How Meditation Can Help With All Kinds of Fears

Researchers have experimented with using meditation to relieve varieties of fear because, as one researcher put it, fear and relaxation cannot coexist.
How Meditation Can Help With All Kinds of Fears
Maria Han

Meditation can help people overcome their fears, small and great. One study found that it helped cancer survivors overcome their fear of recurrence. Another examined how it helped with fear of the dentist.

Others have found it effective against the fear of death.

It brings an “inner stability” that helps one face life’s uncertainties and the fears that come with them, according to Kelvin Chin, who has been meditating for more than 50 years and was a test subject in one of the first medical studies on meditation in the United States in 1971.

“I always tell people we cannot get rid of uncertainty, but we can get rid of the fear associated with it,” Mr. Chin said at the annual International Association of Near Death Studies conference in 2021.

In the Dentist’s Chair

Long before meditation was a household word in the West and before one could find yoga studios on every corner, a psychology professor and a dentistry school professor got together to try out the technique as a way to help dental patients who were scared of anesthetic needles.
“The underlying concept involved is that fear and relaxation cannot occur simultaneously,” Donald R. Morse of Temple University School of Dentistry and Bernard B. Cohen of West Chester State College, wrote in a 1983 paper.

“In practice, the feared object is introduced to the subject in gradually increasing steps while the individual is deeply relaxed,” they said.

The experiment was to have the patient repeat a meditation mantra while being reintroduced to dental equipment or procedures. The easiest step might be reclining in the patient’s chair, gradually getting to the point of being able to receive anesthesia.

At the end of the study, one of the conclusions drawn was, “Meditation-hypnosis is a rapid, effective anti-anxiety technique that can be used in systematic desensitization.”

Cancer Survivors’ Fear of Recurrence

A group of Harvard Medical School researchers looked at different mind and body techniques to alleviate the fear of cancer recurrence, and meditation was an effective technique.
In some extreme cases, the fear of cancer recurrence could result in “hopelessness, demoralization, and even suicidal ideation,” they wrote in their study published in the journal Psycho-oncology.

Some of the techniques used to combat this fear include relaxation and meditation, including seated meditation, mindfulness meditation, and meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong. The researchers found evidence of efficacy.

“Applying mind-body skills to target FCR [fear of cancer recurrence] appears to be efficacious, albeit with room for greater refinement,” they wrote.

Kundalini Yoga Meditation Techniques for Psycho-oncology and as Potential Therapies for Cancer,” written by David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa, records the process and results of research on cancer patients who used meditation to help alleviate their cancer-related fears.

Mr. Shannahoff-Khalsa wrote that this meditation technique can be used for patients with various needs, such as by alleviating “fatigue, anxiety, depression, fear, and anger; meeting mental challenges; and turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.”

“In 1990, I had my first opportunity to test ’managing fears.‘ I tried it with a woman, age 38, who asked me if there was anything I could teach her that might help with the terrible fear of death that she was experiencing ... When she finished, the husband said ’Honey, I have not seen you smile in 2 to 3 months.‘ She replied, ’All of my negative thoughts were changing to positive thoughts,'” Mr. Shannahoff-Khalsa wrote.

As with any type of goal, one of the hardest parts is persevering to the end. Mr. Shannahoff-Khalsa said that some of his patients stop when they see enough improvement to let them get by; only a small percentage continue until they are 100 percent better.

“The most common challenge is to get individuals to practice regularly and independently. Cancer patients may be more motivated than some populations when individuals realize the immediate relief and benefit that can be achieved through practice, especially if the patient has a strong desire to lead a ‘normal’ life,” he wrote.

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