If you suffer from anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. and affect more than 40 million adults. Of course, anxiety issues have a range — some people experience minor anxiety from time to time, while for others it’s debilitating.
Wherever you fall on the anxiety spectrum, meditation can help. When we’re anxious, we’re often caught in thought patterns about something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future, not what’s currently happening at the moment. Meditation yanks you out of the past and future and brings you into the present, which can help provide some perspective. Plus, turning your attention to your breath can help you regulate it, and when we’re anxious, our breath is typically a bit uneven.
There are a fews different types of meditations that can work wonders when you’re anxious.
A simple body scan
Michelle Berlin, yogi and meditation instructor, suggests starting with this simple body scan:
Take a comfortable seat. Close your eyes for a few moments and internally ask your body, ” Am I comfortable?” Make any adjustments that you need to really get settled into your seat.
Close your eyes. Completely relax but remain aware. Relax the face, relax the jaw, soften the space in between your eyebrows. Take three deep, intentional breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
After the third exhale just observe the breath as it is, in its natural state and flow. Notice where you feel the inhale most; notice the temperature and texture of the inhale. Then connect to the exhale. Where do you feel it most? Can you feel the subtle difference in texture and temperature? Do not change or alter your breathing. Just observe it.
Now, internally focus on the space at the top of the inhale. Be in that space fully. Then, notice the space at the bottom of the exhale. Be in that space fully. For the next few minutes, be 100 percent present and completely immersed in observing the inhale, the space at the top of the exhale, then notice the exhale and, again, that slight pause in between the next breathe cycle. To close, take three intentional deep breathes and blink your eyes open.
Mantra repetition and concentration
Erica Sergott, a meditation instructor who teaches at Be Time, suggests using the mantra repetition/concentration technique when dealing with anxiety.
Become aware of your natural breath pattern. See if you can identify the sensation of you breath as it enters at your nose and as it exits. Once you have a good feel and awareness of your breath circulating throughout your body, begin to attach a mantra — a short phrase or set of words — to the inhales and exhales. A few options are: inhale: I do my best, exhale: I let go of the rest. Inhale: I am at peace, exhale: I am at peace. Inhale: Let, exhale: Go.
Set a timer for the length of your desired meditation and begin repeating your mantra. If thoughts arise or external distractions pull you out of your mantra, don’t worry. As soon as you notice your mind has wandered, simply reintroduce the mantra once more. You can call your mind back to the mantra as many times as necessary.
A breath-focused meditation
Sergott also suggests a meditation that focuses on breath, as that’s typically the first thing to go when people are anxious. “Sometimes in a stress response, we stop breathing or breathe very shallowly, which disturbs a lot of organs’ natural functions. Think digestion,” she explains. “Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help to cool the mind and restore normal body functioning.”
Here’s the meditation she suggests:
To access your breath, please exhale and release all of your air. Exhale, exhale, exhale. Now, inhale and breathe into your belly and ribs and let your chest expand. Exhale: chest, ribs, belly release. Inhale: breath into your belly and ribs and let your chest expand. Exhale: chest, ribs, belly release. Now moving into our six- part exhale. Inhale: 1, 2, 3. Exhale: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Inhale: 1, 2, 3. Exhale: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Continue several more cycles on your own.
As you continue this breath, observe the wave-like quality of your breath: with every inhale, a wave of nourishing supportive breath washes across the shore of your body, and with every exhale, the tide recedes. Inhale: wave of breath rolls across the shore of your body. Exhale: the tide recedes. Inhale: supportive breath in. Exhale: healing, releasing breath out. We breathe in and we breathe out. Continue this rhythmic breath for about 10 more cycles.