Helping Calm Anxiety Through Meditation

 

It’s extraordinary how many people suffer from anxiety.  Recent research suggested that over 870,000 of all  people in the United Kingdom have some form of debilitating worry or uneasiness.   Recently while I was giving a couple workshops in Scotland my colleagues in the National Health Service told me about a program using mindfulness to help people be with their anxiety.

One thing to be aware of is that if you are dealing with PTSD you are dealing with a form of anxiety that may be more complicated.  Even with PTSD though, you can learn to train your mind, your body, and your heart to soften the anxiety, to move through you with less ferocity.  Over time the anxiety can decrease and become less disturbing.  For more information on how to use meditation specifically with trauma and attachment issues you might be interested in the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual.

To listen to a free audio which many people have found helpful click here:  Six Sides of the Breath

This is a practice of letting go of the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we protect against inner experience.  Try these simple instructions to see if it helps your experience of anxiety.

  • Take time to ground into your body.  By that I mean feel your feet on the floor,  your spine connecting to the back of the chair, your sitz bones on the chair.  
  • As any thoughts come up, especially thoughts that diminish you or are jeering the process or in any way keeping you from being right here, right now, ask those thoughts to relax and ease back.  If gentle suggestions don’t work put the thoughts in a separate room in your mind, close the door and walk away from them.  You can let them know you do want to hear from them, but not right now.  
  • Before directing your mind towards the anxiety you are experiencing, focus on your breathing – the sensation of air slowly flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs. Feel the beating of your heart and imagine how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body. Continue until you’re ready to meditate.
  • Now, shift your attention to your anxious thoughts. What thoughts are present in your mind right now? Are there many moving quickly or does each one remain for a while? Consider the thoughts objectively rather than reacting to them emotionally.
  • There’s a myth that when you meditate, you should have a blank mind. But thoughts are  not the enemy and trying to stop them will only lead to more struggle. Treat the thoughts during meditation like having a radio on in the background – you can hear it, but your main focus is elsewhere. In mindfulness, you’re paying attention to the fact that you have a thought but you are not buying into what it is saying. Try not to judge the thought  as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Cultivate an attitude of equanimity to whatever goes through your mind. Watch your thoughts with curiosity and kindness and they will become easier to bear.
  • Whenever you notice  your mind is wandering, acknowledge that it has meandered and gently bring your attention back to observing your thoughts.
  • Continue working with your worries in this way for the period of time you have chosen. Working mindfully can be challenging, so it’s good to practise for short periods at first.
  • You may feel dizzy when you start but that’s because you’ve suddenly stopped spinning around in circles. In the stillness of meditation, it can also seem as if you have more thoughts than usual but this is not so: it is just that you are becoming more aware of them. The more you practise, the more your mind can deal with worries in a less panicked way.
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