If you or someone you know has a problem with repetitive, anxious thoughts, a new study suggests a daily, 10-minute session of mindful meditation may be help.
University of Waterloo (Canada) researchers discovered the daily brief bout of mindful mediation can help prevent your mind from wandering and is particularly effective if you tend to have repetitive, anxious thoughts.
The study, which assessed the impact of meditation with 82 participants who experience anxiety, found that developing an awareness of the present moment reduced incidents of repetitive, off-task thinking, a hallmark of anxiety.
“Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals,” said Mengran Xu, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at Waterloo.
“We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.”
The study, co-authored by Waterloo psychology professors Drs. Christine Purdon and Daniel Smilek and Harvard University’s Dr. Paul Seli, appears in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.
The term mindfulness is commonly defined as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.
As part of the study, participants were asked to perform a task on a computer while experiencing interruptions to gauge their ability to stay focused on the task.
Researchers then put the participants into two groups at random, with the control group given an audio story to listen to and the other group asked to engage in a short meditation exercise prior to being reassessed.
“Mind-wandering accounts for nearly half of any person’s daily stream of consciousness,” said Xu.
“For people with anxiety, repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even function safely.
“It would be interesting to see what the impacts would be if mindful meditation was practiced by anxious populations more widely.”