Meditation might worsen Anxiety. How to deal with it?

One way people have been dealing with stress and anxiety tough time is by turning to meditation and mindfulness. The studies have shown that it can help with both mental and physical health. However, meditation might not be the best solution for everyone. A study has to say something different.

Sometimes, when people are trying to still their thoughts, the mind can rebel. The experts denote it as a backlash to the attempt to control the mind, and this further leads to an episode of anxiety or depression.

Meditation and Anxiety

According to a study published in the outlet New Scientists, about 1 in 12 people who try meditation, experience an unwanted negative effect, which is usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or sometimes even the onset of conditions for the first time.

The study further claims that people were left feeling a bit delusional post-meditation. Many people experienced delusional, irrational, and paranormal thoughts after meditation.

There have been some reports of 8% of people experiencing worse mental health like increased anxiety to panic attacks after starting meditation.  Additionally, several instances of psychosis or thoughts of suicide were also found.

One of the researchers behind the study said that “For most people, it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and it’s not universally benevolent”.

It was the first systematic review of the evidence conducted at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. The researcher’s team has collated the data from 55 various other medical journals and studies published in other portals. They omitted the studies that were deliberately set out to find the negative effects of meditation.

Limitations – 1. Though the 8% number may be not significant, however, many other studies have reported only serious complications rather. The figure could have been pushed up if the people trying out meditation with undiagnosed anxiety or depression. 2. It is still unclear why and how it happens (1).

The obstacles to meditation when you have anxiety

Practicing meditation certainly isn’t a waste of time, and nor is it necessarily spiritual or magical. It is a great tool to take control of your mental health; however, it is a very different thing to different people.

Those who struggle with anxiety, there are a couple of obstacles that can make it harder initially. Let us look at them first.

Increased self-awareness

It is an important skill to deal with emotions. However, this increased self-awareness can backfire as well.

As you become more aware of sensations in your body and the workings of your mind, you might also become more aware of your anxiety symptoms. Some people even begin to look out more for signs of anxiety during daily life.

Self-perception

Meditation leads to a change in self-perception. Instead of seeing the world as they usually do, a feeling of detachment from their body and their thoughts can arise. However, some people do interpret this temporary change in perception very negatively. Meditation can sometimes trigger some traumatic experiences either.

Brain waves

Meditation produces Alpha waves in the brain which suppresses the Beta waves of the brain. The Beta waves are responsible for concentration and critical thinking and planning. Moreover, they are also associated with anxiety as well.

When you start meditating often, you may experience anxiety very often in terms of repetitive thinking. Thus, instead of relaxing the brain, the brain is then flooded with beta waves. You’re going into high-alert mode.

Emotional repression

Generally, for beginners, meditation cause repressed memories and traumatic emotional experiences.

Relaxation induced anxiety

It might sound strange, but relaxation itself can be a trigger for anxiety. Instead of calming down your nervous system, it heats up.

How to deal with meditation based anxiety?

The meditation is a sensible scientific choice as an adjunctive treatment for selected medical problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, PTSD, burnout, or cancer, as well as to promote general well-being.

One must try it and go for guided meditation, which is a much safer and better experience. Rather than avoid meditation, people should try guided sessions or coaching’s led by a teacher either in-person or on an app.

If you are a beginner, start with short meditation sessions (5 minutes could be a good starting point) and only increase gradually. It takes weeks and months to build up the ability to catch your mind when it’s drifting off and then bring it back.

Mindfulness-based clinical interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) typically recommend practicing meditation for 40-45 minutes per day. The Transcendental Meditation (TM) tradition often recommends 20 minutes, twice daily.

If a depersonalization experience (self-perception) occurs that frightens you, positive and reassuring self-talk can help. Tell yourself that this will go away until your perception has gone back to normal. It certainly will.

As discussed earlier, meditation may trigger intense emotional experiences. It’s hard to deal with such experiences on your own.  Hence, it is important that you face traumatic memories in tiny steps and only with the help of a professional.

In the best case, try basic gymnastics, yoga, or any other form of exercise like walking or running adjunct to meditation. It might be a better way to start than traditional sitting meditation only.

Steps to follow Mindful Meditation

  • Sit upright in a chair, or you can sit on the floor with legs folding.
  • Begin paying attention to your breath. Don’t try to change how you are breathing; simply observe your body as you inhale and exhale.
  • You might feel compelled to shift your focus elsewhere. Resist this urge and continue to focus on your breathing.
  • Anxious thoughts may pass through your mind. Acknowledge them, but then bring yourself back to awareness of your breathing.
  • Continue this quiet, nonjudgmental observation for about 10 minutes.
  • Open your eyes and notice how you feel. Don’t evaluate, just observe.

Explore how mindfulness and meditation can help soften feelings of anxiousness, reduce stress, and calm a panic attack in our mindful guide to meditation.

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