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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Anxiety Help Through Meditation: How the ‘Here and Now’ Enhances Your Life

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Anxiety Help Through Meditation: How the ‘Here and Now’ Enhances Your Life

Is there a “magic pill” that could solve all your stress and anxiety? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In a world that’s becoming increasingly more stressful, people are now experiencing the symptoms of stress and anxiety more than ever before.

Many of the solutions you’ll find on a typical Google search will tell you to “reduce stress” or “avoid stress,” but there’s a problem with that logic.

Not all stress is avoidable or reducible. So what are you left to do? Anxiety help is possible, and it’s as simple as adding a daily meditation practice to your life.

Read on to find out how practicing meditation for anxiety is a smart solution.

Crush Anxiety and Stress with Meditation

You may not be able avoid the stressful board meeting, the sales call, or your kids jumping off the bed, but you can strengthen your brain’s ability to handle and deal with your anxiety and stress. If you can build your stress-handling muscle, you’ll be better equipped to tackle your anxiety and your stress.

Do you want to learn how to reduce the feeling of stress and anxiety so you can start living your life again? Meditation may hold the key.

Meditation has become the go-to brain strengthening training for people like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, and Tim Ferris. In this article, I’ll show how meditation can help and how to get started, even if you’ve never meditated before.

Train Your Brain: Rewiring the Firing

Meditation isn’t just a spiritual practice. It’s more like a brain exercise.

If you want to build strong muscles, you need to go to the gym and exercise. Which muscles you choose to exercise will determine which muscles get stronger.

The same goes for your brain.

There’s a saying in neuroscience that says, “The brain wires the way it fires,” which means the more we participate in a specific way of thinking, activity, or habit, the more the brain will actually build more wiring to make that process easier the next time around.

When the brain is constantly stressed and anxious, it begins laying down wiring to make that process easier, which is the opposite of what you want.

So rather than trying to completely eliminate stress from your life, you need to train your brain to better resist and handle stress and anxiety.

Pump the Brakes on Stress

The brain has two modes of operation: Sympathetic (Fight-Or-Flight) and Parasympathetic (Growth, Health, and Relax). Imagine the sympathetic nervous system as the brain’s “gas pedal” and the parasympathetic nervous system as the “brake pedal.”

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Chronic stress and anxiety pushes on the “gas pedal” and hardwires your brain to become more sympathetic dominant (stuck in stress), which shuts off the parasympathetic mode (relax mode), making it more difficult to calm down, relax, and reduce anxiety and stress.

Meditation pushes the brake pedal and helps the brain strengthen the parasympathetic side of your nervous system, which helps you to restore balance and calm.

Mindfulness meditation, a meditation technique that emphasizes focusing on the present moment, trains the brain to shut off the signals producing anxiety and stress by simply doing something as simple as concentrating on your breathing. [1]

By focusing on the “here and now,” it helps the brain become more aware of the source of your stress and anxiety, while simultaneously training the brain to become more resilient against stress and anxiety.

Destroy Your Stress Hormones

When your brain is stressed, it promotes the release of cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, to help the body deal with your stress. It’s a healthy, natural response to stress for a short period of time; but, it is not meant to be a long-term solution to the work, financial, or relationship stress that may be causing it.

Chronic high levels of cortisol from stress and anxiety can interfere with your energy, slow brain performance, promote weight gain, and increase the risk of depression. [2]

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease your stress hormone, cortisol, which can help you feel more energized and healthy while simultaneously crushing stress and anxiety. [3]

Ramp Up Your “Feel Good” Chemicals

Not only does meditation lower the symptoms of your stress and anxiety, it also boosts the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier. [4]

Chronic stress and anxiety can lower your brain’s “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin, as well as your brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine.

  • Low serotonin levels can make you feel more sad, unhappy, lethargic, depressed, and anxious.
  • Low levels of dopamine can make you feel unmotivated, less resilient to stress, tired, and forgetful.

Studies show that meditation can increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, helping your brain not only crush stress, but allow you to feel happier, motivated, and energized.

Help Make Lasting & Positive Change

Do you feel like you are always stressed and anxious as though it is the preset mode of operation for your brain?

Would you like to be able to change that? Meditation may be the solution to lasting change and results.

Science has shown that the brain continues to change and reorganize itself throughout your lifetime depending on your lifestyle and your experiences. This is called neuroplasticity. One of the most influential promoters of neuroplasticity is a protein called Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF helps the brain produce more brain cells, create new connections in the brain, and helps protect the brain against damage and stress. BDNF can help your brain adopt new healthy habits easier, learn faster, and even promote a healthy brain.

Meditation can increase the production of BDNF and help your brain reprogram itself for less stress, less anxiety, and more happiness. [5]

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Make Your Brain Bigger and Stronger

So is meditation only helping you manage feelings and emotions?

It turns out that meditation does more than meets the eye. Not only can meditation make you feel less stressed and anxious, it can actually change the physical structure of your brain.

One study in particular found that regular meditation increased the thickness of the brain. A thicker brain is a stronger brain. [6]

One area of the brain that scientists discovered an increase in thickness was in the insula of the brain. The insula is thought to be a center for controlling consciousness, awareness, and emotion regulation.

This means that meditation can help you increase the work capacity of the portion of the brain that regulates your consciousness and emotions.

Put Yourself In The Driver’s Seat

Often times, people who are chronically stressed can feel “out of control” of their stress and anxiety and constantly feeling overrun by the source of their stress.

Anxiety and stress act like a fire alarm in the brain. When you are stressed, often your concentration is on the feeling or source of your anxiety, not the solution.

This can make you feel like a passenger in your own mind, constantly rebounding from your emotions.

Meditation teaches you to calm the constant fire alarm of stress to gain perspective and clarity on the solutions.

Meditation trains your brain to regain control over your thoughts and emotions, which allows you to get back in the driver’s seat with your hands on the wheel and control the direction and course of your mind.

Meditation Techniques When Your Brain Won’t Turn Off

1. 5 Minutes a Day Can Make a Major Impact

Little steps still lead to large goals.

When you first started working out, did you start with a full marathon?

Of course not. You trained your way up.

You can use the same strategy for meditation. You can start with just as little as 5 minutes a day, adding a minute at a time to progress further.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist Monk, meditating for hours a day, to experience the benefits mentioned earlier.

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Even if you are busy, you can still find at least 5 minutes during your day to step away and find a quiet spot to take some time for yourself and meditate.

“If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life.”
– Tony Robbins

Try meditating at different times of the day. Some people prefer morning, while others prefer afternoon or evening. Find what works best for you.

Start with meditating just 5 minutes a day and begin building up a minute at a time until you reach 20 minutes.

2. Box Breathing has Big Benefits

A simple yet powerful way to start is by concentrating on your breathing. This helps to block all distractions and bring your brain to the present moment.

Box Breathing” is a great technique to start with. Here’s how it works

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the top of your inhale for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the bottom of your exhale for 4 seconds.

*Repeat as often as necessary

.

Deep and slow breathing has been shown to activate the “brake pedal” of your brain, helping your brain to deactivate the stress response and activate relaxation and attention. [7]

Counting the time of your inhales and exhales helps to keep your focus and attention during your meditation.

3. Try Out Some Tools of the Trade

There is no shame in seeking help, especially when it comes to meditation.

In today’s modern age, you have access to more technology and resources than ever before. Why not use them to help make meditation easier and more effective?

Using helpful tools like the ones listed below can help you avoid distractions and help you stay consistent with your meditation.

Here are some helpful tools available that can help you with your meditation.

  • Guided Mediations: Youtube videos, CD’s, and podcasts can be a great way to get started and pick up new ideas for your meditation practice.
  • The Headspace App: The Headspace app is an Apple/Android app that has plenty of guided meditations to help you get started and continue your meditation practice in as little as 10 minutes a day.
  • Music: Find nice relaxing instrumental music that you can play through your headphones to block any distractions like dogs barking, the neighbor mowing their lawn, etc.
  • Classes: Many cities have local classes or meet ups, where you can go for free or for a small fee and get some guidance for the meditation. You can also meet other like-minded individuals who you can connect with.
  • Timer: You don’t want to have to continually check the clock to see if your time is up. Set a timer that will do that for you.
  • Advanced Technology: There is some amazing state-of-the-art technology available today such as Muse. Muse is headset that measures your brain waves and gives feedback during your meditation to help you stay on track, while also tracking how you are progressing.

4. Keep Consistent

In the beginning, it’s natural that your mind will begin to wander as you meditate. Don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens. Just bring your focus back and keep going.

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If you want to lose weight at the gym, do you think you’ll get results if you only go once a month?

Not likely.

The key to creating change in the brain is effort and consistency. Consistency is one of the most important factors in getting the benefits of meditation while making it a lasting practice.

Remember the saying mentioned earlier? “The brain wires the way it fires.”

In order to create new wiring and to feel more in control of your stress and anxiety, you need to consistently “fire” the brain enough times to stimulate your brain to rewire itself.

Over time, meditation will become easier and the benefits will last longer.

5. Take It One Step Further

As you become more comfortable with meditation and it becomes easier to calm your mind and focus, you are left with an amazing opportunity.

As you reach a state of calm focus, the brain waves change pattern and your brain becomes very attentive and receptive to what you put your focus on.

This gives you a great opportunity to start programming into your brain the things you want to achieve from your meditation.

For instance, you can start focusing your thoughts and attention on:

  • What you are grateful for
  • Positive affirmations
  • Visualizations
  • Mantras or sayings that are meaningful to you
  • Prayers

Where to Go From Here?

Meditation can have profound and long-lasting effects on your brain. There is a reason why some of the most successful and happy people have sworn by meditation as one of the most important influences on their life.

Meditation isn’t as complicated as it may seem and there are plenty of simple strategies, tools, and resources to get started even if you are brand new to meditating.

If you are ready to get back in the driver’s seat and get a hold of your stress and anxiety, there is good news for you. Anybody can do it and you can start with only a few minutes a day to start experiencing results. So go ahead and get Zen!

Featured photo credit: The Digital Artist/ Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Dr Brady Salcido

Dr Brady is a Doctor, Podcast Host, and Brain Optimization Expert sharing how you can use your lifestyle to upgrade your life.

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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