If you suffer from anxiety, then you already know the toll it can take. Not only on your life, but on your body, as well. Anxiety disorders have been proven to cause premature aging, even at a microscopic level, as well as a host of other illnesses and disorders. But how do you cope with anxiety? Medication is an option, but isn’t right for everyone. There are those who can’t function with the drowsiness and general wading-through-concrete feel that they can cause. Is there another option? Maybe a less invasive, more natural option?
Yes! Now, more than ever, doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists alike are prescribing, not medication, but meditation for those who suffer with anxiety. This option is especially good for those with mild cases of anxiety, or in conjunction with other therapies for those with more complex anxiety disorders.
But there are so many different kinds of meditation! There is no one-size-fits-all meditation technique. So how do you know which meditation would work best for you? Look below, and decide which best suits you and your anxiety.
What kind of anxiety do you have?
The stress response of humans is well known, and can be summed up into three words: Fight, flight, and freeze. The first two options are the most familiar. The fight response causes you to become angry and agitated when presented with stress. The flight option causes you to become more withdrawn and depressed. Freeze is the least-known of the three. Normally linked back to a traumatic event, anxiety sufferers can find themselves “frozen” in place, unable to fight or flee.
Before beginning your meditation, ask yourself: What kind of anxiety do you have?
If you tend to become agitated when stressed, you’ll want to find a meditation that will help calm you and keep you centered. The less angry you are, the better your anxiety will respond. Deep breathing, slowly and mindfully relaxing your muscles, and peaceful imagery are perfect ways to keep yourself calm when in “fight” mode.
If you find yourself trying to distance yourself from others or your life in general, you likely have a flight response to anxiety. To combat this, you’ll want a more active form of meditation, something that will distract you physically. Look for ways to stimulate your body’s nervous system. Yoga and massages are particularly good for this. Simple body mindfulness is an excellent option for those who can’t break away long enough to exercise.
Freezing is probably the worst response to anxiety that you can have. It normally stems from a trauma that you have suffered, and keeps you from moving forward, away from your stress. In order to work against this, you’ll need to first rise from “freeze” into either “fight” or “flight”, so that you can use the appropriate measures listed above to help quell the anxiety. You can do this by using a combination of techniques. You should strive for a good balance of calming “fight” meditation (such as peaceful imagery, mentioned above) and “flight” meditation (such as a massage or yoga). Focus on your body and away from stress. Keep going until you find yourself back to a fight or flight response.
What meditation techniques are best?
No two meditation techniques are the same. After looking above to see what kind of anxiety that you have, you can narrow down the meditation practices that you need.
Breathing is simple, right? But, with a bit of mindfulness, breathing can help you control your anxiety.
Start by sitting tall, with your back straight. Put a hand over your stomach, and put the other hand over your chest. Breathe deeply through your nose. If the hand on your chest rises more than the hand on your stomach, you aren’t doing it correctly. After taking a deep breathe, exhale through your mouth, tightening your abdominal muscles as you do. Exhale as much air as possible. Continue doing this slowly and mindfully, until you feel calm.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique can be challenging for someone who has a history of muscle spasms or other problems pertaining to musculature. If you have doubts, or if it becomes painful, stop and speak with your doctor before proceeding!
Start by getting comfortable. Your clothes should be loose and easy to move in; your shoes should be off. For a few moments, just breathe mindfully, keeping yourself in a state of calm and relaxation. After you’ve reached that point, focus your attention on your right food. Slowly (and, most importantly, mindfully!) begin to flex your right foot, really tensing it. Then, just as slowly, relax it, until you feel it completely relax. Do the same to your left foot. From there, follow this list.
- Right calf, left calf
- Right thigh, left thigh
- Hips and bottom
- Right arm/hand, left arm/hand
- Shoulders and neck
Practice will make perfect with this technique, so be sure to practice regularly. For best effects, only tense the muscles specified.
One of the easiest ones mediations to do, visualization requires no equipment other than your own mind. This is a good way to get you “out of the moment” if you’re in a “fight” state of anxiety. Note: To avoid falling asleep, sit up straight during this exercise.
You’ll want to visualize a calming place for you. This will differ, depending on the person. It might be the beach, a park, or even just a porch during a rainstorm. Whatever it is, you’ll want to tailor-make it for you. All that is important is that it works for you, not that it works for someone else.
Direct all of your focus towards this place. Take note of anything and everything. If you’re on a beach, hear the crashing of waves. If you’re at the park, feel the sun on your skin. If you’re on a porch, smell the rain. Continue doing this until you are calm and more body-focused.