Anna Greenberg

How Meditation Can Ease Anxiety, One Breath at a Time

These simple mindfulness techniques will help you transform your mental well-being.

By Dana Meltzer Zepeda and PelotonUpdated December 13, 2023


If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common psychological disorder, affecting 40 million adults in the United States each year. Although you can't necessarily prevent stress-inducing thoughts from popping into your head, you can learn to change the way you react to them. One of the best ways to do this? Incorporating meditation for anxiety into your self-care routine.

Whether you’re new to meditation or looking to deepen your practice, we’ll show you how meditation for stress and anxiety works and offer some simple meditation techniques. Plus, we asked Peloton Members to share their experiences of how meditation has helped their journey with anxiety.

How does Meditation Help with Anxiety?

Helping you get in touch with your inner zen, meditation is highly effective in managing symptoms of stress and anxiety. Let’s break down how it does this.

Regulating Breathing

By promoting slower, deeper, and more consistent breathing patterns, meditation breathing has been found to be an effective technique in reducing stress and anxiety. Counteracting shallower, more rapid breathing associated with anxiety, this deeper breathing from the diaphragm helps to activate the body’s relaxation response, soothing and reducing signs of anxiety. 

Focusing the Mind

Meditation—particularly mindfulness meditation—focuses your awareness on the present moment. Using a mantra or the rhythmic sensations of the breath as foundational anchors to ground you, it teaches you to return to this every time your mind starts to wander and anxious thoughts try to creep in. This self-soothing technique can be used outside of meditation too. Any time you feel your anxiety levels rising, you can tune into your breathing by practicing deep, slow breaths to calm and ground yourself. 

Enhancing Your Self-Awareness

By slowing the stream of thoughts that flow through the mind, meditation teaches you to become more attuned to any anxious or negative thoughts and feelings. Rumination is a common feature of stress, anxiety, and depression, but meditation helps to calm this repetitive thought-pattern by teaching your mind not to jump on these “thought trains.” Instead, you learn to observe them and let them pass by without judgment. Over time, this creates distance from these thoughts and lessens their impact.

Emotional Regulation

By observing your thoughts without judgment, meditation helps to reduce impulsive or emotional responses to them. Rather than feeling like your thoughts are controlling you, it gives you a stronger sense of control over your thought patterns. And, by fostering a deeper recognition of anxious feelings and helping you choose a calm response, meditation helps to train your mind to do the same when faced with anxiety-inducing situations in your everyday life. 

Reducing Stress

Because it creates a relaxation response in the body, meditation has been found to reduce stress, which in turn lowers heart rate and blood pressure—which can be raised during moments of anxiety—and reduces the production of stress hormones like cortisol. With consistent practice, this can lead to a more balanced and controlled reaction to everyday stressors.  

What About Meditation For Sleep Anxiety?

Just as meditation can help with anxiety in our waking lives, studies have found meditation can also help with sleep anxiety and disorders. Stress is a huge factor affecting both our ability to fall asleep and the quality of that sleep. The consistent practice of meditation creates a relaxation response, giving your mind the tools and techniques to slow down thoughts and release any tension. It also lowers the production of stress hormones, helping you drift off to a more restful night’s sleep. (Psst, there are even specific meditations designed to help you sleep.)

7 Ways Meditation Can Ease Anxiety 

We asked some Peloton Members to share their advice on how meditation has helped ease their anxiety. Here's what they had to say.

1. It’s Like Hitting Reset 

Sometimes it feels next to impossible to quiet your mind, especially with the fast pace of our daily lives. Meditation can be a total game-changer in creating the space you need to just breathe and focus on yourself. Think of it as a quick recharge or reset. “I love meditation classes,” says Rachel K. “As a healthcare worker, I appreciate the little moments I get to myself!”

2. You Can Meditate Anywhere, Anytime

Think you don’t have time to fit meditation into your busy schedule? You might be surprised at how little you need. While it isn't always easy to carve an hour out of your day for a therapy session, you can practice meditation anywhere, anytime. It might be one minute at your desk, five minutes in your car, or twenty minutes from the comfort of home—whatever works for you. “I have anxiety and it helps me refocus,” says Rachel K. “Plus, my job is stressful so it’s nice to do it for five minutes when I park and before I walk in.”

3. Meditation Builds Inner Strength

If you've ever received bad news, you know how hard it can be to stay strong under duress. Luckily, a regular meditation practice can help cultivate the inner strength you need to move forward when you're faced with tough times, shares Member Adam R. Try meditating just before going into a stressful situation or after work to decompress. You can even use the breathing principles of meditation during a stressful situation to help regulate your anxiety response. 

4. Get a Better Night's Sleep

Having trouble falling and staying asleep? I If you're looking for an effective way to reduce sleep anxiety, meditation can help. “I was skeptical at first because I have never meditated or really knew how,” says Member Jaclyn D. “I can say I’m a believer now. I love it! I’m a 12-hour night shift worker and it helps me so much, especially on nights I have to switch back to a normal time. It helps me unwind and fall asleep so much faster and I have slept so much better!”

5. Heal from Within

Simply recognizing your anxiety and then working through the difficult emotions that come up can help you to overcome it and heal faster. Meditation helps you process those emotions, observe them, and then start to move past them, reducing the power they have over you.

When you have no control over whatever circumstances are causing your anxiety, taking back control and getting a handle on it through meditation can feel like such an accomplishment. “Meditating every day has changed my entire life!” says Member Alexis B.

6. Shift Your Mindset 

It's great to take time to count your blessings, even when you're feeling especially stressed. Meditation can soothe the mind and help you find a more positive headspace. “I just did a gratitude meditation course,” says Member April F. “To take 10 minutes out of my day to show some gratitude was a beautiful and lasting experience.” 

From your morning cup of coffee to a smile from a stranger, try finding five things to feel grateful for at the end of each day. This trains your brain to be more mindful of all the good in your life, no matter how small. Over time, you’ll start to notice your mindset shift to a place of gratitude

7. Bond With Your Kids

Whether you're raising toddlers, tweens, or teenagers, parenting is hard work. To help ease the anxiety that comes along with raising good human beings, try meditating as a family.  “I love the family meditations,” says Member Kendall L. “My 10-year-old loves them. I never ever could get myself to meditate before but they put me and my daughter to sleep almost every night.”

How to Meditate For Anxiety

There’s no wrong way to meditate; it’s about finding a practice that works for you and keeping at it. Here are some tips for getting started.

  1. Find a Space: While the traditional position for meditation is to sit on a cushion on the floor, you can sit in a chair, lay down, or even meditate as you workout—just as long as you’re not driving or operating any machinery, you really can meditate anywhere you feel you can maintain focus.

  2. Focus on Your Breathing: Take a few deep breaths to begin with, then let your breathing return to its natural state. Start to relax your mind and focus on your breath. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the breath. 

  3. Accept and Release Thoughts: Your thoughts will be louder at the start of your practice, so try to gently let them quiet. As your mind relaxes, you may notice anxious thoughts creeping in. Observe them, acknowledge them, and then release them without judgment, rather than following them or reacting to them. Return to the breath to anchor you.

  4. Do a Body Scan: This is a great way to anchor your focus. Start at the tip of your toes and move your attention upwards through your body, checking in on any sensations and relaxing your muscles. Breathe into those areas and release them. 

  5. Try an App for Guided Meditations: Many people prefer guided meditations to help focus on specific goals such as building energy or finding calm. Try downloading a meditation app or the Peloton App. You can always mix and match between guided and self-guided meditations too, depending on what you're in the mood for. 

How Often Should You Meditate?

If you’re new to meditating, start off with one- to five-minute meditations daily. As you feel more confident and comfortable, work your way up to 10- to 20-minute ones. Don’t feel bad if you can’t always do the full 20 minutes each day; just do what you can. You might even break them up into two 10-minute sessions throughout the day. 

Beyond supporting your mental health, there are many physical benefits that come with regular and consistent meditation. From enhancing your workouts to helping you be more productive and motivated, there’s every reason to start your meditation practice today. 

There are so many different meditation classes available on the Peloton App, covering everything from courage to healing. Try one today!


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