When we’re anxious, our thoughts can get hijacked by the “what-ifs”, the “shoulds/coulds” and the “psychic mind readers.” It can become very easy to suddenly believe everything we’re thinking, which triggers even more worry and anxiety. By practicing meditation, however, you can become more accustomed to observing your thoughts in a non-reactive, non-judgmental sort of way. You can see how they are just thoughts and will pass with time. You can learn to focus your attention back to your breath, which is one of the best grounding skills to have when we feel our anxiety building.
I know from experience. I had my first bout with anxiety when I was about six years old. And while I was first exposed to meditation in 2005 during a weeklong training with Jon Kabat-Zinnin in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, it wasn’t until last year that I developed a consistent meditation practice. By incorporating meditation into my daily routine, I’ve been able to experience first hand how it can reduce anxiety and help you to:
- Become an observer of your thoughts
- Slow down and get centered
- Provide positive modeling for your kids
- Build up your cortex, offsetting amygdala (the part of your brain most commonly linked to anxiety disorders)
- Practice your breathing
- Focus your attention
Treating anxiety and learning to meditate require you to train your brain to focus your attention. It’s kind of like training a puppy to heel. If your puppy is on a long leash, he’s likely to pull you in multiple directions. However, if your puppy is on a short leash, you are more in control and can redirect him when he starts pulling. This may happen as many as 25 times in the course of a short walk and that’s normal. Training a puppy to heal takes patience, consistency, repetition and practice.
The same is true for training your brain to meditate. An “untrained” brain will wander in a million different directions, which is often why people complain that they can’t meditate. But that’s normal. It takes practice to catch your mind wandering and bring it back to “the breath,” especially if you are stressed, anxious, tired or scared. The important part is that you do it consistently, whether you feel like it or not. Start small; aim for five minutes a day/three days a week at a consistent time and place. Once five minutes is doable, add time (like another five minutes or so) somewhere in your day.
A great resource is Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,a book with an accompanying app, by Dan Harris. It combines science, anecdotes, quick meditations and a no-nonsense presentation. There are other great apps, too, like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer. Do your research and find the one that’s right for you.
As I tell my clients, incorporating a mindfulness practice like meditation is key to treating anxiety. If you need help with meditation or anxiety in general, get in touch. I can show you how to use mindfulness to control your anxiety. And help you enjoy the present moment!
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Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash