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Published on April 27, 2021

How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

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How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

Do you often feel stressed for most of your day? Maybe you always feel a burden that you just can’t get rid of? Focused meditation might be your answer.

In this article, I’ll explore what focused meditation is, how it differs in the pool of many styles of meditation, and how to implement and start this practice today. Likewise, I’ll highlight the benefits of a focused meditation practice for your overall health.

What Is Focused Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of becoming self-aware through breath and attention to connect the mind, body, and spirit.[1] Focused meditation, also known as concentrative meditation, is the practice of meditating and bringing your attention to one single object. This object can be something practical and tangible, such as a mandala painting or a candle flame. It can also be something abstract, such as a phrase (also known as mantra) or a sound (such as Om).[2][3]

Whatever you settle your attention on becomes the focus of your meditation. None of these object examples are better than others—they are simply choices depending on what you’re looking to get out of your practice. For example, practitioners will choose candle gazing to interpret the images the flame makes in the shadows while others will choose a mantra because that particular phrase or word empowers or heals them.

How Does It Differ From Other Meditation Styles?

All meditation styles and practices overlap and build on each other. Their basic foundation is the same: to bring the practitioner insight and introspection.

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Focused meditation, specifically, is the practice of focusing on one single object for the duration of the practice. How this differs from other meditation styles is that it gives the practitioner something tangible to do: focus. It’s almost like giving your mind an action to perform—listen to this sound, repeat these words, watch this flame, etc. This is also one of the reasons why this particular meditation style is great for beginners!

One of the biggest challenges in any meditation practice is that the mind gets carried away and we lose ourselves to random thoughts. This “obstacle” is actually a style of meditation in and of itself called Vipassana.[4] However, in focused meditation, we give the mind something to do so that it’s not simply left to its own devices. This type of meditation is beneficial for beginners and for practitioners who prefer some structure and guidance to their meditations.

The Benefits of Focused Meditation

In this style of meditation, what you’re really doing is exercising your mental muscles. Your brain is highly affected by a dedicated and concentrated meditation practice.

Scientists have performed countless studies on focused meditation and have found that active meditators have more gray matter volume in their brain and, therefore, offsetting the cognitive decline that comes with aging. So, not only does practicing focused meditation help you learn how to focus better on certain tasks, but it also improves similar functions, such as memory. [5]

Likewise, it helps in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which our society is currently crippled with.[6] By settling your attention on an object, you are essentially building your ability to observe your thoughts and sensations from a place of objectivity. This allows you to detach from negative self-talk that is often the breeding ground for depression and other mental illnesses.

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How to Practice Focused Meditation

Here are six tips to help you practice focused meditation. Based on your availability and interest, these tips may change and evolve. That’s the point: to create a structured practice that caters to your needs.

1. Find a Comfortable Seat

As with any meditation practice, comfort is truly key. The physical body responds to meditation practice by alerting you to whether it is comfortable and supported or stressed out and in pain. This is best observed in practitioners who tend to slouch and lose the tall, supported spine that is essential to meditation practice.

A simple rule in meditative sitting is to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees. Therefore, choosing to sit in a chair instead of on the floor may be a smart decision or perhaps propping yourself up on a cushion. At the end of the day, it does not matter how you sit. All that matters is that you are supported and comfortable sitting for some time.

2. Choose Your Object of Focus

Every meditation session is going to be different because no single day is the same for any one person. Therefore, choosing an object is much more about listening to what you need at this time versus following any doctrine or “rule.”

If you’re not sure and have a hard time deciding, make your breath the object and follow it in on the inhale and out on the exhale. Then, assign each inhale and exhale a number, and once you reach 10, start over. This is one of the simpler methods of keeping your mind occupied—by giving it a task. This also trains your mind, and over time and with practice, your mind will easily focus on an object without too much effort.

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3. Set Your Desired Time or “Go With the Flow”

If you have a structured routine and would like to stick to your schedule, by all means, set a gentle timer for how long you’d like your meditation to be. This is also your opportunity to throw out the notion that any meditation has to be a certain length of time to be correct—it does not.

Likewise, if you have the time, you can also listen to your body and come out of your meditation when you feel it’s right to do so. This is often a beautiful practice of listening and tuning in.

4. Relax Your Body as You Focus on Your Meditation

Typically, when we are focusing on something, we tend to tighten our body. Observe this next time that you’re concentrating on something: your jaw will tighten and your shoulders will squeeze up towards your ears.

As you sink into your meditation, keep this in mind and check in with your body every once in a while. Let your shoulders sink down your back and release any tension through your jaw and face. Lastly, relax your brow and let your eyes be heavy in their sockets. Then, return to your object of meditation. Observe if your meditation changes at all by relaxing your physical body.

5. Return to Your Breath and Object When You Get Distracted

Notice that I didn’t say “if you get distracted.” That’s because you definitely will drift off with random thoughts or get pulled away from your object of focus. In meditation, distractions are almost guaranteed. Therefore, it’s your opportunity to practice detaching yourself from feeling guilty or inadequate to continue.

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Over time and with practice, you will find it easier to stay with your object of focus. In the meantime, however, notice when you get distracted. Pause and take a big breath in and out. Check in with your physical body and relax. Once you’re ready again, return to your object of focus. Meditation is simply one long cycle of wandering and coming back to yourself.

6. Journal Your Experiences

When your meditation practice has ended, another powerful practice is to jot down any experiences that you felt. There may have been insights and “downloads” that you acquired during your session that you may want to record.

Likewise, you could write about any challenges that you faced. These are great lessons that will continue to show up for you, and it’s nice to keep a journal of them to see how they evolve and progress over time (and they will). Lastly, you can write about what works and what doesn’t, as far as picking your objects of meditation go. This way, you can learn what you most associate with and feel comfortable with.

Final Thoughts

If practicing meditation causes you to feel distracted and unsupported, give focused meditation a go! With the help of an object to bring your attention to, it structures your meditation time and offers guidance and support.

Dedicating yourself to this style of meditation will help increase your memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better cognitive function. Even though any style of meditation is a powerful way of taking care of your mental health, focused meditation gives your mind a tangible task with which to grow and strengthen.

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More About Focused Meditation

Featured photo credit: Lua Valentia via unsplash.com

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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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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