How Meditation Reduces Anxiety

By: Dr. St Jean

What if I told you that meditation – yes, breathing in and out and attempting to gain a state of consciousness that allows the mind to engage in positive thoughts – can reduce anxiety.  Would you believe me or think this guy is full of it?

Here’s the reality, meditation can reduce anxiety.  This is not really the debate.  The issue is how do we explain it.  Many people are not aware of the “how,” and therefore often discredit it and believe it can’t be true.

The truth…is it is explainable, and I’m going to discuss this explanation with you.  That way you know what’s actually happening in your body and have the know how to defend its validity.

Reduce Those Symptoms

If you are a patient suffering from anxiety or panic, you are probably always looking for additional ways you can reduce your symptoms.  I get it, the symptoms are awful and debilitating, so this makes sense that you would be searching for this information. If you want to identify and treat the root cause of your anxiety, click here to schedule a free consult with myself.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigueWhen it comes to this, I’m a big fan of trying to find new ways for you to accomplish this goal that doesn’t require the use of benzo’s and/or anti-anxiety medications.  I’m by no means anti-pharma, in many cases you need these for acute intervention.  However, at the very least in combination with these drugs, a skilled clinician will seek out additional non-drug options for you as well.  When it comes t0 non-drug options for reducing anxiety, meditation is a great option.  Doesn’t mean it will work for everyone, but heck, it’s free so why not try it?!

How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety?

Fair warning, what I’m about to discuss can be a bit confusing.  I’m going to break it down as much as possible, because I believe if you understand how it works, well then its all that more powerful and beneficial to you.

There is something in your body called the “Cholinergic Anti-Inflammatory Pathway.” This pathway is essentially the explanation for how meditation helps reduce anxiety.

To understand how this pathway works, let’s put it into context.  Let’s say your body has some inflammation.  Maybe this is GI inflammation from food sensitivities or parasites. Or, maybe its inflammation from Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Either way, there needs to be inflammation present.

A portion of your nervous system called your autonomic nervous system (ANS) detects the presence of this inflammation in your body.  The ANS then sends signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.  The goal here is to inform your brain that you have some inflammation going on.

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Your brain processes that incoming information and responds by sending an outgoing signal via the same nerve – the vagus nerve.  The end goal here of the brain is to release an important neurotransmitter called Acetylcholine from the vagus nerve onto a portion of your immune system.

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The portion of your immune system the acetylcholine is released onto is the immune cells called macrophages.  You can think of macrophages as the “pack man” of your immune system.  Gobbling up anything in its way.  When acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, it deactivates them and inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

These cytokines are the chemicals that cause inflammation, hence the verbiage “pro-inflammatory.” Therefore you can see how the end result of this “Cholinergic Anti-inflammatory Pathway” is to decrease inflammation via the inhibition of inflammatory cytokines.

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Okay, deep breath.  Here is the big picture – there is some kind of inflammation in the body:

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(1) ANS (autonomic nervous system) detects this inflammation and sends your brain an incoming signal via the vagus nerve.

(2) Brain processes that information, sends an outgoing signal via the same nerve – the vagus nerve. That signal results in acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) being released onto a specific portion of your immune system.

(3) That portion of your immune system is macrophages (pack man); and acetylcholine basically inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from the macrophages.  No more pro-inflammatory cytokines, no more neuro-irritants = reduction in anxiety

Why does this affect me, I have anxiety?

You are probably thinking, yea I kind of follow you here doc, but why are you telling me all of this?  I want to know how meditation reduces my anxiety.  You needed to know that to understand how….

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigueCytokines are basically neurological irritants.  They will affect your mood and push you towards anxiety and depression.  What’s worse, is even sometimes they can induce your anxiety and depression.  Bottom line, with high levels of inflammatory cytokines, your brain simply doesn’t work the same.

Wait for it….therefore, reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines can potentially help to reduce your anxiety.  Boom!  There is the connection.

Where does Meditation Come In?

The question you should be asking now is if pro-inflammatory cytokines can cause anxiety, then how do we reduce these neurological irritants?  One big picture item is to reduce inflammation, de-flame nutritionally and remove anything in the body that causes inflammation.  But what if there was a way to shut off the switch for inflammatory cytokines instantly?  Oh wait, there is.

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This is where meditation comes in big.  Meditation can activate the Cholinergic Anti-inflammatory Pathway.  Meaning meditation, provided you are implementing it properly, can in that very instant decrease inflammatory cytokine release – therefore reducing anxiety.  That is amazing!

I want to meditate NOW!

Before you run for the rug, light some candles and start shouting your Ohm’s – one step at a time.  Meditation like anything else doesn’t happen over night.  You can’t expect to try this out for the 1st time and be perfect at it.  It takes repetition, frequency, and practice to reap the full benefits of meditation.

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There are many avenues you can take.  You can search for a local meditation group, you can take individual glasses from a guru, you can purchase online courses, or just YouTube it.  A low cost way to ease yourself in is the Calm app.  This app is great, especially if your a busy bee like myself.  They have 5 min meditations, which I personally use between appointments to reset my mind.

Disclaimer – I do not benefit in anyway by recommending this app.  I have no financial vested interest.  It’s just a great app to try.  So there you have it, the mechanism behind how meditation can reduce anxiety.  I hope it makes sense and its helpful to you.

For more information on anxiety and how you can reduce it naturally, check out my blog and stay tuned for my wifey and I’s new Anxiety Podcast launching in January 2018.  Very excited.  If you want to identify and treat the root cause of your anxiety, click here to schedule a free consult with myself.