Anxiety is a reflect the inadequacy to manage ruminative cognitive processes. It is related to decreased executive-level brain activity in the bilateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, which regulate control ruminative thinking (20,21). Two emotion regulation strategies, distraction, and reappraisal are stated to decrease anxiety by controlling cognitive mechanisms (22). Distraction gives the person a chance to shift his or her attention to emotionally provoking stimuli rather than focusing on negative mental states and anxiety (23,24). Reappraisal helps the person to reduce his or her anxiety level by changing the meaning of sensory events in a cognitive way, thereby down-regulating the affective reaction to the sensory events (25,26).
It was found that anxiety medications reduced the level of anxiety by 50% in affective disorder patients; however, these medications didn’t work for anxiety in healthy people (27,28). On the contrary, it was found that 20 minutes of meditation decreased the level of anxiety by 22% in healthy people in a study (29).
Zuroff and Schwartz (30) conducted a study with college students who had no prior meditation training. They were separated into three groups, (1) transcendental meditation group, (2) muscle relaxation group, and (3) no-treatment group. A decrease in anxiety level was observed in the first group so it shows that gradual decreases in anxiety level can be provided by meditation.
Kozasa et al. (31) observed a decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms and an increase in the feeling of well-being in subjects who joined a program including meditation and yoga breathing practices. Additionally, it was reported that hormone levels and neurotransmitters related to stress were regulated in subjects practiced transcendental meditation (32).
In a study conducted by Koszycki et al. (33), it was aimed to investigate the effectiveness of MBSR in people with a generalized social anxiety disorder (SAD). 53 participants diagnosed with SAD were separated into two groups: (1) 8-week MBSR program and (2) 12-week CBGT (cognitive-behavioral group therapy). According to the results, while CBGT participants showed a decrease in fear of interacting with others and avoidance of phobic situations, MBSR participants showed a release in social anxiety symptoms and depression level. Also, they reported an improvement in the quality of their lives. In a study carried out with 93 people randomized to either Stress Management Education or to MBSR, it was found a decreased anxiety in both groups; however, MBSR training had a stronger influence on anxiety (34).
In a study conducted with 14 patients experiencing anxiety (35), it was found a decrease in the level of blood pressure, depression and anxiety after they have joined Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
The reason to use meditation practices in the treatment of anxiety is mostly driven by arousal and attention theories of anxiety. According to these theories, anxious people see the environment through threat-related information and misinterpret these as direct threats to them (36) Meditation-based interventions lead people to observe their thoughts and physical sensations without judgment and objectively accept them as they are (5). Additionally, people practicing meditation have less muscle tension, less blood pressure level, and other symptoms of anxiety (37,38).
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- Van Dillen, L. F., & Koole, S. L. (2007). Clearing the mind: a working memory model of distraction from negative mood. Emotion, 7, 715–723.
- Kalisch, R., Wiech, K., Herrmann, K., & Dolan, R.J. (2006). Neural correlates of self-distraction from anxiety and a process model of cognitive emotion regulation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 1266–76.
- Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–91.
- McRae, K., Hughes, B., Chopra, S., Gabrieli, J. D., Gross, J. J., & Ochsner, K.N. (2009). The neural bases of distraction and reappraisal. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 248–62.
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- Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2013). Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. SCAN, 9, 751-759.
- Zuroff, D., & Schwarz, J. C. (1978). Effects of transcendental meditation and muscle relaxation on trait anxiety, maladjustment, locus of control, and drug use. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 264-271.
- Kozasa, E. H., Santos, R. F., Rueda, A. D., Benedito-Silva, A. A., Ornellas, F. L. M., & Leite, J. R. (2008). Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi yoga for anxiety and depression symptoms: a preliminary study. Psychological Reports, 103, 271-274.
- Infante, J. R., Peran, F., Martinez, M., Roldan, A., Poyatos, R., Ruiz, C., Samaniego, F., & Garrido, F. (1998). ACTH and beta-endorphin in Transcendental Meditation. Physiology & Behavior, 64, 311-315.
- Koszycki, D., Benger, M., Shlik, J., & Bradwejn, J. (2007). Randomized trial of a meditation-based stress reduction program and cognitive behavior therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2518-2526.
- Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L. et al. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry, 74(8), 786-792.
- Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J. et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry, 149, 936-943.
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