Meditation for Anxiety: 10 Exercises to Overcome Anxiety
Anxiety in the Modern World
We’ve all felt anxious at one time or another: approaching someone you find attractive, speaking in front of a crowd, or starting a new job.
So we all have some experience with how it feels to be anxious. But for some people, anxiety is crippling, and it stays with them permanently, not only when entering scary situations. In fact, many people have to deal with anxiety every single day.
Anxiety affects around 1 in 14 adults around the world yet only 1 in 3 receives any treatment.
It can destroy our wellbeing, increase stress hormones, and lead to heart attack and stroke. It also weakens our immune and respiratory systems, leads to headaches, depression, and insomnia.
Throughout this post I’ve included extracts from people who courageously spoke to me about their anxiety. A huge thank you to all of those people.
Whether you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or are experiencing the kind of anxiety that we all deal with, these 10 exercises will help you to feel more relaxed.
You can also get the meditation starter pack totally free which will help you to start meditating even if you are busy. Download it by clicking on the button below.
Meditation For Anxiety
If we want to experience less anxiety in our lives, we have to take action. Reading this post is not enough if you don’t act. I’ve included 10 techniques that we can use to reduce feelings of anxiety. So take a few notes and think about how you can apply some of these techniques in your daily life.
But most importantly, don’t suffer alone. Make sure you reach out to friends, family, and medical professionals if you think that you are experiencing anxiety. Remember that only one third of people actually seek help.
Meditation helps with anxiety for a number of reasons:
- Helps us regulate our emotions
- Reveals to us that we are not our thoughts
- Improves our ability to let go
- Enables us to catch thoughts before they gain momentum
- Provides us with the tools to cope with anxiety
- Counters the stress response with relaxation
- Teaches the brain to respond calmly instead of with worry or stress
- Changes the physical structure of the brain
“The adrenaline that courses round me in terror makes my limbs weak. I feel it in every joint and lie under the duvet clicking my toes, wriggling my feet, rotating my ankles. It’s never over anything in particular. At night I’m anxious about being anxious.I’m worried about not getting enough sleep to cope the next day. But I try to avoid reactive medication like diazepam when I can, because it leaves me like a zombie the next day.”
Claire, St. Albans.
10 Exercises and Meditations for Anxiety
Here are some tools that we can use to help ease our anxiety. Some of these are meditations, some are relaxation exercises, and others are simply techniques we can use in daily life.
Experiment and see what works best for you. Meditation should be seen as a long-term strategy, to use every day, whereas something like deep breathing may be more of a quick fix solution.
You can use these techniques daily as prevention but you can also use them during hard times to reduce anxiety.
Remember this is not professional medical advice and always consult your doctor before making any significant changes in your life.
1. Deep Breathing
Let’s start with the simplest exercise. Lie down on the ground and take some long, deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Try to breathe deep into the belly. Often we breathe into the chest, especially when anxious.
Deep breathing into the belly quickly promotes the relaxation response. It may also help to place your hand on your belly and feel the abdomen rising and falling as you breathe. Practice for about 5 minutes.
Use this as prevention, but you can also use this when anxiety starts to appear. No doubt, you’ve heard this advice many times, but the big question is, do you remember to do it? Because most people forget to breathe deeply when the anxiety starts to appear.
Labeling anxiety can have a powerful effect on our state of mind. When we label our negative emotions, they become far more manageable.
A UCLA study exposed four groups of arachnaphobics to a tarantula. One group said, “I’m anxious and terrified,” while other groups were told to say positive affirmations, talk randomly, and approach silently.
The group who labeled their anxiety exhibited the least physical symptoms of fear and were able to get closer to the tarantula.
Putting feelings into words reduces emotional reactivity and activity in the amygdala, helping us to feel calmer and more in control.
So when anxious thoughts come up, don’t be afraid to say, “I am anxious right now.”
3. Body scan
Bringing the attention to the body can have a powerful effect on reducing anxiety.
Scan the attention through the body, starting at the feet. Allow your awareness to rest entirely in the feet and then let the feet relax.
Scan all the way up the body to the top of the head, bringing attention to each body part and relaxing.
Spend extra time in the stomach because anxiety often seems to have a physical manifestation in the stomach region. Watch the physical sensations and see how the emotion begins to dissolve.
There is a guided body scan included in the meditation starter pack, which you can download below.
“On a bad day, I can’t go out of the house and just have to stay in. I clean the house instead of going to work because I’m scared people are going to judge me if they come round and see the mess. Sometimes I feel like people are talking about me, saying things about my hair or my clothes. I always imagine the worst. My parents died when I was young, so I have this constant sinking feeling that bad things are always happening to me and will continue to do so.”
4. Focus on the breath
This is the most fundamental of all meditation techniques and is used by almost every tradition that practices meditation.
Focusing on the breath directs attention away from thoughts and gives the mind something to do.
Start by taking a few deep breaths, then stop controlling the breath, and just feel it in the nose as it comes in and out of the body.
When the mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.
Try to avoid getting frustrated. Instead congratulate yourself every time you come back to the breath and mentally affirm, “success.”
Visualization is a process where we imagine a scenario in our mind’s eye. Visualization has the power to completely transform your state of mind and is now used in all sorts of fields to build a mindset of success and calmness. There are many kinds of visualization, but here is a quick example:
Imagine you are sitting by a great lake watching the reflection of the moon in the lake. Every thought causes ripples to form in the water’s surface. You see a few ripples, but slowly they begin to disappear and the surface of the lake becomes completely still.
This process helps us become calmer, to become aware of the thoughts, and feel the deep peace that lies underneath all of the mental noise.
6. Watch your thoughts
You can do this one by itself or as part of another meditation. It works well after focusing on the breath because then the mind is quiet enough to notice the thoughts.
Pay attention to the thoughts that pop into your mind. Whenever a thought comes, watch it, accept it, and let it pass without getting lost in it.
See the thoughts floating by like clouds in an Autumn sky. This will help you see that you are not your thoughts, that you are not your mind. You are the silent witness, ever quiet, ever peaceful.
7. Counting meditation
This is a great introductory meditation technique that helps quiet the mind with counting.
Sit down on the ground or in a chair. Inhale, and then as you exhale, count 1. Inhale again and as you exhale, count 2. Count on each exhalation, all the way up to 10, and then start again.
By giving the mind something to do, we can experience the stillness that lies beneath the surface. After counting, sit for a few moments of stillness and allow yourself to be still and relaxed.
It would start with a sensation, a throbbing in my left arm perhaps. I’d recognize the sensation and start over-analyzing it. My chest would get tight. Then I’d feel a surge of fear and impending doom. Right through my core. My heart rate would rise. I felt like I was losing control. Like I was having a heart attack. I wanted to run and scream for help. But I would just pace around my room, checking my pulse, pulling my hair. I was hyper-aware of my breathing. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes I thought I was going to black out. I couldn’t feel my legs and I didn’t know who that person was in the mirror.”
Jonny, St. Albans
When it comes to anxiety, there are not many processes more powerful than journaling. If you can write for a few minutes every day that is ideal, but if not, just write when your feelings of anxiety come up.
How do you feel? Be completely honest. Why is it that you feel this way? What is causing you to suffer? You don’t particularly need to find a solution, but you may find that solutions come when you begin to write these things down.
Write as much or as little as you want but try not to be too negative, or to complain more than necessary. You should feel better after you write than you did beforehand. If you start off in a negative way because you are upset, try to write things that will make you feel better as you continue. There is always a blessing in every challenge; sometimes we just have to dig a little to find it.
9. Positive self-talk
We often allow our minds to run off in whatever direction it chooses, into negative and limiting, or even critical beliefs.
But if we consciously choose to flip this upside down, and choose positive thoughts, we will feel a great deal happier and less anxious.
So take a few moments to think of all the reasons you are amazing and all the things you love about yourself. Congratulate yourself for having made it this far through the wilderness.
This life is not easy. So give yourself a break and remind yourself how awesome you are, and how far you have come. You could even write down all the reasons you are grateful for yourself.
10. Mindful living
One of the best ways to combat anxiety is by living in a way that is conducive to happiness and that eliminates anxiety.
Be sure to exercise a few times a week. This immediately cuts anxiety in half in my experience.
Eat well, try to serve others, and be kind. Try to practice positive thinking instead of allowing your mind to drift off into limiting subconscious thoughts.
Live slowly, meditate, and try to look after yourself in every way. Spend time with positive people and people who uplift you.
Avoid coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs that may affect your wellbeing.
And as you go about your day, try to be present. Be aware of your body, your breath, your surroundings, and get out of the mind.
These are some of the most powerful techniques for overcoming anxiety that I have found. I would love to hear how you get on with them.
Do you have any other powerful techniques for dealing with anxiety? Leave a comment below and share a technique that has helped you deal with your anxiety.
I have found that meditation is the best long-term strategy for overcoming anxiety. If you need some help getting started or feel you need the extra guidance, download the starter pack below, and I will try my best to support you with your practice.