly useful meditation practice is to remain with the feeling for a while. Just stay, and be curious.
- Get to know yourself. This practice isn’t just about focusing your attention; it’s about learning how your mind works. What’s going on inside there? It’s murky, but by watching your mind wander, get frustrated, and avoid painful feelings, you can start to understand yourself as a person. Make friends with yourself and as you get to know yourself, use a friendly attitude instead of a judgmental one.
- Do a body scan. Another thing you can do, once you become better at following your breath, is focus your attention on one body part. Start at the bottom, with your feet and think about how they feel and work your way up to your head.
- Notice the light, sounds, energy. Another place to put your attention on after you’ve practiced with your breath for some time is the light around you. Keep your eyes on one particular spot, and notice the light in the room you’re in. Another day, just focus on noticing sounds. Another day, try to see the energy in the room all around you.
- Repeat a word or phrase. Focusing on the present is one mindfulness mantra that helps anchor you. Thinking about the past often leads to depressed feelings when we think about how things did not go as planned or we worry about the future, while focusing on the present is generally good.
- One technique for this is object focused meditation. By observing details of the object and things how light falls on the object, how sharp the edges are, and the texture of the object you are able to quiet the mind and experience inner peace and tranquility. When you notice the mind straying you just refocus on the object.
- Remembering your potential is another useful mantra. We are neither the best or worst experiences of our lives, we are capable of change in the moment and what we do next is entirely up to us. One final mantra is remembering that nothing is permanent. Nothing we experience- either good or bad- is permanent. Remembering this allows us to avoid getting attached to any particular outcome or situation.
- Guided imagery. A guided imagery technique can be inserted after counting or monitoring your breathing for a period of time. The purpose is to provide you with a scene that distracts you from any negative thoughts and completely absorbs your attention. As you go deeper into the scene your stress decreases and relaxation increases with resultant physical changes.
- One example might be thinking specific thoughts about your own body image. After you have monitored your breathing for a period of time you might begin to focus more specifically on your body and think about the part of your body you dis most and focus on that area of your body. What are you thinking? How do you feel? How do these thoughts make you feel?
- Be aware of damaging these thoughts can be to your emotions. Follow this with several mantra- thoughts such as: I accept my body as it is with all its imperfections; My body does not define me or take away from who I am as a person; I accept my body and there is no need to be perfect; I am free of judgment and will not say negative things to myself; I accept myself.
- In relation to asthma, you might imagine yourself free-breathing and incorporate this into your daydreams. You might also get more specific and imagine a better, healthier you in much the same way as the self-image example. Finally, you could get very specific and imagine specific cells that are part of the pathophysiology of asthma relieving inflammation or not reacting in response to a trigger.
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- Marie Kim Wium-Andersen, MD; David Dynnes Ørsted, MD; Sune Fallgaard Nielsen, MScEE, PhD; Børge Grønne Nordestgaard, MD, DMSc. Elevated C-Reactive Protein Levels, Psychological Distress, and Depression in 73 131 Individuals. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(2):176-184. doi:10.1001/2013.jamapsychiatry.102.
- Rosenkranz, M., Davidson, R. J., MacCoon, D., Sheridan, J., Kalin, N., & Lutz, A. (2013). A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 27(1), 174–84. PMCID: PMC3518553
Why Is Asthma on the Rise?
Asthma is one of the most common diseases in the world, with as many as 300 million sufferers. We’ve all seen what an asthma attack looks , the typical symptoms being shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest.
Because natural breathing is something most of us take for granted, asthma is a distressing disruption. Each day you breathe a huge volume of air, from 2,100 to 2,400 gallons. Even for people who manage it well through medication and avoiding risks, there is a major psychological component.
Attacks are dreaded, and a silent threat lurks with every breath.
The psychological aspect of asthma is undeniable – even to witness a severe attack makes your own breath alter – but the causal link hasn’t been proved. Ask experts and sufferers a if high stress and emotional upset contribute to asthma, and almost everyone will say yes without being able to prove it.
The fact that relief can come from practicing yoga, doing daily meditation, or training oneself in conscious breathing techniques (known as pranayama or yogic breathing) is not disputed. Some sufferers stand by acupuncture treatments as well, even though no studies have proven its efficacy.
The Baffling Increase in Asthma
The picture that emerges, then, is of a disorder that mysteriously links mind and body. There is no proven cause for asthma, a fact that is underlined by the unexplained increase in cases that has occurred since 1970.
Our lungs are sensitive to pollutants, yet asthma is 8-10 times more common in developed countries than in the developing world.
As with the sharp rise in allergies, which is also more common in the developed world, the situation is baffling – air quality and pollutants are worse in those countries that are not affected, or less affected, by the rise in disease. (In the US, about 7% of adults and 9% of children have asthma.)
Every Cell Is Connected to Our Breath
No disease can be fully understood without a cause. However, every cell in your body is intimately connected to your breath, and therefore a whole complex of factors seems to be involved.
Completely healthy athletes, including 15% of those participating in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, are diagnosed with asthma in numbers two to four times higher than the general population.
Yet exercise is good for increasing your lung capacity and strengthening the muscles you use to breathe.
Let’s look at the basics of the disorder, most of which are physical at this stage of medical understanding.
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways in your lungs, tiny pockets called alveoli where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged as you breathe; there are a vast number of alveoli, about 500 million.
The state of inflammation exists invisibly even when there is no visible attack. In simplest terms, when lung tissue is inflamed, oxygen can’t enter the bloodstream as easily and carbon dioxide cannot be expelled.
Patients are test for lung capacity through a simple test where the amount of exhaled air is measured. The condition will be diagnosed as mild to severe in a range where the FEV (forced expiratory volume) is no worse than 80% of normal to less than 60%.
In acute attacks, however, the patient may be completely unable to breathe, even with an inhaler, and death can result.
The Role of Inflammation in Asthma
As soon as the word “inflammation” is used, medicine faces a larger mystery. Inflammation is the immune system’s healing response to injury, a normal and necessary process.
Once the pathogen has been disposed of – meaning an invasive danger to the body a virus or bacteria – or the injury has healed, inflammation subsides. It isn’t needed anymore. But in asthma, the inflammatory response becomes self-perpetuating.
Airway tissue becomes filled with immune system cells, which actively recruit other immune cells to the site. Blood flow to the affected airways increases. Mucus is released, airway tissue becomes filled with fluid and swells.
It is indisputable that this kind of inflammation represents a breakdown of the healing process. What is supposed to help the body starts to harm it. In some way, the body’s innate intelligence has made a mistake and keeps making it.
The same can be said of allergies, where your immune system attacks harmless dust, pollen, and animal dander as if protecting you from a threat.
My long-held position – seconded by a wide range of physicians, both mainstream and alternative – is that we must learn what causes such drastic mistakes to be made.
Unfortunately, every event in the mind-body system is connected with the body’s intelligence, and since doctors are trained to be focused only on one aspect, the physical, research results in asthma remain largely confined to physical findings. Here is what we know about the triggers and risk factors of asthma.
Triggers of Asthma
- Indoor air pollution and allergens such as tobacco smoke, animal dander, dust mites, and mold and mildew
- Irritants and allergens such as pollen, dust, air pollution, pesticides and fertilizers, and car fumes
- Cold air, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and viral respiratory infections
About half of asthma sufferers have allergies. Avoiding such triggers becomes a major part of managing the disorder once you develop asthma.
Risk Factors of Asthma
There are many risk factors for asthma. Some can be controlled while others can’t.
Risk factors that can be modified include:
- Obesity. The greater a person’s body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, the greater their risk of asthma.
- Secondhand smoke exposure
- Exposure to environmental pollutants and irritants (for instance, household cleaners, industrial chemicals, dust mites, pollen, and animal dander)
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
Risk factors that can’t be modified include:
- Gender. Before adolescence asthma is more common in boys, but when asthma occurs in adulthood it is more common in women.
- Genetics. A tendency to develop asthma can be inherited, but environmental factors are just as important.
- Having allergies
- Mother smoking during pregnancy, which leads to impaired lung function in the baby
- Premature birth
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person. The four major symptoms are:
- Coughing spells, usually worsening after exposure to cold air
- Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or at night
- Wheezing, especially when exhaling
- Feelings of tightness or pain in the chest
Asthma attacks are a worsening of existing symptoms. Exposure to a trigger makes the ongoing inflammation in the lungs worse.
The bands of muscle surrounding the bronchioles normally constrict in the presence of an irritant or allergen, but then they release. In asthma, they stay constricted. Edema (swelling) increases.
Excessive amounts of mucus are released by the airway lining. The airways become swollen, constricted, and clogged by mucus, and both inhaling and exhaling become more difficult.
But what is considered an attack varies widely between individuals. For people who have no symptoms of asthma most of the time, an occasional coughing spell might be considered an attack. For someone with chronic symptoms, however, such as coughing and wheezing, an attack might include those symptoms along with new ones, chest pain and shortness of breath.
A very severe asthma attack can come on over a period of hours or become serious in only a matter of minutes. These attacks are very dangerous because very little air moves in and the lungs, and the airways don’t open in response to bronchodilators. Emergency treatment is required.
Asthma control has made considerable advances, which is why, even though incurable, asthma is successfully controlled in various ways.
Medications. There are two main types of asthma medication: quick-relief medications (bronchodilators), used before exercise or when you are having an attack, and maintenance medications, used even when symptoms are not present in order to keep inflammation under control.
Monitoring. By monitoring symptoms and keeping track of when they occur, you can understand what triggers your attacks. Using a peak flow meter, you can find out when your lung function is getting worse and take action.
Trigger avoidance. Once you’ve found out what triggers attacks, you can take steps to avoid or eliminate the triggers. For instance, if you are allergic to dust mites, you can encase your pillows in mite-proof covers. If pollen is a trigger, you may want to avoid exercising outside when levels are high.
Exercise. Some people with asthma avoid exercising because they fear exercise-induced asthma (EIA), but this is a mistake. Exercise strengthens your breathing muscles and increases your lung capacity, as we discussed.
To minimize the risk of exercise-induced asthma:
- Take maintenance medications regularly if they have been prescribed for you
- Use bronchodilators before exercising
- Warm up before you begin exercising and cool down afterwards
- Wear a scarf or mask over your face if you exercise outdoors in cold weather
A Call to Expand Our Knowledge of the Body’s Innate Intelligence
So far, no treatment for asthma without medication has proved successful. Complementary treatments meditation, stress management, and yoga are used in addition to your regular medication – they are not alternatives.
Even so, I feel that the conquest of asthma, along with associated disorders where the immune system makes drastic, sometimes lethal mistakes, depends on understanding the innate intelligence in every cell.
Intelligence has physical markers that everyone agrees upon, such as the brain, but we now know that no part of the body lacks a kind of supreme intelligence. Right now medicine is only beginning to comprehend what this intelligence is and how we control it – or it controls us.
When we put much more effort into expanding our knowledge, I’m confident that the breakdown of the body’s intelligence will be repaired by that same intelligence.
When Asthma Gets Scary: Meditation and Relaxation Practices
By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN Last Updated: January 4, 2020 Was this helpful?
Asthma touches so many people—if you don’t have it yourself, there’s a good chance you know at least one person who does.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 25 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma—and there are ly many who endure its symptoms (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath) but haven’t been diagnosed.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory, or lung disease caused by inflammation of the small airways. Symptoms usually begin in childhood, but adults can develop asthma later on in life.
It can’t be cured, but you can usually manage asthma with medications—most often inhalers (or “puffers”). However, people with asthma may be able to reduce how often they have an attack (called exacerbations) with some simple lifestyle changes.
These won’t eliminate the attacks completely, but they can make a difference.
Asthma Diagnosis and Action Plan
So, what kinds of activities are we talking about? The obvious ones are to avoid triggers, such as cigarette smoke and allergens, and to be careful when suddenly exposed to cold winter air. Participating in physical activity is good for people with asthma, but you should speak with your doctor about what type of exercise is best for you, especially if you have exercise-induced asthma.
Another lifestyle change that is getting more popular is relaxation exercises and meditation. This is because emotional and psychological stress affects us physically. For some people with asthma, stress can make symptoms worse.
Meditation means different things to different people—no one method is better than another. It all boils down to what works for you. You can learn most of these methods on your own, in classes, or with individual instruction. Instruction—class or individual—is often a good idea at first, especially with the more physical practices yoga.
Instructors can help you learn the proper poses with the right techniques, helping reduce risk of injury. Instructors can help you pace yourself through the meditative processes, coaching you and encouraging you as you learn the new techniques.
Here are a few examples:
- Guided meditation, or guided imagery. Often described as a vacation for your mind, guided meditation or imagery may a good place to start in your meditation journey. Choose an image that is pleasing, either a fond memory or an imaginary place, then imagine being there, bringing to mind the sounds, smells and sensations of the memory or place. Once you’ve practiced this, it becomes easier to call on those sensations when anxiety comes over you.
- Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a way of saying “being in the moment.” It’s a form of meditation that brings you to the here and now: what you smell, feel, hear, and more. By practicing mindfulness and concentrating on what is happening at that moment, you can pull on your inner resources when you feel stressed, anxious or depressed.
- Yoga. Yoga is seen in many ways, from a form of gentle exercise to meditation. In this case, you can use yoga as a way to help calm your body and your mind as you meditate and relax. Some people get more the physical aspect of the practice, while others benefit from the breathing and meditation side.
- Tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient martial art, but un the ones most people may be familiar with, karate, tai chi is gentle and slow, allowing you to focus on your body and your thoughts. Practitioners consider it ‘meditation exercise.’ Although you are constantly moving, nothing is forced or rushed, and your body is kept in a relaxed manner throughout.
Living with a chronic illness asthma can be stressful. By learning a few basic relaxation or meditative techniques, you may be able to reduce that stress, which may also lessen the frequency and severity of your asthma.
Was this helpful? Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely. Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 4
Manage Stress to Keep Asthma in Control
Learning to manage stress and relax is not easy with today's busy lifestyle. Emotional stress is a common trigger for asthma.
Common Symptoms of Stress
- Fast heartbeat
- Trembling or shakiness
- Upset stomach
- Muscle tension
- Tight jaw
- Lack of concentration
- Fatigue/low motivation
- Rapid and shallow breathing
Make a Plan to Reduce the Stress in Your Life
Think about the different events or situations that cause you to feel stress. Write them down.
This may help you better prepare for the things that you know cause stress, or make changes to avoid them altogether.
If doing this kind of exercise feels overwhelming, or simply feels too much to do on your own, engage a trusted friend, family member, member of a spiritual community, or psychotherapist to help you.
Tips for a Low-stress Life
Here are some basic tips to help manage stress:
- Practice relaxation techniques. Performed regularly, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and imagery can successfully relieve physical and emotional stress and tension.
- Exercise most days of the week. Physical exercise is a quick and easy way to relieve stress-related tension. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase chemicals in the brain that positively affect your mood. If your asthma is triggered by exercise, start slow. Stretching also reduces stress by relaxing tense muscles.
- Spend time with friends and family. Balancing work and play is important. Plan ahead. Set aside time to spend with those you love, and whose company you enjoy.
- Arrange for time alone each day. Even 10 minutes alone allows your inner voice to surface, which helps put things into perspective.
- Get enough sleep each night. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling control. It can make it difficult to regulate your emotions. Lack of sleep can leave your body feeling tense and you may feel less equipped to deal with stressful situations.
- Eat three balanced meals each day. Too much stress can drain your energy, leaving you weak, fatigued and feeling even more stressed! Avoid foods that make stress worse such as caffeine, alcohol and refined (processed) foods. Instead, increase your body's supply of the nutrients needed to handle stressful situations. Choose fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
- Set short- and long-term goals. Choose realistic goals that you can track and meet. This will make you feel more in control of what you’re spending your time and energy doing. You'll be able to see the steps you are taking to reach your goals. If you’re not making as much progress as you hoped, maybe the goal is loftier than you first thought for where you are currently at. That’s OK. You can always adjust your goals.
- Talk with someone about your problems. Don't let your problems build up. A trusted supporter can sometimes help you see a problem more clearly or help you think of practical solutions. If you are in need of more support, see Finding Support.
Steps to Better Breathing with Asthma
Practicing deep-breathing exercises, “Belly Breathing” (or diaphragmatic breathing) can help with the overall management of asthma. When you are experiencing shortness of breath, try using a “Pursed Lip” breathing technique to relax your airways.
Watch the demonstration videos to learn more about these breathing techniques:
Page last updated: March 16, 2020
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Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
My mom began meditating decades ago, long before the mind-calming practice had entered the wider public consciousness. She d to quote sayings from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk known for his practice of mindful meditation, or “present-focused awareness.”
Although meditation still isn’t exactly mainstream, many people practice it, hoping to stave off stress and stress-related health problems. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has become more popular in recent years.
The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
(Or, as my mom would say, “Don’t rehearse tragedies. Don’t borrow trouble.”)
But, as is true for a number of other alternative therapies, much of the evidence to support meditation’s effectiveness in promoting mental or physical health isn’t quite up to snuff.
Why? First, many studies don’t include a good control treatment to compare with mindful meditation.
Second, the people most ly to volunteer for a meditation study are often already sold on meditation’s benefits and so are more ly to report positive effects.
But when researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses anxiety, depression, and pain.
Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hoge, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently.
“You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before.
But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” says Dr. Hoge.
One of her studies (which was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability. People in the control group—who also improved, but not as much as those in the meditation group—were taught general stress management techniques. All the participants received similar amounts of time, attention, and group interaction.
To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at www.mindfulness-solution.com.
Some people find that learning mindfulness meditation techniques and practicing them with a group is especially helpful, says Dr. Hoge. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, is now widely available in cities throughout the United States.
Thich Nhat Hahn offers this short mindful meditation in his book Being Peace: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”