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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Practice Meditation for Anxiety and Stress Relief

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How to Practice Meditation for Anxiety and Stress Relief

Anxiety and stress are often difficult to simply ignore. Maybe you think you’ve tried everything to alleviate them, and nothing has worked. Maybe you have underlying issues connected with anxiety and stress, and it is hard to both treat the symptoms and the cause.

Have you tried, really tried, meditating for anxiety and some relief?

You don’t have to be some guru in order to meditate. You don’t have to always do it perfectly. You don’t even have to do it the same way each time.

The most important thing is that you meet yourself where you are at. You must show self-compassion. You must lead the meditation with that intent. You are giving to yourself so that you may be able to give better. You will notice a change in your awareness of self if you start with this in mind.

Can Meditation Reduce Anxiety?

Meditation CAN reduce anxiety, but how long does it take for it to be effective? The answer is as simple as it is complex:

You must lose yourself in order to find yourself.

When you lose yourself in the meditation, the anxiety and stress will be relieved. You will be completely present. You will be completely aware of what is happening right now rather than what you are stressing over.

What Is Meditation for Anxiety?

Meditation is about mindfulness NOT mind-FULL-ness. See image by The Happiness Project:

    Starting in mindfulness or conscious awareness of something, you can begin by focusing on something specific. You can focus on what is around you, a preferred topic or thought or a mantra. The important part is that you stay present or aware of yourself in the moment.

    Meditation is a lifestyle, not just a momentary and fleeting escape from what worries you. It’s self care at its finest.

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    Meditation is where you bring your imperfection and your mess and you sit down and admit, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” It is not for perfection. It is not for having it all together. It is for being human, in all your vulnerability. It’s admitting you don’t have all the answers. It’s admitting you aren’t always living your truth.

    It’s being welcomed into the stillness, into the moment or present state of being that you start to listen to answers. That anxiety or that stress is trying to pull you apart. The mindfulness and meditation you practice is about putting yourself together again, piece by piece.

    In the not knowing, you wait for the Knowing to show up.

    In the not being whatever you want to be, you wait for the Being to present itself.

    In the losses, you wait for the Lessons.

    Underneath the anxiety and stress is a lack of stillness. You can argue for any mental health diagnosis and all would still fit the bill for a lack of stillness. It’s not negating what doctors may be telling you to do, it’s simply another way that you can destress.

    It starts with breathing.

    Breathe

    Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. One hand should be on your chest and the other on your belly. When you breathe in, your belly should get bigger. And vice versa.[1]

    Breathe in the positive. Breathe out the negative.

    Breathe in the meditative state you wish to be in. Breathe out the state you are.

    Breathe in the mantra you’d like to say to yourself. Breathe out its opposite.

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    Breathe in the relaxation. Breathe out the tension (for tension relief, a body scan meditation can be utilized where you release tension using breath for each part of the body doing a full body scan until relaxed.)

    It’s about centering yourself. Grounding yourself.

    You can do it with eyes open or closed. That part doesn’t matter. You choose.

    Anxiety and stress will start to subside the more you lose yourself in the meaning of the moment. No longer are you about what you are doing. You are about who you are being. Chose positive terms for that being:

    I am light. I am empowerment. I am prosperity. I am love.

    Breathe that in too.

    This is a safe space. Meditation is a safe space where you can admit your flaws and ask the universe for help overcoming them. You come with a question, you get an answer.

    This helps settle yourself down because anxiety and stress often lead us to impulsivity or rash decision making skills. It helps to relieve the stress so you can deal with the stressors. It helps subside the anxiety so you can get to the root cause.

    In the silence, things come up. That’s what makes meditation scary for many people. It’s much harder to approach than it looks. It asks for a willingness to take the mask off; some never do.

    The Mayo Clinic recommends it as well in the article Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress:[2]

    “Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.”

    Medical conditions worsened by stress such as depression, headaches and anxiety can also be improved by meditation. The best part? Anyone can do it!

    Follow a Guided Meditation

    If you find yourself having a difficult time focusing, don’t punish yourself. Gently draw yourself back. If you are prone to losing focus of the moment or positive thoughts, try a guided meditation where all you need to do is listen to a soothing voice guide you through it.

    There are a ton of guided meditations online. Here’s one I recommend:

     

    If meditation had a slogan, this would probably be it:

    Disconnect from the world. Reconnect with yourself.

    Sit, Breathe, Forget Your Woes, Call the Answer Up, Breathe, Sit.

    That would be the sections of meditation listed as those as the steps.

    You start by sitting somewhere. It can be anywhere. Pick a time of day to do this consistently (or at random, up to you). Be somewhere in some room you can focus. Breathe in and out your mantras. Forget what is ailing you or triggering you to have anxiety and stress. And call the answer.

    What happens when clarity overcomes us? Anxiety and stress no longer do.

    Why is this effective? Meditation has only been scientifically studied for a few decades but, according to The Washington Post on mindfulness meditation:[3]

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    “Some of the most impressive studies to date involve a treatment called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which combines meditation with psychotherapy to help patients deal with thoughts that lead to depression. Randomized controlled trials have shown that the approach significantly reduces the risk of depression relapse in individuals who have previously had three or more major depressive episodes.”

    How Often Should You Meditate for Anxiety?

    Meditation can be done daily as a preventative practice or simply every time anxiety and stress occurs. Some people meditate while they’re in their rooms for as long as they like or throughout the day in bits such as when they are waiting in traffic, watching a sunset, preparing for a speech, etc.

    How often can you practice meditation? The truth is as often as you’d like.

    Final Thoughts

    Anxiety or stress doesn’t have to control or own you. You can start today by giving it to the meditation. If you find yourself with a wandering mind, give it time. With more practice in meditation, you will be able to feel it working for you. Your questions will be answered. Your happiness will be held onto. Your negative thoughts will diminish.

    All you have to do is show up.

    Show up to the meditation and it will change your life. Rather than acting on the anxiety or stress, you learn to listen to it. And that is the best lesson of all.

    You get what you give, and in this case, the more you give to the meditation (of your thoughts and worries), the more it will serve you.

    The best part? You can customize it to work for you. You pick when, you pick where, you pick how long and to what extent. You pick what thoughts to give it, you pick how much anxiety or stress to let it cleanse.

    Cleanse it will. Because in that silence, or guided meditation, is your safe space. And while you may not know what you are doing sometimes in life, here you have all the power.

    Good luck!

    More About Meditation

    Featured photo credit: Cristian Newman via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    More by this author

    Sarah Browne

    Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

    5 Simple Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude 10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self 14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year 7 Self-Soothing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety Relief 5 Ways to Help You Get Through Depression

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    Published on October 15, 2021

    Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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    Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

    When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

    After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

    Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

    1. Stress Hormone Overload

    Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

    When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

    The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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    You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

    2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

    Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

    Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

    Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

    3. Negative Mindset

    Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

    Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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    Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

    4. Digestive Issues

    It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

    The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

    GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

    You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

    5. Depression

    Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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    Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

    Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

    Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

    6. Breathing Problems

    Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

    This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

    End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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    There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

    7. Sleep Issues

    Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

    Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

    One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

    You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

    Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

    Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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    More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

    Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

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