Mindfulness Meditation Can Worsen Anxiety

Mindfulness Meditation Can Worsen Anxiety

by Dr Emma Gray - 22nd April, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation is increasingly being incorporated into therapy programmes, in particular Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat a range of mental health problems including Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Eating Disorders and Sleep Problems.

The benefits of Mindfulness are well documented, however in some cases, for example in those suffering with anxiety and panic, it can exacerbate symptoms.

Mindfulness is about becoming aware of the present moment as a way of not being pulled away into worries about the past and catastrophic predictions about the future. It teaches us to step back and observe our experiences (both internal and external) from a different standpoint which can help us to disentangle ourselves from the thoughts that cause additional and unnecessary distress and discomfort.

Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be learned and as such takes months of dedicated practice. The initial stages of this practice are incredibly challenging as meditation puts us in direct and undiluted contact with our internal world (e.g. our thoughts, emotions and physical sensation) which is not always a comfortable place to be.

In fact many of us work quite hard on a daily basis to block this out for example by keeping ourselves constantly busy, drinking alcohol to lessen the effects of a stressful day and bingeing on food to comfort ourselves.

An awareness of internal changes particularly physiological ones, triggers high levels of anxiety and panic in those suffering from anxiety disorders which makes mindfulness meditation a particularly challenging treatment for these individuals.

More often than not mindfulness is prescribed by therapists who do not themselves practice meditation and as a result do not fully understand the experience.

This has led to therapists rushing in and using these techniques as a first line treatment for their anxious patients without first building their confidence through more fast acting and accessible interventions like Progressive Muscular Relaxation and Diaphragmatic Breathing.

Mindfulness is undoubtedly a helpful adjunct to therapy including therapy for anxiety disorders but it’s benefits are not immediate so it should be introduced only once basic symptom level work is well underway and patients are relatively stable.

First line treatment for anxiety and panic disorder should always include Progressive Muscular Relaxation and or Diaphragmatic Breathing to build confidence and undermine the tendency to underestimate personal ability to cope.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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