For people with anxiety, just 10 minutes a day of mindful meditation is enough to prevent the mind from wandering, according to a preliminary study reported in Consciousness and Cognition (2017; 51, 157–65). Mind-wandering disrupts productivity and contributes to accidents, and it’s particularly an issue for people with anxiety, as they tend to worry and ruminate about negative events that are not happening in the present moment. University of Waterloo researchers in Waterloo, Ontario, conducted the study to determine the effectiveness of a mindfulness practice on clinical anxiety.

“Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind-wandering for anxious individuals,” said Mengran Xu, a researcher and doctoral candidate at Waterloo University, to IDEA Fitness Journal.

“We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on the task at hand.”

Researchers recruited 82 college students with characteristics indicative of clinical anxiety. Investigators randomly assigned subjects to a control group or a meditation group. After 10 minutes of either listening to a book or practicing a breathing meditation exercise and then (for all) completing a sustained-attention task, those in the meditation group reported fewer mind-wandering episodes but a greater number of external distractions. Study authors observed the significance of this last finding, noting, “Mindfulness training seemed to switch the focus of attention from internal information to external stimuli in the ‘here and now,’ which likely has very important implications for methods of remediation used to treat worrying in anxious populations.”

Xu added, “Although we haven’t collected empirical data on this, many people find it helpful to start their day with a 10-minute mindfulness meditation. Doing a 10-minute meditation before an exam or an anxiety-provoking situation would also be helpful [to improve concentration or reduce anxiety].”

Since the study looked only at subjects with anxiety, the findings are not conclusive for the general population.

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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