Advertising

Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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

Advertising
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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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].

Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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

    How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind 5 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Energy Levels How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness 5 Ways Meditation Improves Your Daily Focus and Concentration

    Trending in Mental Wellness

    1 Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why? 2 Does Depression Make You Tired And How? 3 Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety 4 Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine? 5 How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on October 15, 2021

    Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

    Advertising
    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).

    Advertising

    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)

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

    Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next