New Study: This Is the #1 Tactic To Reduce Anxiety

Updated: Jun. 24, 2024

Research on 9,000 participants examined the effects of three coping tactics to discover a few surprising findings—including one about meditation.

Most anyone who has struggled with anxiety—which includes over 30% of all US adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health—will tell you that finding the right ways to distract your mind from ruminating and fretting is no easy task. Symptoms of anxiety include excessive worrying, constant pressure and stress, as well as issues with sleep, concentration and more. So, what do you do when you can’t stay focused or calm but want to put your nervous energy into a task that helps you feel a little better? New research suggests one particular hobby could be a healthy way to distract yourself and get some relief.

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With the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that rates of anxiety increased by 25% during the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of Canadian researchers decided to examine what leisure activities people struggling with anxiety turned to in lockdown to determine what was effective and what wasn’t.

In a June 2024 study published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open-access mega journal published by the Public Library of Science, the researchers analyzed data from two separate surveys taken during the pandemic, cumulatively including 8,818 participants. They examined participants’ engagement in three activities:

  • Exercise
  • Communication with friends and family
  • Meditation

Of these activities, the researchers found that participants who engaged in exercise saw the biggest benefits for their anxiety. In the first survey, 24.4% of those who regularly exercised reported that they did not experience moderate to severe anxiety, compared to 17% who did. In the second survey, these figures were 19% and 12%, respectively.

Communication with family and friends was close behind. Among those who socialized with loved ones, 19.9% in the first survey and 18.3% in the second survey reported no moderate to severe anxiety, while 18% and 12.7%, respectively, reported that they did have intense anxiety symptoms.

Interestingly, the participants who engaged in meditation experienced the worst anxiety. In the first survey, 24% of those who meditated reported moderate to severe anxiety, with only 16.4% reporting no such anxiety. In the second survey, 17.7% reported moderate to severe anxiety, while 11.7% reported none.

Though there is significant research supporting meditation’s effects on anxiety, the most important thing is finding what works for you. If strolling around the block, playing a recreational sport with some friend  or just giving a family member a call on the phone can help lessen your stress and rumination, it’s worth a try.