- Mental Health
Anxiety Problems & the Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is fast becoming a popular way to address anxiety problems and I can testify that it certainly played some part in my recovery from panic disorder. Since it helped me so much, I have suggested to many people that they take up meditation as part of their recovery program, whether it be for an anxiety disorder or for stress generally. I have been met with some odd looks!
A lot of people equate meditation with chanting or humming and sitting cross legged on the floor. In fact, that’s about the sum of what they know of meditation. Many older people think it’s something to do with being a hippie! The stereotype of someone who meditates is usually a monk or baldheaded man, with colored dots on his forehead sat on a cushion, banging a gong and chanting. It’s not surprising that many feel they can’t relate to meditation.
The good news is that the western world is becoming more familiar with meditative practice as a form of supplementary treatment for anxiety related issues. Many therapists and even psychiatrists advocate the usefulness of using meditation as a tool to de-stress and relax.
Some anxiety is good for us, but too much can feel debilitating and can have a knock on effect on our general health. If you know you have an anxiety problem or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, one of the ways you can practice having a mental “time out” is to learn to meditate.
There are various forms of meditation and you have to decide which one is right for you. I am going to discuss mindfulness meditation and its benefits in dealing with anxiety.
This practice enables you to be more at one with your thoughts and the way you feel. With practice, it will help you stay in this moment in time, and you will develop the skills of focusing and concentration. A mindfulness of breathing meditation is the one I started out with, and it had a profound effect on not only making me feeling more calm, but also seemed to correct the bad breathing problems that had been causing many unpleasant symptoms.
We are ideally supposed to be using our diaphragm when we breathe, but chronic anxiety can cause us to breathe using our upper chest only. As the muscles in the chest cavity become tenser with anxiety, we tend to be taking short shallow breaths. Before long and at its worst, breathing can begin to feel like a strain. Taking a deep breath can feel very uncomfortable, and it is not unusual for those with disorders such as panic disorder, to become fearfully attentive to their breathing. This is what I have found puts many people off a mindfulness of breathing practice.
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
How to Get Over Fear of Breathing in Meditation
Anxious people, who are suddenly expected to concentrate on their breathing, may be put off merely by the word “breathing”! When you first sit down to try a mindfulness of breathing practice, you may already be feeling extra anxious. This means your breathing will not be at its best. If you find you are having problems staying with a guided meditation (CDs on the right are exceptionally good), you should do the following:
- Remember that you are not trying to force anything
- If it feels too uncomfortable at first, stop and try again later, but keep trying
- Ten minutes of meditation is better than no meditation
- Expect nothing; just practice being in the moment, staying with your breath and “just being”
- Accept that practice only will produce results
- Absolutely make sure you are alone and there are no distractions whatsoever
- Try a diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing exercise once a day for a couple of weeks before using a meditation CD. Your breathing may have improved some purely through doing this
Mind Chatter and Meditation
When mind chatter or sensations butt in, go back to the breath or stay with the thought in total acceptance; just let it be there, observe it and let it go. The more you fight against a feeling or thought, the more it will come.
I remember well, that when I first started out with meditation, thoughts would keep popping up in my head. People who have practiced meditation for years can still get this happening, so don’t think it’s just you. Some of my thoughts in the early days were directly connected to my anxious state and the sensations that anxiety can bring. To be alone with them felt weird in the beginning and even brought a little fear over the first few practices. I stuck with it all and this did noticeably subside after a couple of weeks of daily practice.
You may be ask to count your breaths, and if this becomes a distraction (like forgetting what number you are on), just go back to your breath and stop counting.
I used the guided CDs above and the voice of Bodhipaksa is exceptionally soothing. Of course there are many such guided meditations CDs, and you may have to purchase several before you find one that you feel you gel with or are comfortable with.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
It has been found that meditation can reduce levels of cortisol, but there really is a lack of good scientific study on the effectiveness for anxiety related problems. By joining a meditation forum, you can see the positive effects it has on anxious people for yourself. My experience tells me that these are the benefits after regular practice:
- A mindfulness of breathing meditation seems to have a positive effect on the breathing problems or hyperventilation issues associated with anxiety
- You can achieve an almost immediate sense of calm
- It teaches you the art of acceptance which is often lacking in stressed people
- It provides a much needed excuse to be alone, still and quiet; a self-help routine and “time out” is important
- It can ease the sleep problems that arise when anxious
- You can begin to see that anxious thoughts depend on your reaction to them
- It can take away the fear associated with thoughts and feelings
- It is a much more healthy approach to addressing anxiety, eventually dismissing the need for medications
- Because you learn to be at peace with yourself, this has a positive effect on your relationships with others
- It grounds you, making you feel a sense of fulfillment and happiness even if you feel this is only temporary (gives your brain a rest)
- You can become a more patient person – impatience causes more anxiety
- You feel more at one with yourself and the world – learning to be present in this moment only and not worrying about the past or the future
Excellent Meditation Using a Mantra
Other Forms of Meditation
Using a Mantra
Another useful meditation for anxiety incorporates using a mantra instead of dwelling on the breath. This may prove to be more comfortable to you as you are focusing on the mantra more than on breathing. Transcendental meditation (TM) has a good success rate for relieving anxiety and stress. It is a good idea to see if you can find a TM instructor in your area as you may need support in using this kind of meditation for full effectiveness. I personally stuck with a mindfulness meditation as I had no instructor in my area.
The search for a meditation instructor can be found here.
Walking Meditation Video
TM is thought to be easy to learn and some people can apparently see great results in a matter of weeks. It is very different to mindfulness meditation, in as much as it does not require you to observe your thoughts or feelings or use concentration so intensely. This might be better for people who feel very agitated after trying out other forms of meditation or relaxation programs. There is seemingly less effort in practicing this form of meditation.
Most people can walk! A walking meditation is something you can do when you simply can not find the time or space for other meditation. I personally used this form of practice as an adjunct to my breathing meditation. There are different types, all fairly simple to learn and you can do this daily without it interfering with anything else. Basically you will be learning to be aware of the body and movement. Again, if other thoughts creep into this meditation, you should bring yourself back to your walking, the way you walk, how it feels and what bodily sensations emerge. Watch the excellent video on a walking meditation and see if this is right for you.