5 Reasons Every Anxious Person Needs Meditation
Meditation is like a spring cleaning for the mind
I HAD AN UNEXPECTED CHANGE OF HEART
I’m ashamed to admit that, for the longest time, I was one of those people who dismissed meditation. Even after I opened my eyes and accepted it as maybe-not-entirely-a-sham, I was still reluctant to research it any further.
But lately I had an unexpected change of heart. I picked up a book, read some articles, and it turns out my presumptions were wrong. I’m now committed to spending 30 minutes a day practicing meditation.
Why the sudden change? Because I’ve been blown away by the potential upside and the amount of evidence to support it.
If you’re like me, someone who is generally skeptical, put that aside for a moment and give meditation an honest chance. You won’t be disappointed!
Here are five reasons why I’ve started using meditation daily to help with my anxiety.
IT’S AN EFFECTIVE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE
Relaxation is one of those recovery tools I really can’t praise enough. Anxiety and stress activates the fight-or-flight response, and relaxation saves the day by deactivating it.
To practice relaxation is one of the smartest decisions anyone suffering from anxiety can make. You’ll be surprised by how life-changing the effects can be.
Techniques used to induce relaxation come in many shapes. I tend to broadly categorize them into “those that calm the body” and “those that calm the mind”. As far as calming the mind goes, meditation is top of its class.
When anxiety gets severe it can often feel like we’re waging mental warfare, it’s tiring and painful. Meditation does quite the opposite, it calms down the mind. It can give us a sought after break from the chaos and turbulence.
MEDITATION HELPS YOU CLEAR YOUR MIND
Cognitive therapy has taught us that anxiety by and large is a result of the processing that goes on in our minds. That’s why the learning to control our minds is the most important step we can take toward a full recovery from anxiety. This simple fact holds true even for panic disorders.
Meditation is so well suited for this task because it’s basically a spring cleaning for the mind. Every time we sit down to meditate we’re actually cleaning and organizing the brain. This habit makes it far easier to navigate our minds in the future.
We need to remember that this is a gradual process however. Like any skill or ability, meditation is something we become more efficient at over time.
So that perfect Eureka moment where everything makes sense and anxiety simply melts away is improbable. But it’s very probable that we can see anxiety melt away over a longer period of time as we learn and improve.
IT’LL MAKE YOU 10% HAPPIER
You might know Dan Harris from Nightline or Good Morning America, but he has also authored several books on meditation.
In his book, 10% happier, we get to see Dan’s transition from a stressed out workaholic to a more stable and calm family man.
His story begins with a live on-air panic attack while anchoring ABC News. It goes on to teach us how meditation doesn’t have to be a spiritual or religious practice. It can in fact be used to train the mind and induce calmness, regardless of religious affiliations.
When confronted by skeptics, Dan would often answer that he meditates because it makes him 10% happier. This is a far more accurate representation of what meditation can do for us than the eternal happiness often promised by religious yogis.
THE ADDED BONUS OF INCREASED MINDFULNESS
A common problem in anxiety disorders is the tendency to get locked up inside our own minds. This is a place where we’re free to catastrophize and overthink, so it’s not a place we want to be trapped.
Mindfulness sounds like a good answer to this problem, as it roughly means “the ability to live in the present moment and to be tuned into our surroundings”. And in truth, yes it is.
You might have heard about the 5-4-3-2-1 technique for coping with anxiety. The one that goes:
Look around you and
- name five things you can see,
- four things you can touch,
- three things you can hear,
- two things you can smell,
- and one thing you can taste.
This is actually a mindfulness exercise. It helps us get outside of our mind and grounds us in the present moment.
Meditation makes you a master at passive mindfulness
A main goal during meditation is to not get caught up in thoughts. Instead we try our hardest to simply observe and acknowledge the things that are going on inside and around us.
In the beginning this is most easily achieved by focusing on the breath, in-out-in-out. I’ve had some success with this, but I also like to focus on how my body feels and what I’m seeing behind my closed eyelids.
After practicing like this for a while we’ll start seeing results in day-to-day life. We develop something I have chosen to call passive mindfulness. The number of times we get caught up in our own thoughts decreases, and this makes for a less volatile and more manageable anxiety.
NOW WE CAN BE AWARE WITHOUT REACTING
Anxiety makes us overly sensitive to certain stimuli, the things commonly called triggers. Luckily meditation can teach us exactly how to deal with these pesky anxiety-causing situations.
During meditation we’ll be given countless opportunities to react to stimuli.
- An itch on your leg? Ignore it
- Bad memory pops up? Let it pass and shift your focus back to your breathing
- Hear some kids shouting outside? Observe and acknowledge it
- Beginning to overthink about something? Move your focus back to your breathing
By repeatedly acknowledging all of the stimuli, but never reacting to it, we’re building a very important skill. The effect of this practice is that we become hyper aware of our thoughts and surroundings, but we can choose whether to react or not.
This process is actually very similar to a CBT technique called symptom induction. For more CBT techniques that help anxiety, click here.
During symptom induction we are taught to not fear our own anxiety symptoms, something that can be very helpful in panic disorders.
I hope you feel ready to try meditation now that you know how helpful it can be! I’ve completely rewritten this old article on the subject if you want more information about meditation.
Have you tried meditation before? Has it helped you? Let me know in the comments below.