Mindfulness Meditation Anxiety

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How to Meditate with Anxiety

The present moment isn’t always a place of rest. Meditation can put us in touch with our stress and anxiety, and that’s why it can be so helpful. Explore how mindfulness and meditation can help soften feelings of anxiousness, reduce stress, and calm a panic attack in our new mindful guide to meditation for anxiety.

Anxiety is our body’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m experiencing too much stress all at once.” This happens to the best of us. But, when that feeling of being “always on alert” becomes background noise that doesn’t go away, that’s when it’s time to seek help. Mindfulness and meditation for anxiety is a growing field that can help you navigate the many ways that anxiety can disorder your life. This guide is not meant to serve as a diagnosing tool or a treatment path—It’s simply a collection of research and some practices you can turn to as you begin to right your ship.

Calm Anxiety in Three Steps:

  1. Open your attention to the present moment. The invitation is to bring attention to our experience in a wider and more open manner that isn’t really involved with selecting or choosing or evaluating, but simply holding—becoming a container for thoughts feelings or sensations in the body that are present and seeing if we can watch them from one moment to the next.
  2. Focus on the breath. Let go of that widescreen and to bring a focus that’s much more concentrated and centered, so narrower, on breathing in one region of our bodies—the breath of the belly, or the chest, or the nostrils, or anywhere that the breath makes itself known, and keeping that more concentrated focus.
  3. Bring your attention to your body. move out to become aware of sensations in the body as a whole, sitting with the whole body, the whole breath, once again we move back to wider and spacious container of attention for our experience.

Mindfulness is not a panacea. It’s not the right choice for everyone. But, according to some research, when you can create a little space between yourself and what you’re experiencing, your anxiety can soften. But, if you get too used to that low rumble of stress always being there, it can gradually grow, creating a stress “habit” that is detrimental to your health and well-being. Consequently, when we get caught up in patterns of reactivity, we create more distress in our lives. This is why it’s so important to discern clearly the difference between reacting with unawareness and responding with mindfulness.

How Mindfulness Calms Anxious Feelings

  1. Mindfulness helps you learn to stay with difficult feelings without analyzing, suppressing, or encouraging them. When you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your worries, irritations, painful memories, and other difficult thoughts and emotions, this often helps them dissipate.
  2. Mindfulness allows you to safely explore the underlying causes of your stress and worry. By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy fighting or turning away from it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns.
  3. Mindfulness helps you create space around your worries so they don’t consume you. When you begin to understand the underlying causes of your apprehension, freedom and a sense of spaciousness naturally emerge.

“In essence, practicing mindfulness is a process of learning to trust and stay with feelings of discomfort rather than trying to escape from or analyze them,” says Bob Stahl, Ph.D., Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, founder of multiple MBSR programs, and co-author of multiple books on MBSR. “This often leads to a remarkable shift; time and again your feelings will show you everything you need to know about them—and something you need to know for your own well-being.”

A 30-Minute Anxiety Meditation

A Meditation for Working with Anxiety and Stress

As we begin this practice, let’s take a moment to welcome and congratulate ourselves in being here — that we’re actually taking this time to be present, to go inside, into our own lives.

Let’s take a few moments to feel that we are in the mind and body with a mindful check in: Feeling any sensations, any holdings, any tightness in the body as well as feeling into your mood, feeling into our emotions, and just acknowledging whatever being felt and letting be. Just feeling how we are with awareness and acknowledging whatever there is to be felt.

Now very gently, withdrawing the awareness from the mindful check-in, let’s bring our attention to the breath: Being mindful of the breath in the abdomen, expanding on an inhalation and falling on an exhalation. Breathing in and breathing out with awareness. Breathing normally and breathing naturally, feeling the rise and fall of the abdomen. This type of mindful breathing can help calm us down when we are feeling anxious, feeling fearful, so just be mindful of the breath coming in and going out — breathing in and out with awareness.

If we find in the silences that our mind has wandered off, compassionately, gently making them note “wandering” and coming back to the breath and the abdomen, breathing in and breathing out with awareness. Slowing our lives down, taking it one inhalation and one exhalation at a time. Breathing in and breathing out with awareness — breathing in and breathing out, moment to moment.

Now gently withdrawing the awareness from breathing, we’ll shift our focus to a body scan.  Feeling into this body, into the world of sensations, thoughts, and emotions, and acknowledging whatever is being experienced  — just like a meteorologist will objectively report the weather and the outside, we as mindfulness practitioners are like internal meteorologists reporting the weather objectively on the inside. So whatever it is that we’re feeling in the body, in the mind, let’s just acknowledge whatever is being felt and let be.

Let’s bring the focus of our awareness into the soles of each of our feet, getting to feel the heels, bottom of the feet, the toes, the top of the feet, behind into the Achilles tendon, and gently above into the ankles joints, feeling each of the feet up to the ankles with awareness and just acknowledging whatever is felt in the body or potentially in the mind. Feeling into the feet, into the ankles, letting the awareness rise up into each of the lower legs, and to the calves, the shins, and coming up into the knee joints — feeling into the body with awareness.

Now, letting the awareness rise up from the lower legs and knees into the upper legs, into the thighs, our hamstrings, quadriceps, feeling into the upper legs, and feeling its connection up into the hip joints, feeling sensations, the felt sense of the body. Feeling into the thighs, into the hips, and letting be. Letting the awareness come up into the hips, into the pelvic girdle, into the center of the body, feeling the sit bones, the buttocks, genital region — great systems within of elimination, reproduction — feeling into the center of this body with awareness, within the hips and the pelvic girdle. Whatever arises in the body, or perhaps at times even in the mind and emotions, acknowledging and letting be. Letting the awareness rise into the tailbone and then gently coming up into the lower back, up the spine into the middle, eventually into the upper back, feeling sensations in the back with awareness, and letting be.

As we go through this body we may notice from time to time tensions, tightness, achy-mess, and if we can allow any of these areas to soften, by all means, let that happen. It’s also important to know that if we are unable to soften, our practice informs us to let be. Let whatever sensations ripple and resonate wherever they need to go — the same applies even to our thoughts and emotions, letting them be.

Feeling into the back with awareness, letting the awareness begin rise up into each of the shoulders and the shoulder blades. Then gently bringing the awareness down each of the upper arms, into the elbows, into the forearms, the wrists, and the hands, feeling sensations from the shoulders to the fingertips and letting be.

Withdrawing the awareness now from the shoulders to the fingertips and placing our attention into the belly. Great system of digestion, assimilation, feeling into the belly with the awareness. Whatever sensations that may be felt: tightness, nervousness, “just right-sens” — whatsoever there, acknowledging, and letting be as we feel into our guts, into the belly with awareness.

Now letting the awareness rise up into the skin of the chest, into the breast, to the sternum, and rib cage. Then feeling into the great systems of ventilation, of the lungs, and circulation of the heart. Feeling into the chest with awareness and being mindful of whatever comes up in the body. Letting any waves of thoughts, emotions, sensations ripple and resonate where ever they need to go. Feeling into the chest with awareness.

Now bringing the awareness from the chest back up into the shoulders again. Feeling the shoulders and its connections into the neck and throat, being present.

Now letting the awareness from the shoulders and neck and throat come up into the jaw joint. One of the most exercised joints in the body, home of communication, home of how we take in food — feeling into the jaw, into the mouth, into the teeth, and tongue, and letting be. Feeling into the cheeks of the face, into the sinus passages, into the temples, the head, and the forehead. Feeling into the eyes and the muscles around the eyes. Feeling into the facial structure. Feeling into the top, into the back of the head, feeling sensations, and letting be. Feeling in through the ears, into the inside of the head into the brain. Feeling the face and head with awareness.

Now gently connecting the face and head with the neck and throat, and with the shoulders and arms, and the hands, the chest, the belly, the back, the hips, the legs, and feet, feeling the body as a whole from head to toe fingertip. As we breathe in feeling the body rising ever so gently on the inhalation and falling on the exhalation.

As we’re feeling into this body and mind, we may at times continue to experience some anxious thoughts, worries, fears, and there are times when we can use the practice of mindfulness, of inquiry, of investigating to discover potentially the underlying causes of our fears. If it appears that even after practicing the body scan and mindful breathing that we’re persisting with some anxious feelings, bringing attention to those feelings themselves now to acknowledge what’s being felt, feeling into the fear. As I say this, I want to say this with a word of compassion and gentleness, just like on a hot day if we would like to go swimming and we put our toes into the water and react with such coldness that through the gradual acclimation of dipping the toes in and out of the water we acclimate to the temperature and slowly, part by part, our body becomes accustomed to the temperature of the water and we go swimming. Very gently dipping the toes into feeling the fear, just acknowledging what’s there, letting be, feeling into the fear with awareness — there’s no need to try to analyze or figure things out, just feeling into the experience of feeling anxious, fearful, worried, and letting be. And whatever arise, equally acknowledging and letting be, feeling into the heart of fear.

Just listening with such compassion. No need to push ourselves more than we can handle but just working with the edges, feeling into the anxiety and acknowledging. As we learn to be with things as they are, we may discover the underlying causes of our fear and pain.

A Meditation on Working with Anxiety

This meditation combines breath awareness, the body scan, and mindfulness of thoughts to explore sources of stress and anxiety.

This practice combines mindful breathing, the body scan, and mindfulness of thoughts with mindful self-inquiry. Mindful self-inquiry is an investigation into the nature of one’s own mind and being. That inquiry looks into physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts that may be contributing to stress and anxiety. In your daily life, you may be so busy doing that you feel you have little or no time for self-reflection. Yet this exploration is extremely worthwhile, as fears often lie beneath the surface of awareness.By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy fighting or turning away from it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns.

When you practice mindful self-inquiry, you bring kind awareness and acknowledgment to any stressed or anxious feelings in the body and mind and simply allow them to be. This means staying with those feelings without analyzing, suppressing, or encouraging them. Although this may seem scary in and of itself, realize that when you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your worries, irritations, painful memories, and other difficult thoughts and emotions, this often helps them dissipate. By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy fighting or turning away from it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns. When you begin to understand the underlying causes of your apprehension, freedom and a sense of spaciousness naturally emerge. In essence, this is a process of learning to trust and stay with feelings of discomfort rather than trying to escape from or analyze them. This often leads to a remarkable shift; time and again your feelings will show you everything you need to know about them—and something you need to know for your own well-being.

To allow you to fully experience this meditation, we recommend that you listen to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarize yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about thirty minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position, standing, or even lying down. Choose a position in which you can be comfortable and alert.

Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress

My mom began meditating decades ago, long before the mind-calming practice had entered the wider public consciousness. She liked to quote sayings from Thigh Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk known for his practice of mindful meditation, or “present-focused awareness.”

Although meditation still isn’t exactly mainstream, many people practice it, hoping to stave off stress and stress-related health problems. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has become more popular in recent years. The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. (Or, as my mom would say, “Don’t rehearse tragedies. Don’t borrow trouble.”)

But, as is true for a number of other alternative therapies, much of the evidence to support meditation’s effectiveness in promoting mental or physical health isn’t quite up to snuff. Why? First, many studies don’t include a good control treatment to compare with mindful meditation. Second, the people most likely to volunteer for a meditation study are often already sold on meditation’s benefits and so are more likely to report positive effects.

But when researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hodge, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” says Dr. Hodge.

One of her studies (which was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability. People in the control group—who also improved, but not as much as those in the meditation group—were taught general stress management techniques. All the participants received similar amounts of time, attention, and group interaction.

To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at WWW.mindfulness-solution.com.

Some people find that learning mindfulness meditation techniques and practicing them with a group is especially helpful, says Dr. Hodge. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, is now widely available in cities throughout the United States.

Thigh Nhat Hahn offers this short mindful meditation in his book Being Peace: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

How Meditation Can Help Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Meditation, in its simplest terms, refers to learning how to pay attention. When used properly, meditation allows you to slow down and observe the world without judgment. If you live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), it can also help to reduce worrying thoughts and bring about a feeling of balance, calm and focus. For the 6.8 million Americans who live with chronic daily anxiety, meditation can offer a way to finally relax.1

What Is Meditation?

Meditation has its roots in Buddhist philosophy. When you think of meditation, it probably conjures up images of a room full of people sitting cross-legged and chanting the same word repeatedly.

Popularized by celebrities, transcendental meditation (TM) is one form of meditation that has the goal of helping you enter a deep state of relaxation or a state of restful alertness.

Because meditation helps to reduce stress and fatigue, its helpfulness for those with generalized anxiety disorder—who suffer from chronic anxiety and often insomnia—is easy to comprehend.2

How Meditation and Mindfulness Overlap

The concepts of meditation and mindfulness are very similar. While meditation typically involves trying to enter a different state of consciousness, mindfulness means becoming aware of the present moment. In this way, you might think of mindfulness as one step on the path toward meditation.

Both of these practices may be helpful for reducing anxiety because they enable you to reduce worry and be aware without being fearful.

Mindfulness-Based Meditation

Meditation used in the treatment of anxiety disorders typically takes the form of mindfulness-based meditation. This type of meditation has its roots in the mindfulness movement started by Jon Kaaba-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) approach.

The basic premise of the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach is to learn to detach from anxious thoughts. This is achieved by practicing awareness, identifying tension in the body, understanding your thinking patterns, and learning how to deal with difficult emotions.

Research on Meditation and GAD

Research support for the benefits of meditation for generalized anxiety disorder has been positive. A 2013 randomized controlled trial was conducted with 93 individuals with DSM-IV diagnosed GAD comparing an 8-week manualized mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) group program with an attention control (stress management education, or SME).3

MBSR was associated with significantly greater reductions in anxiety for three of the four study measures. Participants also showed a greater increase in positive self-statements. Additionally, a 2012 meta-analysis indicated strong support for mindfulness meditation for anxiety.4

How to Practice Meditation for GAD

If you’re living with generalized anxiety, practicing daily meditation may help you to overcome anxiety and reduce tension in your body.5 If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you are well on your way to practicing meditation.

You don’t need a lot of time to meditate—initially, try to carve out a few minutes each day. You can gradually increase that time as you learn how to relax and what it feels like to be calm.

Meditation for Anxiety

Anyone who has ever been in the grip of anxiety knows how intense it can be. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. have some kind of anxiety disorder. Worldwide, 1 in 14 people are affected. So if you feel like you’re the only one dealing with anxiety — and yes, that’s how isolating it can feel — be assured you’re not alone.

We’ve all likely experienced the feeling of anxiety, whether it’s butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, tension headaches, an upset stomach, or tightness in the chest — all natural occurrences when adrenaline is pumping. But there is a difference between everyday anxiousness and clinical anxiety.

14 Mindfulness Tricks to Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety can mentally exhaust you and have real impacts on your body. But before you get anxious about being anxious, know that research has shown you can reduce your anxiety and stress with a simple mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to daily life and the things we typically rush through. It’s about turning down the volume in your mind by coming back to the body.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend an hour’s pay on a class or contort your body into difficult positions. You likely already have all the tools you need to practice mindfulness. Use these tricks to add little bursts of mindfulness throughout the day to ease anxiety and calm your mind.

1. Set an intention

There’s a reason your yoga teacher asks you to set an intention for your practice that day. Whether you do it in your morning journal or before important activities, setting an intention can help you focus and remind you why you are doing something. If something gives you anxiety — like giving a big speech at work — set an intention for it.

For example, you can set an intention to take care of your body before heading to the gym or to treat your body with kindness before eating.

2. Do a guided meditation or mindfulness practice

Meditation can be as easy as finding a sliver of space and opening an app. Apps and online programs are a great way to dip your toe into a practice without committing to an expensive class or taking up much time. There are countless free, guided meditations online. These meditation apps are a great place to start.

3. Doodle or color

Set aside a couple minutes to doodle. You’ll get the creative juices flowing and let your mind take a break. Does drawing stress you out? Shamelessly invest in a coloring book, adult or otherwise. You’ll have the perk of accomplishing something without having to face a blank page.

4. Go for a walk

Being outside does wonders for anxiety. Pay attention to the sounds around you, the feel of the wind against your skin, and the smells around you. Keep your phone in your pocket (or better yet, at home), and do your best to stay in the moment by focusing on your senses and your environment. Start with a short jaunt around the block and see how you feel.

5. Wish other people happiness

You only need 10 seconds to do this practice from author and former Google pioneer Chase-Meng Tan. Throughout the day, randomly wish for someone to be happy. This practice is all in your head. You don’t have to tell the person, you just have to set the positive energy. Try it on your commute, at the office, at the gym, or while you wait in line. Bonus points if you find yourself annoyed or upset with someone and you stop and (mentally) wish them happiness instead. With eight Nobel Peace Prize nominations, Meng might be onto something.

6. Look up

Not just from the screen in front of you (although definitely do that too), but at the stars. Whether you are taking out the trash or coming home late, pause and take a few deep breaths into your belly as you look up at the stars. Let the cosmos remind you that life is bigger than your worries or inbox.

7. Brew on it

Making a cup of tea is a deeply cherished practice in many cultures around the world. Settle into the practice and focus on each step. How do the leaves smell when you pull them out? What does the water look like when you first add the tea? Watch the steam rise from the cup and feel the heat of the cup against your hand. If you have time, sip your tea without distraction. Don’t like tea? You can easily do this practice while making rich, aromatic, French-pressed coffee.

8. Focus on one thing at a time

Yes, your to-do list can be a form of mindfulness if you do it right. Set a timer for five minutes and give one task your full and undivided attention. No checking your phone, no clicking on notifications, no browsing online — absolutely no multitasking. Let that one task take center stage until the timer goes off.

9. Leave your phone behind

Do you really need to bring your phone with you when you walk into the other room? When you go to the bathroom? When you sit down to eat? Leave your phone in the other room. Instead of worrying about it, sit and breathe before you start eating. Take a moment for yourself and your needs in the bathroom. Your phone will still be there when you’re done.

10. Turn household tasks into a mental break

Instead of obsessing over your to-do list or clutter, let yourself relax into the moment. Dance while you do the dishes or focus on the way the soap runs down the tiles while you clean the shower. Take five slow breaths while you wait for the microwave to stop. Daydream while you fold the laundry.

11. Journal

There is no right or wrong way to journal. From using the structured 5-Minute Journal to scribbling your thoughts on a random scrap of paper, the act of putting pen to paper can help soothe the mind and tame swirling thoughts. Try a gratitude journal or simply jot down the three best things that happened today.

12. Pause at stoplights

As much as no one wants to admit it, you can’t time travel or make cars move out of your way when you’re late. Instead of rushing, bring your focus inward at every stoplight. While you wait, sit upright and still and take four slow, deep breaths. This practice sounds easy on a leisurely drive, but the real benefits come when your anxiety and stress feel like they’re taking up the whole car. Advertisement Get Answers from a Doctor in Minutes, Anytime

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13. Log out of all of your social media accounts

While social media has its uses, it can also contribute to your anxiety and interrupt your productivity. You’ll be amazed at how frequently you check your social media accounts without thinking. So, log out. Being forced to type in a password again will slow you down or stop you altogether.

When you actually want to check in, set a time limit or an intention. That way, you won’t end up feeling behind on your work or guilty for spending 20 minutes looking at a stranger’s puppy.

You may also want to delete an account or two while you’re at it. A recent study found that using multiple social media platforms was associated with anxiety in young adults.

14. Check out

Actively trying to be mindful during every moment can actually add to anxiety and stress. Know when you need to let off some steam and let your mind wander where it wants to go. Netflix and chill has its place in your mindfulness practice. So does doing absolutely nothing.

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