Can Meditation Help My Anxiety?
Anxiety is a complex situation; it’s taken me hours of studying to truly understand what happens inside the brain when feeling anxious. In this blog I will explain anxiety as succinctly as possible and then tell you why meditation and hypnotherapy can help with feelings of anxiety.
Things to know before we begin,
- anxiety is a symptom of the brain state known as the fight or flight response.
- The brain
- ’s role is to keep you alive
- has multiple functions that do this
- cannot differentiate between real and imaginary
- cannot differentiate between a threat to your ego and a threat to your life
- holds onto and learns from previous experiences.
- The instinctual brain does not rationalise
All animals, including you, have a life saving instinct known as the fight or flight response. As your brain stimulates your body to breathe without you consciously thinking about it, to keep you alive, your brain instinctually enters the fight or flight response when necessary. This is an unconscious action. You cannot instruct your body to enter the fight or flight response with your human thinking brain and you cannot stop it with your human thinking brain. You can learn about it and put into practice certain techniques to prevent you remaining in a state of mind designed to be a fast response.
What is a threat?
Your brain determines whether something is a threat to your life based on instinct, previous experiences, and your human thoughts. The human is a social animal so alongside this you pick up cues from other people. Your brain will flick into the fight or flight response if there is a predator charging towards you. This is less necessary in human life but regularly seen when observing animals.
The human brain does not differentiate between real and imaginary. If you witness a traumatic event your brain will react as if you were in that event. Every time you ‘re-live’ the experience through your imagination your brain will react as if it were happening. Your brain will perceive the thing that happened as a threat to your life. It will put you into the fight or flight response when you imagine it and if you put yourself into a similar situation.
As an example, if you witnessed a horrendous car crash, your brain will file aspects of that as a threat to your life. It may be the car or the road or even the song you were listening to at the time. Without rationale, when you see or experience the thing that your brain connects with the event, your brain will enter the fight or flight response to keep you alive.
A threat to my ego or life?
Your brain cannot tell the difference between a threat to your ego and a threat to your life. If you are feeling uncomfortable within your ego, about something based on a previous experience your brain will categorise that as a threat to your life. Say, you have spent much of your life around judgemental people your brain will file the “fact” that people are judgemental. If this is a threat to your ego your brain will sense it as a threat to your life and walking into a room full of people will kick start your fight of flight response.
The fight or flight response has also been termed an amygdala hijack. The amygdala are two almond shaped bunches of cells in your brain. Amongst other jobs they have the role of threat detection. The amygdalae are fast responding and work quicker than the conscious parts of your brain. As a result, they often detected a threat to your life before you are consciously aware of it. An amazing life saver, not so beneficial for our modern human lifestyle. It’s not ideal when you can’t consciously explain or rationalise why your body is doing what it is doing!
When your amygdalae sense a threat they immediately instruct the brain to release adrenaline. This causes
- Your heart rate to increase so…
- blood flows to the core so that you can run or fight
- the air passages of the lungs expand to enable a greater intake of oxygen.
- the pupils of your eyes increase so more light is let in
- blood is redistributed to the lungs
- your metabolism is altered so there is a surge in glucose for energy
- Your heart rate to increase so…
Next there is an increased release of noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is always present in your body but increased during the fight or flight response. The role of noradrenaline in the fight or flight response is to increase your vascular tone so that your blood gets to the organs.
If the stressor is still present your hypothalamus in your brain releases corticotropin-releasing hormone, this causes your adrenal glands to release cortisol. At this point your blood pressure increases and your immune system suppressed.
Safety above conscious thought
Your brain prioritises safety above conscious thought. Therefore, when your amygdala hijacks and your brain enters the fight or flight response your human thinking brain, your pre-frontal cortex, begins to switch off. This is progressive and the more extreme the fight or flight state the less ‘on’ the human brain.
With a switched off pre-frontal cortex (human thinking brain) you,
- have difficulty reflecting on previous experiences and looking into the future
- find it difficult to think logically and problem solve
- struggle to speak
- cannot self-reflect or empathise
- experience your emotional states physically
Meditation and hypnotherapy as a help
A recent study into the effect of meditation on the brain found that śamatha and vipaśyanā meditation alongside hypnotic absorption increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, thus bringing the human thinking brain back online. Read my post on meditation to learn how you can easily incorporate it into your life.
If you struggle with anxiety it is important to have some personal sessions with a hypnotherapist or similar to deal with the perceptions of threat in your brain that are causing it to be in the fight or flight response. However, in the moment you can utilise the power of meditation to bring your human brain back to the fore so that the previously mentioned difficulties can become possible.
If you want to delve deeper into your anxiety and how you can help yourself, for £35 I have a quick fix session available on my website. This is a pre-recorded replica of a hypnotherapy session that you can watch and use in your own time. If your anxiety is deeper rooted call me for a chat, you can come for a free initial consultation and I can explain how I can help you with personalised sessions.
Facco, Enrico. (2017). Meditation and Hypnosis: Two Sides of the Same Coin?. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis. 65. 169-188. 10.1080/00207144.2017.1276361.