By Alexa Pellegrini
There’s a downside to being an astute thinker, highly sensitive and perceptive of your environment: you’re naturally inclined to experience more anxiety than someone who isn’t as conscious. You’re too self-aware to simply switch off when something bothers you. The unbelievable amount of stressors in our society impact you more than the average person. Unfortunately, if you tell this to your doctor, you’re likely to leave their office with a referral for a psychiatrist or a prescription for Paxil. Few doctors try to explore the underlying thought patterns that contribute to anxiety, and medications like Paxil come with a laundry list of side effects. If you’re tired of doctors throwing drugs in your face, it’s time to swap out anti-anxiety medications for anti-anxiety meditations.
The Anxiety Epidemic
If you have anxiety, you’re not alone: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 18.1 percent of adults in the United States suffer with an anxiety disorder. This makes anxiety the most common mental illness in the nation! Our fast-paced society, demands at work, poor health and a myriad of other factors contribute to anxiety. Some of us experience anxiety more readily than others; genetics play a significant role, as do childhood conditioning and life events.
Everyone experiences circumstantial worry, but some of us deal with major anxiety every day. Minor inconveniences feel like disasters, and small disagreements are replayed hundreds of times. Hallmarks of anxiety include panic attacks, compulsive thoughts, shyness in social situations, and phobias. It’s no wonder that nearly one-half of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder. Using meditation to ease anxiety is a healthy and effective way to actually address the root cause of your nervous thinking.
Meditation to Ease Anxiety: Healing the Mind
If there’s one thing that meditation teaches us, it’s that we think far too much. The Monkey mind is Buddhist concept that explains how like a monkey swinging blindly from vine to vine, our thoughts often bounce around wildly without any direction. Herein lies the root of anxiety: one negative thought ricochets off of another until our mind overwhelms us. Anxiety meditation exercises allow us to stop, pause, and breathe before our thoughts spiral out of control. Once you’re aware of negative thoughts, you can simply stand back and let them be without getting sucked into a vortex of catastrophic thinking.
Anti-anxiety meditations are so powerful that science has determined they even influence us on a neural level. Researchers have found that meditation activates three key areas in the brain associated with executive functioning and worrying. Meditating stimulates the anterior cingulate cortex , which rules our thinking and emotions, and therefore allows us to have more control over how we react to our thoughts and stimuli.
Meditation can also ease anxiety by balancing brain waves and healthy levels of important anti-anxiety neurotransmitters. Anxiety decreases alpha waves and increases beta waves, leading to restlessness and irritability. When you meditate, your brain slows down and releases alpha waves, which promotes a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Theta waves go up and stimulate the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits agitation.
Mindfulness meditations for anxiety can help you get back in touch with your personal power and break negative thought patterns. Meditating on your strength and capability to face life’s challenges makes it easier to keep your cool in the face of failure. Coaching yourself with positive affirmations during meditation heals perfectionistic behaviors and self-doubt. Changing the way we view ourselves through loving-kindness meditations helps us feel less anxious about our flaws and facing problems in the world.
Easy Meditation Techniques for Anxiety
Here are a three easy ways you can use meditation to heal your anxiety:
- Deep breathing: When you’re dealing with an anxiety-inducing situation, focus on counting your breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and count backward from five as you exhale.
- Body scanning: Get back in touch with your body by doing a full body scan. Start with your feet: wiggle your toes, stomp, or take your shoes off and observe how your feet feel on the grass, carpet, etc. Then, move to your calves and knees. Do they feel flexible or rigid? Continue on to your hips, and go from there.
- Mentally shield yourself: If you have to be in a crowd or around someone who causes you anxiety, visualize a protective cocoon of white light surrounding your body. Envision the energy and speech of the person[s] around you bouncing off your shield. Use a positive affirmation: ‘I am calm, centered and unaffected.’
Although it’s impossible to get rid of everything that causes us anxiety, we can control the way we respond to our triggers - and by using meditation, we can remain unaffected by life’s many inconveniences.