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Anxiety disorders are psychiatric conditions characterized by extreme fear or worry, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, panic attacks, and phobias, among others. They are the most common mental disorders in the United States. A 2017 study found that mindfulness meditation can help manage symptoms of anxiety.
Meditation is a form of mental training geared toward improving a person’s core psychological capacities, such as regulation of attention and emotion. Mindfulness meditation is often referred to as “being present,” trains the user to engage in non-judgmental attention to present-moment experiences.
The eight-week intervention study involved 70 people with generalized anxiety disorder. Some of the participants (42) took a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, while the remainder (28) took a stress management education course, which provided information about nutrition, sleep habits, and other wellness topics but did not include mindfulness. The authors of the study assessed the participants' response to a stressor (public speaking) before and after the interventions, based on biomarkers associated with stress, including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and proinflammatory cytokines.
At the end of the intervention, the participants in the mindfulness-based stress reduction course had lower levels of ACTH and proinflammatory cytokines. Interestingly, the participants who took the stress management course without mindfulness had higher levels of ACTH after the intervention. The authors of the study suggested that this might have been due to the participants' anxiety about repeating the test.
These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation shows promise as a wellness strategy to manage symptoms of anxiety. Other wellness practices show similar benefits. For example, the Wild 5 protocol is an online resource that combines exercise, nutrition, sleep, social connectedness, and mindfulness practices to reduce stress. Learn about the Wild 5 protocol in this clip featuring psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison.
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