In the United States alone 7 million people live with chronic daily anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s way of trying to deal with unending worry and stress. With meditation a person can learn to accept these worries and maintain a sound perspective on the imperfections and irritations that exist in anyone’s life.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation has seen a surge in popularity over the past few decades, but as a set of techniques designed to encourage an increased sense of awareness and focused attention, meditation has existed for thousands of years.
Originating in India, the practice was soon adopted and adapted in neighboring regions, often being incorporated into local religions. While it started in India, meditation is most commonly associated with Buddhism. The majority of Buddhists live in China, but the religion is popular in other Asian countries, most notably Japan, Vietnam, and Korea.
Meditation initially was tied to gaining a better understanding of the mystical and sacred forces of life. Much more recently meditation is less about religion and more about relaxation, stress reduction, and attempting to gain an inner peace. Meditation is now a consciousness-changing technique that is thought to contribute to a number of psychological well-being benefits.
Typically, during a meditation session a person focuses their attention to eliminate the stream of confusing and meaningless thoughts that often enter the mind. This clearing of the mind can bring about both emotional and physical calmness that results in a reduction of stress.
In short, meditation refers to discovering how to focus and pay attention in order to to slow down and view life and the world without imposing judgment. For people experiencing generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, meditation can help reduce troubling and worrying thoughts, thereby bringing about feelings of focus, calmness, and balance.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Only recently has the concept of mindfullness become affiliated with meditation. Mindfulness is the uniquely human capability to be fully present — for people to be completely aware of where they are, and what they’re doing, while not being overwhelmed or needing to react to things going around them.
Meditation is often portrayed as entering a trance-like state, but that isn’t really what happens in any type of meditation — including mindfullness meditation. There is certainly an element of calmness and peacefulness that takes place, but there’s also an awareness. When practicing this technique you should focus on becoming aware of the present moment — you’ll try to understand your thinking process and emotions you’re experiencing, and identify tensions within your body,
Neda Gould, the associate director of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Anxiety Disorders Clinic explains that mindfullness meditation is “about paying attention in the present moment” in a nonjudgmental way. And doing so without obsessing about the past or dwelling on what might happen in the future.
Practicing mindfulness meditation isn’t complicated, and doesn’t require any special training. It actually only involves a few steps that anyone is capable of performing.
- Begin by sitting in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes and breathe in your normal manner. You shouldn’t try to adjust your breathing to some “correct” way, but instead just pay attention to each breath — mentally observe your how your body responds each time you inhale and exhale.
- You’ll be unaccustomed to focusing so deliberately on just one small action of your body, so you may feel the urge to shift your focus to external events. Resist this temptation and instead continue to focus solely on your breathing.
- Anxious and somewhat uncomfortable thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. You should acknowledge your awareness of these thoughts, but at the same time be able to snap yourself back to focusing only on your breathing.
- Calmly continue this silent, nonjudgmental observation for approximately 10 minutes.
- Finish by opening your eyes, and take notice of how you feel. In keeping with the nonjudgmental philosophy of mindfullness you shouldn’t try to evaluate or process how you feel, but instead simply become aware of how you feel.
Mindfulness Meditation Treats Anxiety
Anxiety often involves focusing on what are referred to as future stories — the frequent “what ifs” that come to mind as you anticipate all the often negative outcomes that might occur an hour, day, or week from now. Questioning and anticipating what one of a thousand possible outcomes may occur causes distress and anxiety.
When you feel anxious, your mind becomes consumed and overwhelmed with possibilities. But the future isn’t reality — it hasn’t occurred yet, and in a sense doesn’t exist. Most of your fears of the future never come to pass. You want to keep your focus on the only true reality — the reality of what is taking place right now. This is what mindfullness meditation attempts to accomplish — allowing you to live in the here and now.
Being mindful allows you to acknowledge difficult feelings without encouraging, suppressing, or analyzing them. When you allow yourself to straightforwardly acknowledge your difficult thoughts, painful memories, irritations, and worries, they often become easy to dispense with them — there’s no need to dwell on them, as the simple acknowledgement of them can be enough for them to slowly dissipate and drift away.
By calmly becoming aware of the upsetting and difficult thoughts and feelings that enter your mind, and by not expending energy judging and fighting them, you will effortlessly gain insight into the issues that cause you stress and anxiety. By not putting effort into “solving” events and problems that haven’t even yet occurred, you gain freedom and develop a sense of appreciation for the calmness of the reality of the now — of the moment.