How to meditate (for people with anxiety)
What does it mean to meditate?
In essence, meditation is a taking of inventory. While depression is said to be dwelling in the past, and anxiety is said to be dwelling in the future, meditation is being here now. To be here now, you must immerse yourself in the awareness of all that is going on around and inside you at this moment without judgement or justification. Meditation is grounding yourself in the present moment and all that it contains. The concept of meditation often sounds overwhelming for people with anxiety, whose minds may be racing at 1000 miles per second, but I’m going to show you how to meditate in a modified way – kind of like using props for yoga when you aren’t very flexible.
This mindfulness exercise only takes 5-10 minutes and can clear your mind of anxiety for an entire day if done with that intention. It would be a great habit to add to the start of your day.
Step 1: Find a comfy spot to sit
The end goal of meditation and mindfulness is to make every moment of your life a meditation – to be able to stay grounded anywhere anytime… and everywhere at every time. Therefore, you do not need to own a cushion, sit on the floor, or cross our legs to meditate. I suggest you sit wherever you’re already sitting as long as it’s comfortable. You can meditate on the couch, your office chair, at the dining room table or any place you are safe and comfortable. Other places you can meditate are a park bench, the beach or outside on the grass. Turn off any excess noise such as the radio or television. Sit in a posture that is upright so your body is not crumpled over. You can place your hands in your lap or anywhere you like.
I don’t recommend laying down to meditate as there is the possibility you might fall asleep.
Step 2: Ground yourself in the moment
I highly recommend closing your eyes for this exercise. Those of us with anxiety have enough data pouring in through our senses. Let’s close off one of those portals so we can concentrate better when we meditate.
Take five slow, deep breaths. Try to concentrate on nothing but the action of filling your lungs with air, holding for a beat, and then emptying them out in one long exhale. Drop your shoulders on each exhale. Let your body relax for these few minutes.
Now, notice what is going on in the physical world that is immediately surrounding you. Can you hear birds? Is there traffic noise? Is your air conditioning running? Do you hear people outside? Is it warm? Cold? Are there any smells? How does your bum feel on this seat? Immerse yourself in the senses of this moment. Do not think of anything other than what you can feel, hear, and smell right here, right now. If another thought pops in, notice it and go back to your senses.
Step 3: Take inventory of what is inside you
What’s going on inside my body. Am I hungry? Do I have any aches and pains? Am I tired? Do I feel energized? Notice all your physical sensations but don’t veer off into other thoughts about them.
What’s going on inside my head? Do I have anxiety? Am I feeling sad? Do I feel happy? Am I stressed or nervous? Do not go into a long narrative about why any of these feelings exist. Simply notice and note them. Do not make any judgements about anything you notice. You do not need to think, “I am feeling angry because so-and-so said this to me, and then I said this and then we argued…” Whoa! Slow down, brain train! This isn’t story time. This is a time to notice and move on. You’re taking inventory, not writing a novel. Just notice your different emotional and mental states without commentary. “I am anxious. Today I am feeling excited. I have some heaviness in my heart this morning.”
Acknowledge the feeling, give it your full, compassionate, even welcoming attention, and even if it’s only for a few seconds, drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have a direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t fuel it with concepts or opinions about whether it’s good or bad. Just be present with the sensation. Where is it located in your body? Does it remain the same for very long? Does it shift and change?“Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chodron
When you feel you are done noticing all your physical and mental/emotional states, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Take inventory of what is around you
Now, think about what’s going on around you in your life. Only think about the things immediately around you – such as work, family, friends, partners, etc. Only consider things and people you interact with. Take an inventory of the notable things happening right now. For instance, “My father just had a medical procedure. My girlfriend is stressed but excited about a new endeavor. My business has slowed down.” Do not make any judgements about these things. Notice them as if they are scenes you are seeing in a movie or reading in a book. You want to take inventory so you will have a clear picture of what is happening in your life right now. You don’t need to solve or fix anything. Just notice.
Step 5: Set an intention for the day
This step is optional but very beneficial for changing life patterns. If you do this exercise in the morning, choose an intention for that day – something to focus on in your journey toward self improvement. Some examples: “Today I will not smoke a cigarette.” “Today I will focus on my health by taking a walk.” “Today I will eat healthy.” “Today I will stay focused on the present.” If it’s helpful, write it down on a post-it and stick it to your computer or phone for the day. This will help remind you of the direction you want to go.
Step 6: Show gratitude
Lastly, thank yourself – either in your head or aloud – for taking these few minutes to reset. This is part of your self care.
Now, open your eyes and resume your day.
People with anxiety can (and should) meditate
The mindfulness exercise outlined above can help you take inventory of your current state of being. Having a clear picture of what is going on inside and around you can help you make better decisions about your life. Sometimes life flies by so fast (and we spend so much of it in our head) that we have no idea how to care for ourselves or others. Unless and until we slow down for a few minutes, we will be unable to know what even needs taking care of. Meditation and mindfulness practices help us stay engaged with our own self care and helps us be better partners, friends, co-workers and family members.