Just 10 minutes of meditation every day can help people suffering from anxiety prevent mind wandering, a new study conducted by the University of Waterloo found. On Tuesday, it was revealed that an advanced awareness of the present, reduced stress and distracted thinking — a key characteristic of anxiety.
The study, which was co-authored by Waterloo psychology professors Christine Purdon and Daniel Smilek and Harvard University's Paul Seli, was published in the May edition of the journal Consciousness and Cognition.
"Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals," lead researcher Mengran Xu, a PhD candidate from the school, said. "We also found that meditation practice helps people to shift their attention to the present-moment, which enables better focus on a task at hand."
By "mindfulness," Xu is referring to the act of "paying attention on purpose," and decisively being in the present.
The study was conducted with 82 participants completing a task that required attention. As the task was carried out, researchers would interrupt them and ask what they were thinking at that particular time. Later, the study participants were then separated into two groups. One group did a breathing meditation for 10 minutes before being tested again, while the other group did not.
"It would be interesting to see what the impacts would be if mindful meditation was practiced by anxious populations more widely," Xu said, referencing the study's small sample group. "Mind wandering accounts for nearly half of any person's daily stream of consciousness.
Researchers found that individuals that meditated stayed on track with the task and were more easily able to shift their thoughts to the "here and now" than the other group.
"People who practice meditation... they kind of have a shift in their attention and focus, to the present moment," Xu said. "Which kind of makes sense because when you meditate, the purpose of meditation is to stay in the present moment. So we actually proved that in our experiment that people did have a shift of taking the focus to here and now."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults, aged 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population.
"It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder," according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The most common anxiety disorder symptoms include:
Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge
Being easily fatigued
Difficulty concentrating or having their minds go blank
Difficulty controlling the worry
Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some examples of different types of anxiety disorders include:
The separation anxiety where an individual is very afraid when away from parents.
Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation (phobias)
The social anxiety where an individual is very afraid of school and other places where there are people.
Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)