Mindfulness practice has helped calm minds for thousands of years — and modern science agrees it could be a useful tool in reducing anxiety.

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People who experience anxiety will know just how much the condition can impact daily life — creeping into everything from work to relationships to hobbies.

If you’re one of these individuals, it makes sense that you’ll want to do what you can to calm the mind and keep those worries at bay.

While the art of mindfulness has roots stemming back thousands of years, it has more recently been championed by the wellness industry as an approach to help ease stress and encourage relaxation.

But can mindfulness help individuals better manage anxiety?

Put simply, “it’s moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness,” says Katya Jezzard-Puyraud, mindfulness instructor and founder of LightHearts UK.

Mindfulness can involve:

  • accepting how you feel in the present moment, physically and emotionally
  • taking in your surroundings and being aware of yourself in them
  • not being distracted by thoughts from the past or future
  • being kind and nonjudgmental to yourself and others

When it comes to anxiety, practicing mindfulness can provide you with the mental tools to slow things down so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

“Mindfulness can be hugely powerful as a therapeutic tool [as] it involves becoming more consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” explains Jo Howarth, mindfulness practitioner and founder of The Happiness Club. “Once we have more conscious awareness of all of those things, then we can make whatever changes we decide we want to make.”

No matter how your anxiety manifests, its foundations remain the same.

“When we experience anxiety, it largely means that we are living in the future in our mind. We have imagined some kind of disastrous situation… [and] convinced ourselves that a horrible outcome is going to happen, so up pops anxiety,” Howarth explains.

“Mindfulness helps us come back into the present moment, where we realize none of that horrible stuff is actually happening.”

Jezzard-Puyraud agrees. With mindfulness, “you become an observer of your emotions,” she says.

“Instead of getting caught up in it and being taken down that spiral, your ‘mindful observer’ sort of takes a step back and goes, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s happening here? What’s the real cause of my anxiety?’”

As such, a 2017 research review showed that it’s been incorporated into Western psychological therapies over the past few decades through approaches such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate mindfulness is beneficial for anxiety, science also supports its efficacy.

In a 2015 study, scans revealed that engaging in a mindfulness practice decreases the amount of neural activity in the amygdala — the part of the brain that responds to stress.

Additionally, a small 2018 study found that mindfulness may reduce the levels of hormones that create cortisol (the body’s stress chemical), as well.

The positive effects of mindfulness may help ease symptoms of other conditions, too. Research shows that various forms of mindfulness might help reduce anxiety levels and symptoms of:

As with many things in life, mindfulness isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, and what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others.

It’s about trying out different approaches and finding what’s best for you.

Forms of mindful meditation shown to have positive effects on stress reduction include:

Mindfulness becomes easier with practice and time. You can try these easy steps today to get started.

Breathing techniques

“One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is our breathing,” states Howarth. “When you put all of your awareness on your breath, then you are completely present, [and] no longer in that imagined future.”

There are a variety of techniques to try, which can last for as long as you like. Not only can breath work be a form of anxiety-busting mindfulness, but a 2017 research review showed that slowing down and regulating your breathing also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which can calm the body down.

Acknowledge your surroundings

Utilize everyday activities as opportunities to ground yourself in the present. Take a car journey, for example.

“Turn the radio off and label everything that you see. So, you’d think, ‘nice tree’, or ‘she’s got a nice coat.’ That kind of thing,” Jezzard-Puynaud explains. “You’re looking properly and being aware of what’s around you. It becomes second nature after a while.”

Body scanning

A 2021 study with animals on virtually-led body scanning found that participants experienced reduced stress and anxiety from this meditation practice after just one session.

Essentially, body scanning involves the participant slowly working up or down their body and recognizing various sensations. This easy step-by-step guide will help see you through.

Tune into a guided session

For mindfulness newcomers (and seasoned pros), settling your mind can sometimes be challenging. But listening to a guided session is one way to help set your mind on the right path.

An array of apps offers this type of practice, and you can discover six of our favorites here.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Another full-body exercise, this approach requires the individual to gently engage and squeeze different muscles throughout the body before releasing and feeling them relax.

Despite its simplicity, PMR can have a big impact: A 2015 study found that patients who practiced PMR for 12 weeks experienced a dramatic reduction in anxiety.

Active listening

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone and didn’t find yourself distracted by a to-do list, Instagram, or the kids? “Sit down and really listen to what that person is saying to you,” Jezzard-Puynaud says.

If you have a favorite music artist, you could practice mindfully listening to their songs: taking in words, considering their meaning, and being aware of how they make you feel.

A small 2020 study found that people who mindfully listened to music or nature sounds over 8 weeks had reduced feelings of anxiety and stress.

With similar foundations and results, it’s easy to get these two concepts confused.

Meditation is an activity that you specifically set aside time to complete, whereas mindfulness is something that eventually becomes a part of your consciousness. “It is a way of existing, a way of being,” Jezzard-Puyraud states.

However, there is a crossover. “Meditation is very much part of the practice,” she continues. “When I teach people, we do lots of meditations and lots of different types, because everyone is different.”

But if meditation isn’t a right fit for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t practice mindfulness. “Meditation can be part of a mindfulness practice, but it doesn’t have to be,” notes Howarth.

An array of anecdotal evidence and scientific research supports the role of mindfulness in helping reduce levels of anxiety and stress at varying severities and manifestations.

There are numerous ways to get started incorporating mindfulness into your daily life, with steps as easy as practicing active listening or breath work.

However, whatever route you take into mindfulness, it’s important not to put pressure on yourself.

Becoming fully mindful might take some effort and practice, but you don’t necessarily have to master anything to enjoy benefits. A 2019 study showed that just 13 minutes each day could be enough to make a difference, but consistency over at least 6 to 8 weeks is key.

As Jezzard-Puynaud states: “The thing about mindfulness is that whatever you do to help yourself is fine. It doesn’t have to be every single minute of every single day. As long as you can do some of it, some time, you’re doing OK.”