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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Practice Mindful Meditation for Anxiety (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Practice Mindful Meditation for Anxiety (Step-by-Step Guide)

This has been one of the most stressful years in modern history. Other than science-fiction writers and infectious disease experts, who could have ever imagined that we would be faced with a global pandemic in our lifetime? Anxiety is now at an all-time high, and it’s time to find some ways to cope with it. Mindful meditation for anxiety can help you cope with all of the uncharted stress ahead.

Nevertheless, even without all of the stress associated with a global pandemic, mindful meditation can help you cope more effectively with a whole host of everyday issues that contribute to stress. These include family relationships, personal finances, health concerns, and all of the other daily issues that have a tendency to clutter up precious storage space in our minds.

Effects of Stress and Anxiety

Ultimately, too much stress can lead to anxiety, which is generally recognized as an intense, excessive, and persistent feeling of worry and fear about everyday situations, for example, going to work or enjoying a social occasion with friends and family[1]. Symptoms of anxiety may include any combination of panic, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired or worn out.

Severe and persistent anxiety can negatively impact your diet, mood, sleep patterns, and turn your overall daily routine upside down, creating an unhealthy, and even potentially dangerous situation. Furthermore, research has found that people that are suffering with symptoms of anxiety have significantly higher rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse[2].

For many, one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety is to reduce the underlying stress that fuels it. With that said, mindful meditation may be one of the easiest ways to help you do this.

Studies have found that practicing mindful meditation for anxiety on a regular basis has been proven to improve your overall physical and mental health by significantly reducing stress[3]. Although anxiety medications can help, there are no side effects, nor prescriptions required when practicing mindful meditation.

It has the potential to help you improve your ability to cope with anxiety, stress, depression, sleep disorders, and relationship issues from the very first time you try it. The goal of mindful meditation is to essentially gain greater control over your thoughts, so that you will ultimately be at more peace with them.

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Mindful Meditation (Step-By-Step Guide)

Mindful meditation empowers you to be able to stay focused in the moment, while not dwelling on the past, nor taking up valuable head-space worrying about the future[4]. The idea is to focus all of your attention on the now so that you do not find yourself stuck in the past, or trying to fix problems that have not yet occurred.

Follow the steps below to learn how to practice mindful meditation for anxiety.

Step 1: Set Aside the Time

You live a fast-paced life where time is always of the essence, and often in short supply. That’s why it is so important to stay sharp and keep your mind running at peak performance. Mindful meditation can help you accomplish this.

Start off by setting aside some personal time everyday to recharge. Although you may feel as though you do not have the time to consistently practice mindful meditation every day, try to schedule it at the same time every day. In this way, you can make it part of your daily life routine.

Whether you prefer to start off the day fresh with mindful meditation in the morning to collect your thoughts, or use it to wind down after a long day at the office, just try to make it a regular part of your life.

Step 2: Set a Time Limit

You can begin by practicing mindful meditation for about five minutes a day, just to get used to the feeling. More than likely it will take you several times to get into the habit of meditation. I suggest setting a timer so that you do not have to think about watching the clock.

Use a soft notification that will do the job without disrupting your serenity, such as a soft bell. Then try meditating the same amount of time each day. You can increase the duration of meditation once you become accustomed to it.

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Step 3: Get Comfortable

Pick a place to practice mindful meditation for anxiety that is comfortable, quiet, and safe. Try to eliminate as many unwanted distractions as possible. Remember noise should be at a minimum. As a matter of fact, it may be best if you can practice mindful meditation when no one else is around for a more balanced experience.

For comfort and peace of mind, you can sit on the floor or on a comfortable chair. Nevertheless, since not everyone is comfortable with seated meditation, you can also choose to practice mindful meditation while standing.

Most importantly, you should practice mindful meditation in a location where you can feel at one with yourself, perhaps in a park, or in your favorite room of your house. In this instance, the further away you are from others, the greater the overall benefit you may receive from the process.

If you want to try practicing mindful meditation while standing, you should start off by standing straight up. Your back should be upright but relaxed, without appearing too rigid. Then, clasp your hands in front of you, turn the thumb of your left hand inwards and clench your fingers around it.

Cover your right hand around your left, holding them both parallel to your abdomen. This will also improve your overall balance. Finally, roll your shoulders, look down towards the floor while taking a couple of deep breaths. Either way, no matter which position you choose, there is no need to struggle when practicing mindful meditation. Make the process work best for you.

Lastly, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. The idea is to allow your thoughts to flow naturally, and it will help if you’re not restricted by tight, uncomfortable clothes.

Step 4: Let Go

Life is hectic, especially now. You need a way to get away, even though you may not actually be able to do so physically at the moment. To really embrace the mindful meditation process, you have to find a way to clear your mind and completely let go of as much stress as possible.

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Start off by closing your eyes, and then rest your hands loosely on your lap or the arms of the chair. Be sure to focus on your breathing, being aware of each breath coming in and going out. Absorb all the sounds and smells around you.

When you become aware of certain sounds, smells, and thoughts that capture your attention, like an alarm or fresh flowers, let yourself acknowledge them and then come back to the moment again.

Step 5: Breathe Slow

Proper breathing is an essential part of effective mindful meditation for anxiety. Your breathing should be slow and rhythmic. This will help you relax and let go of your unwanted anxiety.

Keep your eyes closed, breathe steady, and allow worry, anxiety, and unwanted thoughts to escape from your mind as you exhale. Let your mind rest by completely embracing the moment. Allow yourself the knowledge that your worries are only leaving for a short period of time, so you have to make the most of the moment.

Let thoughts come in and out with your breathing without actually trying to control them. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the calming energy to ultimately take negative thoughts back out as you exhale.

Step 6: Count Your Breath

Try counting your breaths to help maintain a steady rhythm and pace. Take deep, slow breaths while counting up to four, and then hold for a count of four and release for a count of four. This is called square or box breathing and is a great breathing technique to get you started[5].

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Square Breathing for Mindful Meditation

     

    Initially, try to sustain this for at least five minutes while you keep your mind focused on your breathing. If you wander off before you get to four, start over at one again.

    Our minds wander all the time, so allow it to happen, acknowledge it, and then come back to the moment you are in. Just let it flow naturally as you relax.

    Step 7: Get Back to the Moment

    If you focus on your breathing, it will help keep you in the moment and mindful. Remember that being mindful is about being in the moment. You can’t mess this up. There is no wrong way to practice mindful meditation for anxiety. You just have to give yourself the time to drift off into a peaceful and stress-free headspace.

    Although your mind is bound to wander from time to time, you will always want to come back to center. If negative or distracting thoughts keep coming back, that’s a sign that you are stressed out about that issue. I recommend that you process those thoughts until you are able to come back to the moment.

    Final Thoughts

    With mindful meditation for anxiety, you can now experience inner peace whenever and wherever you choose. With regular sustained practice, it can help you reduce your level of anxiety and thereby improve your overall quality of life exponentially as you take greater control over your emotions.

    Now, more than ever, coping effectively with anxiety and stress is essential. Being aware of your emotions and how they impact the way you feel provides you with the insight necessary to ultimately feel better about yourself through a greater sense of self-awareness.

    More Tips on Meditating

    Featured photo credit: Benjamin Child via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] NIH: Anxiety Disorders
    [2] QJM: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates
    [3] American Psychological Association: Mindfulness holds promise for treating depression
    [4] Mayo Clinic: Mindfulness exercises
    [5] Anahana: SQUARE BREATHING

    More by this author

    Evan Jarschauer

    Professional Mental Health Interventionist & Licensed Psychotherapist

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2021

    5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

    5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

    Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

    However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

    How Does Stress Show Up?

    On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

    According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

    While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

    Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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    On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

    Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

    Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

    1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

    When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

    One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

    Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

    Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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    Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

    2. Sweat It out

    There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

    According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

    “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

    Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

    3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

    Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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    In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

    Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

    Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

    Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

    4. Interrupt Your Day

    When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

    If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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    As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

    5. Get Some Energy Work Done

    Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

    Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

    In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

    You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

    Final Thoughts

    Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

    This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

    More Self-Care Ideas

    Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
    [2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
    [3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
    [4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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