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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

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    Evan Jarschauer

    Professional Mental Health Interventionist & Licensed Psychotherapist

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    Published on April 9, 2021

    What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

    What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

    Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

    What Is Mindfulness?

    Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

    Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

    However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

    It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

    Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

    Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

    The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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    How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

    Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

    Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

    Benefits on Your Mental Health

    Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

    • Autonomy
    • Agreeableness
    • Conscientiousness
    • Competence
    • Empathy
    • Optimism

    Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

    Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

    MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

    • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
    • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
    • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
    • Prevention of major depressive disorders
    • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

    However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

    Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

    Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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    To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

    Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

    Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

    What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

    Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

    • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
    • Awareness of the present moment
    • Openness to experience whatever comes up
    • Acceptance that the mind will wander
    • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

    A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

    There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

    Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

    Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

    The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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    1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

    Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

    The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

    2. Breathing Meditation

    Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

    In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

    The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

    3. Body Scan Meditation

    A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

    When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

    4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

    In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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    Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

    The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

    In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

    Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

    Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

    There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

    Final Thoughts

    Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

    It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

    More About Practicing Mindfulness

    Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
    [2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
    [3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
    [4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
    [5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
    [6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
    [7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
    [8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
    [9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
    [10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
    [11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
    [12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
    [13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
    [14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
    [15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
    [16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
    [17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
    [18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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