Post originally written for AboutMeditation.com
It is becoming more widely known that a meditation practice can be helpful in curbing anxiety.
Anxiety generally comes in two forms – a fear-based resistance to some deeper feelings that are arising, and projecting past pain onto the unknown of the future.
With practice, meditation can be a powerful practice to help inhibit the life and growth of both these forms of anxiety.
One popular approach to meditation is about being fully present with whatever arises, moving with the steady stream of life as it flows. This means being aware of thought, sound, physical sensation, and whatever else you’re aware of in the moment.
Mindfulness meditation trains us to have a balanced, unattached approach to all stimuli as they arise, regardless of their source, their volume, or their comfort.
A Full Body Experience
Anxiety exists entirely in one’s head. While there are undoubtedly many physical symptoms which can and do arise in conjunction with anxiety, the source of anxiety is one’s mind.
As anxiety is a condition of the mind, it feeds off of our attention. When we argue with it, resist it, question it, or let it run the show like an untrained puppy, we are inadvertently fueling it, making it stronger. We are also cutting off our awareness of our physical body, of the space we’re in, and of all our other senses.
When we are practicing mindfulness, we are allowing ourselves to experience whatever sensations arise. In this way, our awareness extends beyond just our minds, so we begin deprive our minds of the fuel they need to stoke the fire of anxiety. We are present in the full physical reality of our life, so anxiety has less say in our awareness.
Anxiety is not at all about the present moment.
If we are anxious because we are resisting some deeper emotion that is arising naturally in us, we are fighting what exists. We are trying to deny what is actually here, waging an un-winnable argument with reality.
If we are anxious because we are projecting some past pain onto the unknown of the future, we are also not at all present.
Meditation helps us ground in what is going on right around us. It helps us build a connection with life as it exists, where anxiety cannot survive. When we are open to and aware of what is happening right here, right now, there is no past with its pain, and there is no future with its unknowns. Everything is present.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It is a common experience to feel calmer after meditating. Whether you are counting breaths, or listening to some guidance, or being still and letting everything go, it is natural to experience some greater calm and ease after a meditation session.
However, it is often very challenging to meditate when anxious. Sitting still and being gently present with all that is can be a Herculean task when one’s mind is racing and heart is pounding.
What I am presenting here is not a quick-fix. I am not suggesting that you meditate to relieve anxiety when it is loud and dominating your experience.
Instead, what I am offering is that this is what happens over time as we build our practice. The more we meditate, the more we train our awareness to rest in the fullness of our bodily experience, and the more we are used to grounding in the present.
Over time, mediation practice creates a new default in ourselves where we are more inclined to be grounded and fully present, creating an environment where it is a lot harder for anxiety to survive and thrive. It may or may not completely eliminate every anxious thought or trigger, but it creates and then widens the exit ramp out of the cycles of repetitive and destructive thoughts.