By Carol Fredrek
For most people anxiety comes and goes based on their level of stress. They have learned ways to manage stress. They take time for themselves. They may exercise moderately, breathe throughout the day, get enough sleep, get out to nature, or meditate regularly.
However, for many people anxiety is overwhelming. They may experience panic attacks, have trouble breathing, heart rate accelerates, and their palms get sweaty.
If you suffer from anxiety, you’ll likely resonate with the following
The anxiety significantly affects many aspects of your life. For instance, relationships, work, or social activities. Your anxiety may last weeks, months, or years, not just come and go.
As you know, anxiety is difficult to manage. It can be overwhelming if not debilitating. There are many effective approaches to managing anxiety. The key is to be consistent!
One such approach is meditation. There are many myths about meditation. One is that you must maintain a blank mind and not allow any thoughts to come up for it to be a real meditation. The other is that you must be in this state for a long period of time for it to be helpful. These are myths. They are not true.
I know this because many of my clients have successfully used meditation without ever having done it before. They started slow and still felt the benefits. I too learned how to meditate to manage stress and anxiety.
There is substantial evidence to support the importance of the mind-body connection in reducing anxiety:
- Anxiety is not only about the chatter in your head but also the physiological responses to that chatter. Your heartbeat increases, you may get sweaty palms. Your breathing is shallow and you may have trouble sleeping.
- Studies have shown that there is substantial improvement in areas like negative personality traits, anxiety, and stress. Another study focused on a wide range of anxiety disorders, and found mindfulness to be an effective management tool.
- Chronic worriers often displayed increased reactivity in the amygdala, an area in the brain associated with regulating emotions, including fear. People who practiced mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks were more able to turn down the reactivity of this area.
The brain is quite malleable, a concept referred to as Neuroplasticity. Regular Meditation allows the brain to develop new pathways. Ones that are free of anxiety, worry, and fear.
Moving from thoughts to breath is the meditation
The goal of meditation is to feel centered and grounded. It is not about having a blank mind for 20 or 30 minutes. Your mind is going to wander. When your mind naturally wanders redirect your attention back to your breath. You might be in the meditation for only 5 minutes. The meditation is bringing your mind back to your breath.
Meditation will help you have emotional freedom from the triggers of your anxiety. If you experience restlessness and have difficulty sitting still, stay in the meditation for a short period of time. Even 5 minutes is enough to start with. You want meditation to be a life-style change. You will want to feel you can do this, so start slow. You don’t have to be experienced to meditate.
Here are two types of meditation that are used a lot
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Focus on your breath or other body sensations instead of the chatter in your mind
- Focus on the here-and-now instead of the past or the future
- Close your eyes, if comfortable
- Loving Kindness Meditation
- Focus on compassionate thoughts towards yourself and others
- For example, “May you live with ease and free of pain” as you think of someone from the present or past
- Focus on the here-and-now
- Close your eyes, if comfortable
- Sit or lie down, whichever is most comfortable
These types of meditation can help you in a number of ways.
Benefits of Meditation
- Quiets an overactive brain
- Helps to stop over-attending to thoughts and feelings
- Non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts and emotions
- Increased feeling of being grounded and centered
- Alleviates pain
- Improves sleep (sleep easier & deeper)
- Better able to manage stress
- Improves concentration
- Increases self-awareness
Jane used meditation and it helped manage her anxiety
Jane, a 32-year old woman, married, and with two children, was having panic attacks once per week. She would break out into sweats, her heart would race, and her breathing would get shallow. They would occur at unexpected times. She was unable to figure out what was causing her panic attacks.
Jane had a history of worrying about, what she referred to as “non-essential things”. She would have trouble falling asleep and would wake up often during the night, listening to the chatter in her head. She would wake up feeling fatigues and exhausted.
Jane realized that she needed help to better understand her anxiety
Jane wanted some tools to manage the anxiety. She wanted to understand where the anxiety was coming from. She wanted help and called a Psychologist, which was me.
One of the many strategies that she learned that helped her immensely was meditation. She had never done any kind of meditation. So, I gave her a book on mindfulness and a guide on how to meditate. A meditation guide based on her experience and challenges with meditation.
Jane began with guided meditations that she found on You Tube. She also signed up on my website to get a free anxiety quiz and receive a free MP3 anxiety meditation. In You Tube you can choose the length of time of the meditation. The length of the meditation she chose depended on the time she had available.
Jane created boundaries so that she had time for her meditations
She made sure that she chose a time where she wouldn’t be interrupted. Phones were off and anyone in the house knew that she could not be interrupted.
She graduated to mindfulness meditations. These were sitting meditations where she focused on her breath. She began with 5 minutes every day and gradually moved to 15 minutes daily.
Jane found meditation to be a very effective tool that she incorporated into her daily life
She found that her overall stress decreased, or at least how she experienced the stress. She now felt she had the ability to manage the stress in her life.
When she felt her anxiety come on she would do a meditation. Sometimes guided and sometimes a sitting meditation. Among other strategies she learned what her triggers were, over time she experienced less and less anxiety, and did not have anymore panic attacks.
Meditation is helpful for anyone. If you have any of the symptoms on the list below, with some guidance you can manage your anxiety too.
Symptoms of Anxiety
- Nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
- Feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased or heavy sweating
- Trembling or muscle twitching
- Weakness or lethargy
- Difficulty focusing or thinking about anything other than the things that you’re worried about
- Avoidance of the thing(s) that trigger your anxiety
If you have any of these symptoms and you would like to explore strategies to learn to manage them, call me to book a 15-minute FREE phone consultation.
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