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How meditation eases anxiety found in the brain: 10 reasons to get started

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Research uncovers how meditation makes us less anxious.

Taking a few minutes each day to meditate can be good medication for quelling anxiety. Researchers know practicing mindful meditation can reduce anxiety and now science has uncovered what happens in the brain to provide the calming effect.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have identified the brain function involved in meditation using a special type of brain imaging known as arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers recruited 15 healthy volunteers with normal daily anxiety levels for the study who had no previous experience with meditation.

The participants spent just 20 minutes to learn mindful meditation that focuses on breathing and non-judgmentally evaluating emotions and thoughts that are distracting.

Brain activity was measured before and after meditation for the Wake Forest study.

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The results showed meditation activates areas of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex that are involved in executive-level function of the brain.

Mindful meditation that is easily learned also lowered activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain that controls worrying.

Most of the study participants reported less anxiety. Meditation reduced feelings of being anxious by 39 percent.

Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study said in a press release, Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”

Meditation has also been shown to:

  1. Help with weight loss because it teaches mindful eating
  2. Reduce symptoms of PTSD in combat veterans
  3. Reduce chronic pain
  4. Ease depression and pain for patients with multiple sclerosis
  5. Improve heart function
  6. Reduce fatigue and stress for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers
  7. Ease feelings of loneliness
  8. Slow the aging process
  9. Decrease blood pressure
  10. Boost memory for Alzheimer's patients

The finding is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Practicing meditation can help us control how we react to our thoughts and feelings to help us control stress that is inevitable. Now researchers have uncovered the brain mechanisms that help us become less anxious with mindful meditation.