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

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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.

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    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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    Published on January 18, 2022

    How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

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    How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

    Are you sick and tired of wasting your mental and emotional energy worrying about (and replaying) events in your mind? Even sabotaging yourself, your performance, and your relationships, at times? Constantly playing the “what if” game in your mind?

    Let’s be honest, feeling anxious is miserable and unequivocally sucks the enjoyment out of life. It does this because it is impossible to be in the present moment when you are constantly worried about the future or past events. Here’s the deal—it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s talk about some tips on how to stop being anxious and get your calm back.

    The Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety

    Feeling anxious is just part of the human experience and is a normal stress response. When the stress is removed, the anxiety usually goes away, too. With an anxiety disorder, the stressful trigger is removed but the anxiety can still be present.[1]

    There are multiple anxiety disorders with varying characteristics. If you are concerned that you may have one of them, it is best to be evaluated by your doctor, especially since anxiety is very common. According to research, up to 33% of all Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.[2]

    What Can You Do to Manage Feeling Anxious?

    The good news is there’s a lot that you can do to stop being anxious. Science is learning more and more every day about ways we can manage feeling anxious.

    I am a strong believer in being proactive and preventative. If you have a lot of stress in your life or are prone to feeling anxious, I always recommend establishing a foundation of good daily habits. That way, when something happens to poke the anxiety bear, you are already in a position to handle things.

    Twenty tips may be overwhelming for some people but remember: you are not expected to incorporate every tip on this list. Look at it as a menu of potential helpful options. You can pick and choose whatever you want and leave the rest.

    Here are 20 tips on how to stop being anxious:

    1. Eat the Right Food

    It might come as a surprise to some, but certain foods can make anxiety worse, such as sugary foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.[3]

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    Here are some foods you can try instead that can help reduce anxiety: Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, Turmeric, Chamomile, yogurt, and green tea.[4]

    2. Stay Hydrated

    One simple tip to help you stop being anxious is by staying hydrated. Even being mildly dehydrated has been shown to worsen anxiety.[5] So, drink up! Water, that is.

    3. Work Some Mindfulness Into Your Day

    This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing (breathing into your belly and engaging your abdominals upon exhale) are what usually come to mind, but there are some other fast and easy exercises that can help calm you down almost immediately.

    One of my favorites is called Five Things, and it’s based upon our five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It can be done in any order.

    For example, you might start by picking five things you can see. As you list each item, it’s important to take in the detail of each one. Next, you pick four things you can feel, noting each item with the same attention to detail. Work your way down to one item accompanying your last sense.

    4. Get Some Exercise

    Completing 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week may significantly improve symptoms of anxiety. Even as little as 10 minutes has a positive impact.[6]

    In one study, exercise was shown to be as effective as medication in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety, with higher intensity exercise more effective than lower intensity exercise.[7]

    5. Sit With It/Observe It

    Dr. Judson Brewer recently penned a book (and an app) entitled Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind in which he discusses turning toward our emotions as a way to process them rather than distracting ourselves or bottling things up (turning away).

    He encourages people to be an observer of the emotional response in their bodies, almost as if conducting a research project in great detail and noting the exact location of physical sensations (stomach, right or left side, front or back) with as much detail as possible.

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    6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach that utilizes the cyclical connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as a means to control unwanted (anxious) thoughts.

    One exercise to stop ruminating thoughts includes picturing a stop sign in great detail, instructing yourself to “stop,” and then changing the narrative to something positive, encouraging, or even more realistic or likely.

    Another CBT exercise involves challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs for validity by asking yourself:

    • Is there evidence for my thought or am I making assumptions?
    • What’s the worst that could happen? Is this likely?
    • What’s the best that could happen?
    • What’s most likely to happen?
    • Will this matter in a week, a year, or five years from now?

    7. Realize What You Can and Can’t Control

    Take action where you can. Many of us spend time worrying and feeling anxious over things we can’t control.

    Figure out what you can do and take action from there. Studies show that taking action reduces anxiety.[8]

    8. Gratitude

    Reminding ourselves of the good things in our lives not only brings positivity to us but also reduces anxiety. This is because it is neurologically impossible for our brain to focus on negative and positive information at the same time.[9]

    9. Volunteer or Do Something for Someone Else

    Helping others feels good. It also reduces stress, boosts our immune system, and can help us live longer.[10]

    10. Journal in the 3rd Person

    The practice of journaling has long been known as a valuable tool to help us manage our emotions, and it can also help us stop being anxious and regain our calm.

    Making a point to name the emotions you are experiencing (“name it to tame it”) is a principle Dr. Dan Siegel discovered that heightens the value of journaling. More recently, Dr. Kross, in his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, noted that journaling in the 3rd person (as if narrating your life) creates further value by creating some distance between you and the emotion you are experiencing, thus allowing you to breathe easier and gain perspective.

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    11. Go Out Into Nature

    Spending time in nature has been shown to improve attention, lower stress, improve mood, reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders, and even cause upticks in empathy and cooperation.[11]

    12. Spend Time With Animals

    Dogs are not only your best friend, but it turns out they are good for your mental and emotional health, too. The fact that cats just allow you to live with them as their servant doesn’t detract from the positive impact they also have on our emotional well-being.

    Spending time cuddling with your pet on the couch can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have also found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.[12]

    13. Get Good Sleep

    Getting good sleep can be difficult when we feel anxious, but being tired can worsen the issue. Try sticking to a consistent bedtime, make your bedroom dark, the temperature cool, and limit screen time before going to sleep.

    14. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

    Alcohol changes the level of neurotransmitters in our brain. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, specifically stimulating our fight or flight response, which is already more sensitive for those struggling with anxiety. Use both in moderation.

    15. Show Yourself Compassion and Encouragement

    What would you say to your best friend? Many times we make things worse by shaming or berating ourselves for feeling anxious because we fear it makes us appear weak or vulnerable. This makes the problem worse.

    What would your best friend say to you? Stop beating yourself up and be your own best friend.

    16. Spend Time With Friends

    Healthy friendships make us feel included, improve self-confidence and self-esteem, and thus, help reduce anxiety.[13]

    17. Create Balance in Your Life

    Set healthy boundaries and priorities, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Nobody else can do this for you. Value yourself. You are worth it.

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    18. Have a Plan

    Another tip to help you stop being anxious is to have a plan. Knowing what you will do takes away a lot of the “what if” thoughts in your mind. Being certain about some things and managing your expectations can help give you peace of mind.

    19. Remind Yourself of a Past Event

    You can also try to remind yourself of a past event in your life that you were anxious about but still ended up okay. Have confidence that you will make it through this situation, too.

    20. Have Some Structure or Routine in Your Day

    Knowing what to expect can significantly reduce anxiety and the fear that can accompany uncertainty.[14] Give yourself as much structure as you need. You’ll thank yourself for it.

    Final Thoughts

    It can be difficult to manage feelings of being anxious. Take charge and pick a few of these to try out. Be consistent, and see how you feel.

    You can always discard what doesn’t work for you, and pick something else to try. Confide in a friend that you are implementing some new strategies, and get some support.

    Always tell your doctor your concerns, and don’t hesitate to get help if you are having difficulty managing things on your own. Good luck!

    More Tips for Calming Your Mind

    Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

    Reference

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