Ten minutes of mindful meditation per day can be enough to help people prone to anxious thoughts focus more effectively on tasks in the present moment, according to new Canadian research.
Practicing mindful meditation on a daily basis can help anxious individuals focus on tasks in the present moment, reducing the likelihood of repetitive off-topic thoughts, a hallmark of anxiety, according to researchers from Canada's University of Waterloo.
Researchers studied 82 students who experience anxiety. They were asked to carry out a computer-based task while being interrupted several times to assess their ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
Participants were then split into two groups at random. Before being reassessed, a control group was asked to listen to an audio story while the other group took part in a short meditation exercise.
The researchers saw a reduction in off-task thoughts in the "meditators," who were also better able to stay focused on the task at hand.
"Mind wandering accounts for nearly half of any person's daily stream of consciousness. For people with anxiety, repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even function safely," explains Mengran Xu, a researcher and PhD candidate at Waterloo.
Another benefit of meditation was that it appeared to help anxious people shift their attention from their own internal worries to the external world and the present moment.
For beginners taking up meditation, the aim is to concentrate attention solely on breathing throughout the 10-minute session, without setting any specific goals. Follow the flow of air by taking a deep breath in then a long breath out, before marking the short, natural pause before taking the next breath in. Systematically bringing thoughts and attention back to breathing keeps the mind focused on the present moment. The next step is to become mindfully conscious of all parts of the body in contact with the floor or the chair on which you are sitting.
The study is published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.