The Best Meditation Techniques for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders plague nearly 20 percent of American adults, yet only about a third of them seek treatment. If you’re one of these self-described or clinically diagnosed worrywarts, you know what it feels like to literally worry yourself sick. In fact, that’s the very definition of anxiety: worrying about a perceived problem to the extent that it affects you physically.

Anxiety disorders can last for months and involve these symptoms:

  • Muscle tension

  • Tightness in the chest

  • Irritability

  • Insomnia

  • Shallow breathing

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Heart palpitations

  • Trembling

  • Vomiting

  • Choking

  • A feeling of impending doom

Thankfully, there are techniques you can use to manage anxiety on your own. One of the most effective and natural remedies for anxiety is meditation. It not only relaxes you, but it trains you to redirect negative thoughts to more realistic and positive ones. It also physically rewires the brain, where anxiety is often traced to a hyperactive amygdala (the area that responds to stress and threats with a fight-or-flight response). Regular meditation has been shown to shrink the amygdala, among many other things.

Related: Your Brain on Meditation

Although meditating during an anxiety attack would help relieve it, it really is best used as a preventative measure. As they say: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” What’s most important for results is to meditate daily. What you choose to do during each session is your call. Try each method we’ve listed below and stick with what works for you.

7 Calming Meditations for Anxiety Relief

Mindfulness Meditation

In a study promoting employee development, employees who were taught how to meditate felt a decrease in anxiety, job tension, fatigue, and even improved general health and workplace effectiveness. When compared to regular relaxation techniques, meditation was found to be significantly more effective in reducing anxiety levels with beginners.

Try It: The “Mindfulness Basics” series in the Inscape App will teach beginners the foundational techniques of mindfulness meditation.

Practice Gratitude

Studies suggest that gratitude can decrease stress and anxiety by activating the areas in the brain that release the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.

Try It: The “Happiness” series of meditations under the Intentions section of the Inscape app encourage positive emotions. The “Say Thank You” session will help cultivate gratitude.

Take Deep Breaths

Just taking a few deep breaths—the kind that fills your belly— will engage your parasympathetic nervous system, activating your body’s relaxation response. Your heart rate will slow down and your gastrointestinal muscles will loosen up.

Take slow, deep breaths in through the nose for six counts, hold for three counts, and then exhale out through the mouth for six counts. The counting will help give your breathing rhythm and your mind focus.

Try It: The “Breathe” tool in the Inscape App does the counting for you and offers a calming visual to help guide your breaths.

Be Present

Research suggests that the ability to be present is an indicator of overall happiness and a sense of wellbeing. When our minds wander, we often obsess about unpleasant things that may occur in the future, or things that happened in the past. Instead, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now. Focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to handle difficult situations better.

Try It: The “Mindfulness - Body Scan” meditation under the Techniques section in the Inscape App and it will help you tune into the present moment and connect with your thoughts, feelings, and body. 

Loving Kindness

Anxiety stems from a “fear of self" and the scary thought of confronting your vulnerability. Obsessing over your flaws and limitations will only exacerbate anxiety. You can’t ignore them either, though. Instead, learn to take criticism at face value, and accept yourself for who you are. The same goes for other people. Showing love and compassion for others will only bring more kindness back to you.

Try It: In the Inscape App, find the “Amplify Compassion” meditation under Happiness Intentions. It will teach you to be kinder to yourself and those around you.

Calming Visualizations

Anxious people typically assign emotions, thoughts, and judgments to many experiences they encounter. All this does is amplify anxiety. It helps instead to think of it all as just information and let it go. While meditating, try picturing yourself outside in a park, meadow, or mountaintop, where you can observe clouds pass by in the sky. As thoughts, emotions, or sensations creep up, gently place each one on a cloud and watch it float by.

Try It: We love "Earth Light"  a visualization under the “Deep Rest” section of the Inscape App that will take you on a deeply calming journey within your imagination.

Non-Reactivity

Being highly reactive can lead to fear, anger, paranoia, impulsiveness, and, you guessed it, more anxiety. Practice observing thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations with compassion, and without judgment.

Try: Find the “Create Balance” meditation under the Intentions section of the Inscape app. It will help you practice to accept thoughts simply for what they are.