Meditation Techniques for Anxiety
We all seek contentment in our everyday lives. Achieving a level of happiness is harder for some than for others. For those suffering the debilitating illnesses of depression and/or anxiety, life can be miserable. Despite the sense of helplessness when anxiety sets in, you can take control over how you feel. It takes a little time to train your brain, but it can be done. The brain is like the control panel for your hormones. Scientifically, it’s much more complex than my simple explanation. Though you can to take charge of your body, instead of allowing everything to go into auto-mode.
It is important to understand what is happening with the chemicals in your body. Then, you will soon realize that you do have a certain amount of control over your own physiology. This is not an instant cure, it takes time and patience to change your lifestyle. It will be worth every effort you put into it because a more relaxed “you” will come out of the other end.
Make the negative emotions of stress and anxiety a thing of the past. In the future, you will have new coping strategies to enable you to recognize and deal with the onset of anxiety.
- What is anxiety?
- How does it become so controlling in our lives?
- What can we do to take back that control?
Read on and find out the answers to these questions, and more…
What is Anxiety?
Stress is not a modern condition, as people have suffered it through the ages. Though, it was not until the 1920s that a Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Selye first introduced a theoretic model on stress. He called it General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). Model of Stress. As stress is usually due to how we react to a threat, imagined or real, he came up with three stages of response:
- Alarm. The typical Fight or Flight we have all learned to recognize.
- Resistance. The body releases natural chemicals such as the cortisol hormone, which in turn raises our adrenalin levels. It also raises blood sugars. This is when we experience heavy breathing and hot sweats. Now we are ready to deal with the threat, as our body’s defenses are at their peak.
- Exhaustion. Once the threat has passed, the body clockwork has gone through stages 1 and 2, and we have dealt with the threat. If, though, the body stays in that state of alert, we then enter stage 3 which is dangerous to our wellbeing.
Stages 1 and 2 are normal states for the human body to adapt and cope with sudden threats. If stage 2 is prolonged, the body will suffer chronic stress. The immune system weakens due to the excess amounts of steroid hormones, such as cortisol.
Prolonged stress can trigger anxieties as we begin to see perceived threats all the time Stress Symptoms.
It is not surprising that many people suffer from anxieties in this modern world, where we live life at a fast pace. When we find ourselves in certain situations, our body can act as though there is a threat.
We begin to imagine threats that surround us daily, acting as triggers to an anxiety. Typical symptoms of this can be:
- Inability to stop worrying over anything and everything.
- Feeling on edge all the time.
- Unable to concentrate, and feeling tired.
- Tense muscles and irritability leading to being easily startled.
- Unable to sleep.
Throughout this process, there are other physical symptoms. such as:
- Tingling fingers.
- Cold sweat.
- Stomach and bowel upsets.
If anxiety becomes excessive, the sufferer may go on to experience more severe effects, such as:
- Panic attacks.
- Developing phobias.
- Developing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD).
These conditions are backed by many scientific studies. These studies have armed us with the knowledge to learn how we, as individuals, can combat the stresses and anxieties of daily life.
Learning to be mindful of your thoughts, body, and surroundings is a vital stage to eliminate anxiety from your life. With the right mindset, you can declutter your mind and learn exercises and routines that will help diffuse that awful sense of impending doom. If you are an anxious person, then this is the beginning of reducing those worries; through a self-help process.
Not that seeking out a professional opinion, or even taking medication does not work. But, if you can recognize the signs of anxiety, you may not need to get to that stage.
- Learn to control your inner thoughts.
- Avoid Stage 3.
Stop being a constant worrier, instead, take charge of the hormones released in your body. With less cortisol released from your adrenal glands, then your brain will not feel the need for fight or flight so often.
Meditation and Breathing
Learning different ways of breathing can help to slow down an anxiety attack and make it more controllable. Breathing techniques can be used every day, anywhere, anytime, that’s what makes this type of meditational exercise so remarkable.
Research at Standford University, California identified many brain cells that monitor how we breath and inform the brain how to react, Breathing and Brain Cells. It stands to reason that learning and practicing good breathing exercises will benefit your health, and can bring quick calm.
Mindfulness Meditation is an extremely common style of meditation that is non-religious, and extremely simple. It primarily consists of focusing on your breath, the cycle of in and out. Some say to focus on your belly, while others suggest you try to pin your attention on the tip of your nose, and feel the breath going in and out.
You want to keep your focus on your breath, though you will find that your attention wavers constantly.
Just gently acknowledge that it has wandered, and bring your attention back to your breath. Each time you recognize that your attention as wavered, and bring it back to breath, count that as a small “hooray!” The idea is not to prevent any wandering of your mind, but rather to train yourself to quickly and easily bring your attention back to your breath.
There are many many high quality books on mindfulness meditation, but Joseph Goldstein’s Practical Guide to Awakening is a great place to start.
Mindfulness Meditation vs. Trancendental Mediation for Anxiety
You generally want to stick to mindfulness meditation when trying to find calm, rather than, say trancendental or mantra meditation.
A 2014 study found that mindfulness meditation did seem to improve anxiety symptoms, while mantra meditation did not.
Mindfulness Meditation Apps
There are a ton of meditation apps that are designed to get you into the practice, and to take you down the road to a better mental state. Many of these are costly, though the Insight Timer app is free, and contains a meditation clock, and also has some free guided meditations.
Beyond that, the 10% Happier app is excellent, and Joseph Goldstein is involved in the production of it. Additionally, Sam Harris’ Waking Up App has been praised for its effectiveness in introducing people to mindfulness meditation.
I find the Insight Timer to be simple, non-distracting, and an excellent free solution.
When you take deep, slow breaths, your brain receives messages through receptors, to tell your body that all is calm around you.
When you are experiencing anxiety, you are more inclined to breathe fast, short breaths. This can make your hands tingle from lack of oxygen in your bloodstream as your blood pressure rises.
By learning when to take deep breaths, you will bring on a calmness that will lower the blood pressure. Even with this simple technique, you are already changing your body’s reaction to external events and how you feel. You are taking control. Breathing Techniques.
It is better if you can sit down and relax your limbs with this exercise, but you can use the technique in a standing position too:
If the situation allows, close your eyes to shut out the visible noise around you. Don’t worry if you can’t, such as being in the middle of a journey on the tube train, or some other public venue. You will eventually learn to do this exercise anywhere as it is not difficult.
- Inhale in a deep, slow breath through your nose. At the same time, allow your abdomen muscles to expand as you take in the air.
- Your chest should rise as your shoulders relax.
- Hold the breath for at least 5 seconds. Then, allow yourself to exhale it through your mouth. If you are in a public place, you may feel conscious of the noise of exhaling, so take your time to do it silently. With practice, you will get the hang of how you prefer to do this relaxation exercise. Soon you will be using this technique throughout a busy day.
This encourages blood cells to inform the brain that all is well, sending a calming feeling through your body. At the same time, you are concentrating so hard on your breathing technique, that you have diverted your mind away from the source of anxiety. Congratulations, you have now learned a great meditation technique of relaxation.
4-7-8 Timed Breathing
You can also use the 4-7-8 if you want more control over this breathing technique. For this you need to do the following:
- As you inhale through your nose, count to 4.
- Hold the breath for the count of 7.
- Exhale the breath through your mouth for the count of 8.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
If you can find some privacy then you might wish to try Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is a technique meant to boost your energy a little, if you are feeling sluggish from anxious worrying.
- Relax your body.
- Block the right nostril by pressing it closed with your thumb.
- Take in a deep breath through the left, open nostril.
- At the peak of your breath, and before you exhale, press a finger over the left nostril. Instantly exhale through the right nostril where you first inhaled.
- Repeat by breathing in through the same nostril you just exhaled from.
- You should always be exhaling from the nostril you have just inhaled from, swapping and changing appropriately. Basically, you are alternating nostrils.
You can make this exercise more effective by visualizing something that makes you feel secure and content. Imagine walking in a local forest, or the swishing of a seashore. For a few moments, as you cut out the noise around you, you are putting yourself in your own happy place.
This is known as visualizing. By using your imagination during the breathing exercises, you are taking your mind away from any negative thoughts. In turn, the brain will inform the rest of the body all is well, and you should experience a calming sensation.
These techniques may take some time to learn, so don’t expect it work instantly. If you persevere, you will have an instant exercise that will help you relax in stressful situations.
Concentration and Awareness
In his book The Mind Illuminated, John Yates Ph. D discusses the distinction between attention and awareness. He often suggests attempting to keep the focus of attention on the breath, while simultaneously perceiving sounds, smells, wind currents, emotions, thoughts, etc. By keeping these sensations in awareness but not allowing them to become the primary focus of your attention, you’ll succeed in improving your concentration.
Gradually, you’ll improve both your attention and the total amount of awareness you’re capable of achieving.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to ease tension, and anyone can do it. It involves focusing on set muscles, tensing them and then relaxing them. Methodical in its approach, but it works all over the body, from bottom to top.
American physicist, Edmund Jacobson, developed this technique in the 1920s. He believed that if patients could learn to relax their tense muscles, they were more likely to tackle basic aches and pains.
If someone has been feeling stress for a long time, the chances are that their muscles are taught without them even realizing it. This type of tension contributes to the onset of stress.
- When participating in this exercise it is more effective if you can lay down. Though, it can be undertaken in a seated position too.
- Start by inhaling a deep breath through your nose. Use the breathing techniques to get your body in a relaxed state so you can focus.
- Think about your feet. Begin by squeezing the muscles in your feet and toes. Wiggle them about if you must, but focus only on your feet, tightening and relaxing the muscles.
- Next, move up to your lower leg. Tense the calf muscles and hold for around 5 seconds then relax. Do both at the same time, or one at a time. Repeat a few times before moving on. It can be helpful to practice the deep breathing between each muscle group if you have time.
- You will methodically work your way up the muscle groups in your body. For instance, move onto your thighs. Then your bottom, abdomen, chest, shoulders, biceps, forearms, wrists, palm, hands and fingers. Finish at the top with your neck and face muscles. Spend time on squeezing your eyes open and shut. wiggling your nose and opening your jaw wide.
You don’t have to do it in this particular order, but it helps to keep track of the muscles you have already worked on. You can either make your way up your body or down, whichever you prefer.
There are many sensitive points on the body that you can gently rub with your fingers to target tension.
- Start by inhaling a deep breath through your nose. Use the breathing techniques to get your body in a relaxed state so you can focus.
- Close your eyes
- Starting at the inside corner of your eye, gently rub your finger in a circle about 3 times.
- Move across the bone underneath the eye using the same gentle rubbing motion.
- Rub the side of your eye then make your way over your eyebrow repeating the same technique
- Repeat over the other eye.
- Finish by rubbing in-between the eyebrows, pressing your finger gently as you rub the circular motion.
- Gently tug at the ear lobes about 6 times each.
- Gently message at the nape of your neck in various places.
- Cross your arms over your chest, settling each hand on the opposite shoulder.
- Allow your head to roll back so you are looking up at the ceiling.
- With your fingertips, press and squeeze gently up and down each shoulder.
- Message a little longer when you get to the point where your shoulder meets your neck.
- Lean forward and place your elbows on a table as you remain seated, and drop your head forwards.
- Place your fingertips at either side of the bone at the back of your neck. Press and rub in circling motions up and down that bone.
- Place your hands on the back of your head, interlocking your fingers together.
- Drop your head down and push gently on the back of your head with your hands.
- Stretch out your fingers on one hand, like a star.
- With the other hand press and rub each finger from the base knuckle to the top knuckle, and back again. Repeat on the other hand.
- Place your inner bottom arm flat on a table, or stretch out your arms straight.
- Move both wrists so your fingers move to an upwards position, and stretch them out. Do the same, but this move the fingers down as far as you can. You should feel some tugging on small muscles and maybe even some cracking of tiny bones.
Chemical Anxiety Reducers
Many resort to using pharmeceutical anti-anxiety medications, despite the fact that many of these medications have harmful side effects and negative properties associated with them, including addiction. The bottom line is that they often are pretty successful at helping people who are suffering from anxiety, so it makes sense.
Benzodiazapines are clearly effective anxiety medications, but you need to be very careful with them as they can be abused. And if you abuse these medications, you may find your depression symptoms worsen!
Of course, always talk to a trained clinician before starting any pharmeceutical medications, and most of these are scheduled, regardless.
Kava for Anxiety
Kava, a plant grown in the south pacific islands, is an interesting alternative to pharmeceuticals for anxiety issues. This entheogen has been used by humans for thousands of years, and while it tastes pretty awful in its traditional preparation method, it has very few side effects, and there is no potential for addiction.
See this article on Kava and Anxiety for more information on Kava and its use in treating anxiety.
Bottom line: Kava Stress Relief Candies may be a great solution for many looking for a simple, non-harmful anxiety treatment.
Also of note, kava is effective as a muscle relaxant, and can improve sleep. Both of these factors are associated with anxiety reduction, which further pushes Kava into the potentially good area.
Yoga is holistic in its approach, as a form of ancient exercise routines that take care of the body, mind, and spirit. Like many of the older physical movement arts, it aims to calm the mind, relax the muscles and help you to understand the self and how you fit into your world. Rather than having confused fragmented thoughts, yoga helps you to focus on your inner thoughts. It teaches you to dig deep and cleanse away your worries.
It is not surprising that yoga is popular with those who seek to meditate, as they complement one another. Once you practice the art of yoga, you can develop skills and exercises that will benefit many different areas of your body.
It seeks to find balance where there is discomfort and make it manageable. It also helps to build strength in muscles and joints.
From the onset of learning yoga, it will encourage you to be mindful. To consider the people around you and their beliefs. To take in your environment and understand what is happening there.
Self-observance helps you to focus and take care of every part of your body. The intent is to bring together both mental thoughts and physical movements.
Hatha yoga is a great all-rounder for beginners. It includes “asana,” which are various simple postures to hold. It also involves pranayama (breathing) exercises. The poses and the breathing will help you to find balance as you think.
Yoga Class or Youtube Yoga?
By far the best way to get into yoga is to go to a class! If you’ve never gone, a beginner class is not scary and the instructor will go over everything you need to know.
Less expensive and equally useful may be one of the countless yoga videos on YouTube. The only issue with these is that you don’t get any correction and guidance from an instructor. But they’re free, and you can get very very far just using freely-available classes.
Hatha Yoga for a Beginner
- Stand tall and straight, but relaxed. You can either look directly in front of you, or close your eyes if preferred.
- Your feet should be side by side with a small gap between, and toes pointing to front.
- Allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides.
- Stand on your tiptoes, and pull in your bottom.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Whilst holding your breath, raise your arms over your head and intertwine your fingers.
- Breath out slowly through your mouth.
- Repeat the breathing pattern for around one minute while you are holding the pose.
The name of the exercise comes from the body alignment resembling a mountain. Your interlocked hands are the peak. The exercise gently uses every muscle in your body, it doesn’t overstrain or cause discomfort. This pose can help with back troubles and strengthen thighs and ankles.
Similar to the mountain pose but a little more challenging.
- Begin with the mountain pose but with your feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Whilst holding your breath, lift one leg up touch the inner thigh of the other leg with your foot
- Exhale through your mouth.
- Continue to deep breath through nose and mouth as you hold the pose for 1 minute.
- Repeat with other leg.
This pose stretches the thigh, groin and shoulder muscles. It is good for sciatica sufferers.
Whilst yoga poses tone up muscles, they are great for finding an inner silence so you can focus on relaxation while you pose.
General Tips for Managing Anxiety
This fantastic article by a psychiatrist should be ready by everyone suffering from anxiety. It gives some general advice, and some practical tips. A few of the major points are elaborated on below.
Manage Technology Use
It’s hard to overstate the incredible pull technology has on our lives. Always-on phone, texts, social media, alerts, and the like can make us feel buried in distraction. Around-the-clock work pings can make you feel like you’re never getting any time off, and all of those social media posts can give you FOMO and make you feel like you’re losing out.
Finding a healthier relationship with technology can be a huge step forward. Do your best to manage your relationship with work when off the clock. Communicate to bosses that you need time off the clock in order to make your time on the clock as effective as possible. Of course, we all understand the reality of working in a modern economy, and sometimes you need to give your attention to something immediately. But those events should be few and far between when you’re off the clock.
The vast majority of it can wait until you’re back on the clock.
When people hear the word “meditation,” they often believe it to be something religious. Or some modern term for those who live an alternative lifestyle. Yet, meditative exercises are one of the most natural forms of workouts you can do for your mind and your body.
They are also very successful in relieving stress and anxiety, particularly if you feel a panic attack coming on. Let’s have a look at some of the simplest forms of exercise you can do anywhere, anytime. All are useful for unexpected anxiety attacks.
Walking and Hiking
This is a great way to exercise and relax at the same time. Particularly so if you can find a natural route, such as woodlands, or a field, by a canal or river, or on a beach. Take in a few of those deep breaths as you stroll along. Visualize pleasant thoughts in your mind and push out your worries.
You can pick them back up again when you’ve finished.
Think about a happy incident in your life with your; children, grandchildren, pets, anything that gives you a sense of calm. Smell the fauna, try and spot a butterfly, bird or bee.
You could even sit on a log or other makeshift seat to rest. Wait there silently and you see a squirrel or some other wildlife creature come into view.
It can be pretty easy to get in a good rhythm on a bicycle, combining movement and breathing to bring calm. Try to avoid using headphones and getting distracted by technology while on your bicycle, if you’re trying to use it to find some calm in the storm. Instead, listen to nature and to your breathing.
Swimming can be a great way to find a sense of calm. There’s magic to being in water, and simply gently floating in the water can be incredibly helpful. Of course, it can be hard to find a pool or swimming area, especially for those in cold climates.
You may be able to find a local public swimming spot that is quiet and cost-free, if you look around!
If you can’t swim, then go and learn. You might be surprised how many adults can’t swim. Most swimming pools offer adult lessons. Not only will you learn to swim but you will also have a wonderful form of exercise while making friends too.
There are many other things you can do to help your inner-self feel more at ease with the world:
- We’ve talked about visualising pleasant images, do it as often as you can and every day.
- Smile more often, even to yourself. Look in the mirror and practice your smile. Not only with your facial muscles but your mind too. A real smile can spread a warmth of joy through the person it was intended for, including yourself too.
- Talk with yourself, whether in thought or out loud. It’s a great way of working out problems that might be pressing at the back of your mind.
- Try to cut down or even avoid foods known to release those stress chemicals, such as coffee and alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, have a small glass of water between each drink. That way you won’t get dehydrated, which can make you feel tired and anxious.
These are more general forms of exercise. Great for those times when you can take your time. They are about enjoying your surroundings while you visualize those happy memories.
One way of helping to combat your anxiety in everyday life is to have a regular routine. Routine brings structure into your life. With structure comes a coping mechanism for when those unexpected stressful moments happen.
You probably already have a daily pattern, so for one week write down notes about how your day progresses. At the end of the week, study it and see if you can improve on it.
Sleep and Anxiety
For those who are having trouble sleeping, having a routine in your day is even more important. Keep yourself busy so you get tired naturally. With a regular routine, your body will create its own clockwork and you are more likely to have a good night’s sleep. You could also try the breathing exercises we look at in this article.
Sleep and Technology
Having your phone or tablet with you in the bed can have a negative effect on your sleep patterns that, over time, can lead to exhaustion, and compound anxiety and stress. Controlling your technology use near bedtime is extremely important.
Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep is extremely helpful as a guide to getting better sleep, and to reaping the benefits of better sleep.
One switch I’ve made that has definitely helped my sleep patterns is to plug my phone in at a spot away from my night stand. I have no temptation to use the phone before bed, as it’s not near the bed, and yet any early morning calls I get, I’ll still be able to respond to.
Pills and Sleep Aids
Try to avoid chemical sleep aids, and instead focus on improving your quality of sleep along the lines of what Matthew Walker suggests. Alcohol actually harms sleep, as he explains, so don’t turn to alcohol to help you sleep. Here is a fantastic overview by a psychiatrist regarding how best to use melatonin, which may be of some help if used correctly and infrequently, especially if you often change time zones.
Ambien and no ideal. You could consider something like a Lawena Kava to help you sleep, which does seem to have some effect. Even still, it’s best to try to figure out a sleep routine that doesn’t involve any chemicals at all.
In a perfect world, we would all be happy. Never to suffer from the negative emotions that our lifestyle and physiology can create.
Sometimes all it takes to calm down is having someone to talk to. There are many kind people out there but life is fast, particularly city life. Stress can soon set in and the chemicals start to offload in the poor overloaded brain. With only the basic of meditation, you can learn to control your thoughts. This will influence your emotions and stop those negative processes before they have a bad effect on your body.
Meditation can do so much more. Many people practice the art of meditation to find peace in their fast-paced lives.
Whether you choose medication or natural remedies is a personal choice. Meditative exercises though, pose no risk whatsoever and can only serve to enhance your life.
Yale Psychologist and Cognitive Scientist Laurie Santos talks about all of this, and more, in her Psychology and the Good Life series of lectures. These are a fantastic resource, and are definitely worth checking out for a science-based guide to actionable tasks you could accomplish to make yourself happier.