Monday, February 13, 2012

Reduction of Anixety Through Meditation

Anxiety is a psychiatric disorder that Sapolsky describes as being “rooted in cognitive distortion” (319). An anxiety-prone person’s thoughts create a psychological state of dread and apprehension, which in turn affects how they feel and act. As a result of the excessive worry, people diagnosed with anxiety disorders have abnormal, chronically overactive stress responses, which leads to an increased risk of many diseases. A widely used method of dealing with anxiety disorders is through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that attempts to systematically recognize and eliminate dysfunctional thoughts, which will change how we feel and our behaviors. While this method has been proven to be effective, there has been a rise in the usage of alternative treatments, a major one being mindfulness mediation.

Sapolsky mentions the use of meditation as a technique for managing stress. Meditation is used to increase our ability to relax, which in turn should increase our ability to cope with stress more effectively. While there are many different forms of meditation, the form that the majority of the scientific studies have focused on is mindfulness meditation. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to make create stability and peace in our minds while increasing awareness. Researchers have been studying the effectiveness mindfulness mediation based treatments in reducing anxiety. Through randomized trials, it has been shown that mindfulness meditation therapy can significantly reduce anxiety, as well as successfully improve mood, functionality, and quality of life.

A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, used images from the brain throughout an eight week long mindfulness mediation based stress reduction group to show that actual structural changes occur to our brain when we meditate. Reductions in stress were found to be associated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which, as Sapolsky explained, plays a very important role in anxiety disorders. These studies show that mindfulness meditation should be increasingly used as a therapeutic technique to reduce anxiety. Meditation could possibly be used as a prevention method before a person is inflicted with a stress related disorder. It would be interesting to possibly study other forms of meditation in order to see if their effectiveness in anxiety reduction differs. Another interesting possible study would be to track the long term effects of meditation and health outcomes in order to discover if any other ailments can be treated or prevented with such a method.


  1. While I do believe in traditional, Western medicine to some extent, I think so many people who suffer from stress-related illness rely far too heavily upon drugs to get rid of disorders that can be abated with lifestyle modifications. This is problematic especially in urban environments where life is fast-paced, expensive, and crowded. On a personal level, I have suffered from GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) since age 6 and have found exercise, meditation and diet changes to be the most beneficial means to suppressing my disorder. Anxiety and stress medications have such a scary list of side effects, they actually made me more anxious than I was off the medication. I love that Sapolsky exposed how helpful meditation can be and how it is really capable of physiologically altering our brains to put our bodies and mind at ease. I'd be curious to see a study comparing Western and non Western societies and abilities to reduce/cope with stress. Some societies suffer from the constant fear of starvation and finding shelter, so why do Western societies--with marginal poverty rates in comparison to places in the East--seem the most stressed out? Is it merely cultural? Environmental? More attended to or monitored?

  2. A number of studies have actually looked at the treatment validity for as well as short and long term effects of mindfulness based interventions in patients with a wide range of medical conditions. In the article Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future, Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts Medical School describes how his team conducted several small randomized trials. In one trial, patients with moderate to severe psoriasis followed guided mindfulness meditation while undergoing ultraviolet phototherapy treatment. This audio-delivered mindfulness meditation included a guided visualization in which patients visualized the ultraviolet light slowing down and then stopping their rapidly multiplying epidermal cells. Compared to a control group that did not follow the mindfulness meditation, the meditators' skin cleared up much more quickly. Other studies have found that mindfulness based stress reduction (a combination of yoga and meditation) either alone or in combination with medicinal treatment is successful in treating prostate cancer, depression, addiction, and disordered eating.