Meditation works as well for anxiety as commonly prescribed medications. And guided meditation makes it easier to achieve a therapeutic meditative state.
No one knows for sure exactly what causes anxiety.
The risk factors thought to make you more susceptible include prolonged stress, basic personalty type, emotional trauma and even your genes.
Studies suggest that it is caused by an imbalance of certain brain chemicals or is a natural fear response gone awry.
But regardless of the underlying cause of your anxiety, it’s almost certain that meditation can help.
In fact, the latest research shows that meditation works as well as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications. (1)
And with guided meditation you can benefit from the knowledge and skill of meditation experts.
In this article, first we’ll look at the many ways meditation works to reduce anxiety.
Then I’ll show you some of the best places to find guided meditations you can download and start using today.
How Anxiety and Meditation Change the Brain
Anxiety doesn’t just make you feel bad, it actually changes the structure and function of your brain.
It decreases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain considered the seat of the memory.
Conversely, it increases the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for the fear response, causing you to become even more anxious and fearful.
Stress, fear, and anxiety trigger the release of stress hormones and cause imbalances in neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate with each other. (2)
But regular meditation not only can reduce anxiety symptoms but also can actually reverse the changes to your brain caused by anxiety.
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It increases the volume of the hippocampus. (3)
It helps restore a better balance of neurotransmitters.
Meditation can improve your mood by increasing levels of serotonin, your “happiness molecule.” (6)
It can increase levels of GABA, the relaxing neurotransmitter called the brain’s “natural Valium.” (7)
Meditation reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol which significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and memory loss. (8)
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It reduces brain inflammation which is associated with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. (11)
Change Your Thoughts with Meditation
As anyone with anxiety will attest, racing thoughts create a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety.
Getting you off the hamster wheel of obsessive thinking is where meditation really shines.
Meditation can reduce rumination, even in those with lifelong mood disorders. (18)
Meditation can, in fact, change the way your brain responds to stress. (21)
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Any habit is hard to break because of the strong neural pathway that you’ve created for that activity through constant repetition.
Few habits are harder to break than negative patterns of self-talk.
Fortunately, your brain has an endless capacity to change — a characteristic known as neuroplasticity.
Meditation rewires your brain to be more focused on the present instead of worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.
And by so doing, you are essentially training your brain to be less anxious. (24)
Binaural Beats: A Meditation Shortcut
Why Try Guided Meditation for Anxiety
If meditation can make you a happier, more well-adjusted person, why isn’t everyone doing it?
Meditation is one of those things that falls into the “simple but not easy” category for many people.
Quieting the mind — sometimes aptly referred to as a “random thought generator” — is not an easy task!
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Unfortunately, many people give up on meditation because they couldn’t quiet their thoughts, they weren’t sure they were doing it right, or they weren’t getting the results they’d hoped for.
With guided meditation you don’t have to go it alone.
You can follow along with an experienced meditation teacher or a proven meditation script that will readily get you into a relaxed, meditative state.
New to meditation? Learn more in our beginner’s guide to meditation.
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Using Mindfulness Meditation to Overcome Anxiety
Sources for Guided Meditations for Anxiety
There are as many kinds of guided meditations as there are types of meditation.
Basically any meditation that is done with the help of a guide — either in person or more commonly via a virtual guide or teacher — is a guided meditation.
You don’t have to look far to find a ton of excellent guided meditations online.
University Stress Relief Resources
One surprisingly good source for stress and anxiety relief is college websites.
Many major universities make stress reduction resources available for their students and anyone else who visits their site.
You’ll find relaxation exercises of all kinds including guided imagery, brainwave entrainment, autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, and more.
A bonus is that most of these are created by trained health care professionals.
Here’s a list of university websites with some of the resources you’ll find there:
Brigham Young University Counseling and Psychological Services offers two dozen guided meditations of all kinds. Browse through their breathing, mindfulness and visualization meditations, as well as their progressive muscle relaxation and self-hypnosis downloads, all of which are effective in treating anxiety.
Dartmouth College Student Wellness Centre has twelve guided meditations that include deep breathing, visualization, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation exercises.
University of Wisconsin – Madison University Health Services provides 18 relaxation meditations created by university staff that include breath awareness, autogenic training, and meditations to help you get to sleep.
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McMaster University Student Wellness Center has guided mindfulness videos.
In the University of Houston Counseling Services student portal you’ll find breathing and visualization meditations, including one for managing math anxiety.
University of Iowa has an online Mind/Body Spa with guided relaxation and stress reduction, healing and mindfulness exercises.
University of Illinois McKinley Health Center offers guided imagery and deep breathing meditations as well as progressive muscle relaxation.
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center recommends that cancer patients use guided imagery along with conventional medical treatments to reduce the stress and anxiety that accompany the disease and treatment. Their research shows meditation can also improve sleep, boost immune function, and ease pain. Their guided imagery library is available online for everyone.
Autogenic Training: A Deceptively Effective Relaxation Technique
Other Sources of Guided Meditations
Udemy is the world’s largest marketplace for online courses.
My quick search for “guided meditation for anxiety” revealed over 130 results.
Prices range from free to $300, with the most popular ones being in the $9 to $99 range.
If you are looking for more than just an MP3 you can listen to, Udemy offers an excellent selection of complete courses.
Some are very specific, such as overcoming performance anxiety or meditations for specific health conditions.
You can find dozens of guided meditations for anxiety on the free music streaming service Spotify.
Just enter the term guided meditation in the search box. You’ll also find guided meditations for sleep, stress, pain relief, and more.
Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor, but is most widely known as a mind-body pioneer and possibly the most famous proponent of meditation in the world.
You’ll find a handful of free guided meditations for all occasions on his website Chopra.com.
At Zen12.com, you can download free guided meditations and brainwave entrainment meditations with your choice of music, white noise, or sounds of nature backgrounds.
Guided Meditation Apps
Buddhify is an award-winning app with over 80 guided meditations.
Deepak Chopra’s meditation app Ananda contains 22 guided meditations and 22 musical tracks that you can mix and match.
The Mindfulness App has guided meditations by notable meditation teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, and Sharon Salzberg.
Guided Meditation for Anxiety: The Bottom Line
The evidence is overwhelming — meditation is one of the best relaxation techniques and also one of the best ways to reduce anxiety.
It works on a deep level by changing the function and even the structure of your brain.
Learning to quiet your mind can be challenging, but guided meditation makes it easy.
It lets you tap into the wisdom and expertise of the world’s best meditation teachers — often for free!