How to meditate to reduce anxiety: 5 powerful, easy practices

You know you should meditate.

Meditation has been around for millennia, and forms of it were in practice even before the Buddha made it cool.

So why can’t you just commit to doing it?

If you’re anything like me, it’s because you’re a skeptic. And when a friend tells you it transformed her mental health, you might get judgy. After all, only doctor-prescribed, science based methods work, right? Also, meditation is way too simple and it’s free.

Don’t real, life-changing solutions come in trendy glass bottles for $1,214 a pop?

 

Wrong, Judgy McSkeptic.

Meditate? Does that REALLY work?

 

While science remains somewhat skeptical as to the clinical efficacy of meditation, more and more research shows its validity.

It also transformed my mental health.

Well, to be fair, a lot of things did, but going Med Head is one of my favorite healthy addictions.

One of the biggest benefits has been its effect on my anxiety.

You probably know that mental health issues tend to come in bunches. So if you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s a good bet you’re also dealing with depression.

This is because these disorders affect a part of your brain, the amygdala which, these days, can become overly stimulated at almost anything.

Add to that a society that loves hyping the hysteria, fear, and outrage in literal cycles, and is it any wonder your brain is fried.

How To Stop the Anxiety Cycle

 

Meditation is one of the best, most time-tested and effective ways to unhook from your hard-wired fear and despair responses which easily get lit up, even in a mundane situation like traffic.

It’s also free from side-effects, unless you consider the following to be (beneficial) side effects:

  1. Deeper self awareness and self compassion
  2. Better connection to empathy for others
  3. Increased ability to focus
  4. Less pain, lowered blood pressure, relief from insomnia and other health benefits (link to site)

After all, as Mr. Rogers sang:

“Everything grows together, because you’re all one thing.”

Image link 

But enough science.

You came here for easy, actionable relief. So, read on.

Practice One: Walking Meditation

This one is for the gal (or guy) on the go. If you struggle to set aside even a measly 15 minutes per day for a meditation practice, you could “multitask” by incorporating a walking meditation.

Now, this isn’t a true multitask. The whole purpose of meditation is to NOT “task” anything.

However, you could turn your daily walk to work, or to the food truck, or with the stroller, into a meditative experience.

The focus here is on mindful awareness, particularly of your body, sensations, and surroundings. But this awareness should be in stages.

And, if your attention is easily distracted by your surroundings, don’t get perfectionist with yourself (I see you, anxious ones.)

This is a practice, and ideally a lifelong practice. Do you really think you’ll be a Zen superstar right off the bat?

Practice Two: Short, Simple Breath Work

This is exactly what it sounds like: being anywhere and observing your breath. When your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your breath.

Set a timer for just 5 minutes to start, and try to be someplace quiet without interruption (even the bathroom at work.) You can count beats on each in breath, count your hold, and count your release.

Some people like to “box breathe”  which is 4 slow counts in, 4 slow counts to hold, 4 slow counts out, and 4 slow counts before the next breath.

This can have a fast, calming effect on your freaking-out central nervous system by switching over to engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. And it’s recognized by professionals whose lives depend on staying calm.

Practice Three: Mantras

I’m an overthinker. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you are, too.

Sometimes my brain needs to find a thought and get OCD repetitive with it.

And while this can have detrimental effects on an anxious brain, what if you disciplined yourself to repeat a positive thought rather than a negative one?

Enter mantra meditation.

You don’t have to pick something sacred or in a foreign language. Really, it’s repeating anything that you relate to on a positive, peaceful level.

You could always just stick to an I Am statement, such as: I am completely calm and safe.

Just try to be someplace quiet so your body can relax while you practice. However, I will often repeat mantras to myself while doing any number of things. Showering, washing dishes…get creative.

Practice Four: Yoga Nidra

This one is cool. It should also be reserved for a bedtime practice, because it’s common to fall asleep during it.

What’s really fun and science-y (with a dash of mystical woo) is that this practice will bring your brain into deep theta and delta waves and even deeper. In this state, all sorts of subconscious reprogramming can happen. You’ll also feel incredibly calm and relaxed, no pills required.

Yoga Nidra is a process of scanning your supine body through a guided script. Check out this guided Yoga Nidra for an idea of what it sounds like.

Practice Five: Gratitude

Yeah, you’re thinking, “What does gratitude have to do with meditating to calm down my crisis mode?” but really, I’ve found that a short gratitude meditation almost always puts things into a more rational perspective.

Think about it: you’re freaking out partly because it seems like everything is going to hell.

Taking a few minutes to challenge that false reality, and guiding your brain to see what’s positive in your life is an effective way to get out of the biologically, evolutionarily ingrained negativity bias.

So what does that look like?

You combine a standard meditative state of mindfulness described above, and merely focus on all the things that you can be grateful for.

Sit somewhere quiet, connect to your breath, and focus intentionally on something like your cute cat, or the nice conversation you had with your mom.

I promise you, there are always things to be grateful for.

If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking…

Wow, These Seem *Almost* Too Simple…

I get it. Like I said at the beginning, when something is simple and free, it’s hard to believe it can also be effective.

If you have tried meditation before and found it to be lacking, take this opportunity to be honest with yourself.

Do you really want relief from your anxiety cycles?

Are you ready to commit to taking care of yourself and making your health a priority?

Do you try something for a day or three and expect miracles in that time?

You’re worth the daily effort of seeking relief from your fears. Seeking a little enlightenment on the side couldn’t hurt, either.

What’s something you’ve always done to soothe yourself that you’ve never considered to be “meditative”?

Let me know in the comments below, and if you liked this post and want to see more like it, please re-pin!

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