June 28, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
Meditation-related anxiety relief relates to activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved with executive-level function, according to a research study.
Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre identified the brain functions involved during meditation.
“Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.”
The study is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment
15 healthy participants with normal levels of daily anxiety were recruited for the study. These people had no prior meditation practice and no anxiety disorders. All volunteers took four 20-minute lessons to learn the mindfulness meditation technique. In this form of meditation, people are trained to focus on their breath and body sensations while evaluating distracting thoughts and emotions nonjudgmentally in this type of meditation.
The study participants’ brain activity was evaluated both before and after meditation training using a particular sort of imaging called arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging, which is very effective at imaging brain functions like meditation. Furthermore, anxiety levels were examined before and after brain scanning.
Meditation reduced anxiety ratings by 39 percent
Most study participants reported decreased anxiety. Meditation reduced anxiety rates by up to 39%, according to the researchers.
“This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” Zeidan said.
The study revealed that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved with executive-level function. During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying. In addition, when activity increased in the anterior cingulate cortex — the area that governs thinking and emotion — anxiety decreased.
“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”
Meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients
Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders. The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people, he said.
Support for the study was provided by the Mind and Life Institute’s Francisco J. Varela Grant, the National Institutes of Health grant NS3926, and the Biomolecular Imaging Center at Wake Forest Baptist.
Co-authors are Katherine Martucci, Ph.D., Robert Kraft, Ph.D., John McHaffie, Ph.D., and Robert Coghill, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist.
Materials provided by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
F. Zeidan, K. T. Martucci, R. A. Kraft, J. G. McHaffie, R. C. Coghill. Neural Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nst041
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Anxious? Activate your anterior cingulate cortex with a little meditation.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604114001.htm>.
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