Mindfulness meditation is not only a growing practice in Western countries, but has been widely recommended by health experts and fellow anxiety sufferers alike in dealing with stress and mental health issues. The only problems with meditation for anxiety are people with anxiety find it hard to meditate and some who managed to do so gave up few weeks into the practice.
That’s not really surprising considering the mental state that you’re going through in anxiety. With millions of restless thoughts rushing through in seconds and expecting mindfulness meditation to provide the immediate calming effect, it’s only natural that you end up in frustration. Mindfulness meditation is like a planting a seed where you’ll barely notice the difference it made but cultivated over time, strengthen your mind in ways you could never comprehend.
If you’ve been struggling with mindfulness meditation, or about to start practicing because you heard it’s good in dealing with anxiety, I hope you can read this article to the end. It will probably save you the frustration on starting on the wrong foot and giving up a practice that will be beneficial to not only our mental health but other aspects of your life in the future.
The word mindfulness is derived from the word ‘Sati“, an ancient Pali word widely used in Buddhism. The problem with understanding mindfulness in the modern English language is we only focus on the definition of being attentive in the present. A misconception among beginners is the notion that one must focus all their attention on the present and any slip of thoughts and worries destroy the moment of mindfulness.
This is not particularly true, as mindfulness also reflects the non-judgmental aspect of our consciousness. This is what I personally view as critical in coping with anxieties. The thing is, it is easy to focus our attention on the present, but it takes hours of consistent practice to develop a non-judgmental mind and disassociate emotional reactions from negative thoughts. Most beginners gave up before they develop this mental habit. If you need any examples of mindfulness in daily life, check out Mrs. Mindfulness’ blog here.
I’ve got to be blunt here. I’ve seen so many beginners checking out meditation articles online and end up with one of the most misguided instruction, “Clear your mind of all thoughts” or “Empty your mind“. I’ve mentioned countless times that it can’t possibly happen when you’re still breathing and alive. This opinion is also shared by various meditation teachers and experts alike.
The goal of mindfulness is never about emptying your mind like a blank canvas. Imagine your thoughts like a stream with an endless flow of water. What happens if you insist on putting a huge boulder in the stream, hoping to block waters from flowing? The stream would eventually overflow and eventually pushes the boulder off. Attempting to block of thoughts often backfire when the mental pressure builds up.
So what do you do when you can’t stop thoughts?
The idea of mindfulness meditation for anxiety is not about stopping your thoughts. But learning to let the thoughts flow naturally without being judgmental and attachment. In short, you stop providing energy to negative thoughts that could cause a vicious endless cycle of anxiety. I may be straying off topic but I do strongly believe that thoughts are a form of energy. Check out this interesting article for the relation of thoughts and physical energy.
I’ve always pictured mindfulness meditation as going to the gym to build the perfect abs. Everyone wants to have the perfect abs. But few would go through the strict discipline of consistent diet and workout to achieve that result. The same can be said about mindfulness meditation. Most practitioners crave the calm and blissful relaxation that meditation promises but mistaken the initial practice as a sign of lack of progress.
Here’s the reality. Anxiety, or not, beginners will spend the first few weeks of meditation session lost in wandering thoughts and bringing back their attention to their breathing. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the blissfulness before being distracted again. Without a guiding meditation teacher, you’ll be tempted to give up because you’re convinced that meditation could not relax your mind.
If there’s anything that you can get out of this article when you’ve read this far, is that you are being made aware of the nature of your wandering mind, you are one step closer to developing the ability to calm the mind. As your mind accustomed itself to the new habit of bringing itself back to the present from wandering thoughts, it will wander lesser as you continue the practice, and stay in the present more often. That’s when you’ll feel calm and relaxed.
People with anxiety tend to over-worry in their daily life, sometimes to the extent of crippling their daily activity. That said, it’s healthy to have worries, even if you have managed to overcome your anxiety. Mindfulness helps in identifying and separating valid worrying thoughts from exaggerated worries that your mind is cooking up. Losing a job and worrying about your finances is normal. But letting it spiral to thoughts of permanent financial disaster that you could never recover is a sign of high anxiety.
As you develop mindfulness in meditation practice, you’ll start to notice the gap between your thoughts and the ability to dismiss unfounded worries before they build up in momentum. Again, don’t get disheartened if you are not able to be consistently mindful. It takes years for someone to build up a strong and attentive mind. Although it takes longer than methods like hypnosis to show positive results, it is one method that does not rely on any external mechanism.
If you’re having problems practicing mindfulness to manage your anxiety issues, do check out Aware, a meditation app geared towards anxiety that I’ve personally tried here.
Have you struggled with mindfulness meditation in your battle against anxiety? Share your stories at the comment below. If you think this article can benefit someone you know, please share it around.
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I am an engineer-turned-writer who once struggle with social anxiety. After overcoming problems inflicted by low self-esteem and the fear of interaction, I realize the need for taking a holistic approach in developing our mind. I'm sharing my experience, remedies, and techniques that interest me in my quest to be a better self.
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