Fortunately, meditation and other relaxation treatments have shown to be a big help when it comes to reducing fear and anxiety. Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that is starting to gain credibility in the medical field as a form of stress relief. According to Herbert Benson, MD, cardiologist and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, of those who go to the doctor for sickness of any sort, between 60 and 90 percent can benefit from stress management techniques such as meditation.
In fact, Benson says that the technique is now even being used to treat illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Benson says that meditation is just one of many practices that lead the body into a calm and peaceful state. He adds that there are many relaxation techniques including yoga, deep breathing, and prayer and believes that none is better than the other. He maintains that any of these are beneficial because they elicit a relaxed response from the body, which helps lower metabolism, blood pressure and heart rate. These techniques also cause brain waves to slow down and breathing to become less labored.
In a study conducted at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, researchers found that meditation not only helped individuals to control their emotions, but they also found that it had a preventative benefit when it came to illness because it helped the subjects boost performance of their immune system. The results of the study were published in the February 2003 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
As part of the study, 25 individuals took part in mindfulness meditation courses that lasted eight weeks. Mindfulness meditation teaches subjects to be aware of thoughts and feelings without being consumed by them. It is meant to quiet the mind. Unlike, concentrative meditation, which chooses one center of intense focus, mindfulness meditation encourages participants to be cognizant of all things passing through the mind.
The individuals had weekly classes and also attended a seven-hour retreat. After class, their homework was to practice one hour of mindfulness meditation, six days a week. Participants’ brain waves were measured before they started the study and also four months after their treatment sessions ended. Results were compared to a control group that didn’t attend the classes or meditate.
Researchers found that the left, frontal region of the brain was stimulated in the test group. This is the part of the brain associated with positive mental emotions and reduced stress. Also, both the test group and control group received flu shots after the eight-week training session concluded. Blood tests conducted a month and two months later showed that the test group had produced more antibodies to the flu virus than those in the control group, suggesting that the meditation techniques may help keep sickness at bay by boosting immune function.
Since meditation requires concentration, it may not work for those suffering from more serious anxiety disorders. Meditation may be more helpful when used as a supplement to other forms of medical treatment. If you suspect you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor about the treatment options best suited to you.