Health Benefits of Anxiety
While meditation alone cannot treat anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder and social phobia), there's some evidence that meditation may help promote relaxation and reduce some anxiety symptoms.
Considered a type of stress-management technique, meditation typically involves focusing your attention on your breathing or on a repeated word or phrase (known as a "mantra"). When practiced regularly, meditation may help people to calm themselves and gain greater control over anxiety-producing thoughts. Practicing meditation may also enhance the effects of standard therapy for anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
To date, few studies have focused on the use of meditation in the treatment of anxiety. In a research review published in 2006, for instance, investigators were only able to identify two studies that tested meditation's effectiveness in managing anxiety disorders. In analyzing those studies, the investigators found that transcendental meditation (a type of meditation that involves repeating a mantra) is similar to other kinds of relaxation therapies in terms of its anxiety-reducing effects. However, the review's authors note that no conclusion can be drawn on meditation's usefulness as a therapy for anxiety disorders, due to the small number of available studies.
Meditation may help alleviate anxiety among people undergoing treatment for cancer, according to a small study published in 2009. In tests on 28 cancer patients, researchers found that two weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation (a type of meditation that involves focusing your mind on the present) helped reduce anxiety and ease depression.
Using Meditation for Anxiety Disorders
Due to the lack of supporting research data, meditation cannot currently be recommended as a principal treatment for anxiety disorders. Furthermore, it's important to note that many individuals with anxiety disorders require treatment with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. If you're interested in using meditation to help manage an anxiety disorder, talk to a mental-health professional about incorporating a meditation practice into your treatment program.
Ando M, Morita T, Akechi T, Ito S, Tanaka M, Ifuku Y, Nakayama T. "The efficacy of mindfulness-based meditation therapy on anxiety, depression, and spirituality in Japanese patients with cancer." J Palliat Med. 2009 Dec;12(12):1091-4.
Krisanaprakornkit T, Krisanaprakornkit W, Piyavhatkul N, Laopaiboon M. "Meditation therapy for anxiety disorders." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1):CD004998.
National Institute of Mental Health. "Anxiety Disorders". September 2010.