4 Meditation Practices to Help You Overcome Anxiety
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder or occasional anxiousness from the everyday stressors of life, you’ve probably considered meditation as a way to clear your mind and overcome this anxiety. Maybe you stumbled across it online while searching for how to cope with anxiety, or perhaps a friend or family member suggested meditation as a way you might start feeling better. You may have even sought out professional help and learned that mental health professionals even recommend mindfulness for anxious thoughts! Experts almost universally agree that including mindfulness practice in your daily activities can benefit anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions, as well as short-term, acute stressful situations. After all, even a small thing can seem massive when it causes your heart rate to rise or a panic attack to set in.
In any case, you’re considering meditation as a way to treat your anxiety, whether it’s on its own or in addition to treatment options such as medication (like antidepressants, including SSRIs and SNRIs) or psychotherapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy). You may even have given meditation a try already! But you may not be aware of the various kinds of meditation and how they can affect your severe anxiety symptoms.
These four particular types of meditation can help benefit your mental health, whether it’s a type of anxiety disorder like GAD or another medical condition entirely. Of course, they are far from the only varieties you’ll come across, but they are some of the most effective. And, of course, helping you overcome anxiety isn’t where the benefits of meditation end. You’ll find that a meditation practice can improve your mental health and wellness in many different ways, reducing not just panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety but of social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias like agoraphobia or social phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
When most people think of meditation, they’re likely imagining mindfulness meditation. This refers to meditation which relies on the practice of mindfulness, or being immersed in the present moment, to achieve its requisite state of awareness and mental clarity.
Mindfulness meditation most often relies on deep breathing and a general consciousness of the mind and body. You can learn the practice on your own or with a teacher or program. To practice mindfulness meditation in its most basic form, you’ll want to find a comfortable position and focus on your breath—your inhalations and exhalations. It’s worth noting that some stray thoughts are inevitable. What’s most important is not that you stop thinking but that you acknowledge your thoughts and allow them to pass, returning your focus to your breath.
2. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation builds on the practice of mindfulness meditation by focusing not just on the breath but on a guide’s voice and instructions, too. You may find guided meditation audio or videos within your favorite app or program, or on websites like YouTube. A psychiatrist may even lead guided meditations as part of your counseling!
Through guided meditation, you will listen to the audio or video narration as it leads you through visualization, deep breathing, or strategies like progressive muscle relaxation to lower your anxiety levels. You can find these tailored to particular concerns or groups of people, too. Whether it’s a breathing exercise for chronic anxiety and the strong emotions that come with it, or a mindful meditation aimed at relieving young people’s climate anxiety, you’ll surely find a guided meditation track that’s meant for your particular concern and your body’s reaction to it.
3. Mantra Meditation
Like guided meditation, mantra meditation focuses on something besides the breath to hone mindfulness and distract from feelings of anxiety or negativity. In this case, your practice depends on mantras, a Sanskrit term derived from “man” (meaning “mind”) and “tra” (meaning “release”).
When choosing a mantra, you can select a single syllable or vowel sound, like the commonly recognized “om,” a sacred sound. Or, you might try the same principles with an affirmation that’s attuned to your intention of overriding your anxious feelings. Experts may recommend a particular word, sound, or phrase, for achieving a particular outcome, often coming from specific spiritual traditions.
4. Alternative Forms of Meditation
Mantras, mindfulness, and guided meditation aren’t the only types of meditation that can help relieve anxiety attacks and concerns like separation anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, it’s just as important to acknowledge that some of the best ways to meditate aren’t technically a type of meditation at all!
For instance, you may be familiar with the concept of a flow state, described as “that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction.” In other words, flow is experiencing the state of focused awareness you’d achieve through meditation without practicing meditation to do so. You may be surprised by the ways you can transform daily tasks into a form of meditation. Practices like tai chi or qigong take this a step further still, with this awareness built into their practice.
Think of it this way: when COVID-19 hit the United States, you followed the CDC’s guidelines with everyday habits like social distancing. So, when your health care provider or other expert resource suggests adding meditation to your list of coping techniques for contending with negative thoughts, nervousness, or high levels of anxiety, why wouldn’t you listen?
A good mental health provider will recommend an assortment of good things to ease your nerves or numbness, like getting enough sleep or cutting back on vices like caffeine or social media, in addition to your medication, psychotherapy, or other treatment options. These are great ways to improve your mood and decrease your anxiety symptoms, so it’s unsurprising that you’d turn to other holistic options for anxiety relief. So, when they suggest adding a daily meditation practice to your holistic mental health plan, try incorporating one of these styles of meditation into your daily routine. You may very well find that your daily morning meditation becomes your favorite part of the entire day!