457: Can meditation make anxiety worse?
We're talking about meditation, and responding to a listener who asks “can meditation make my anxiety worse?”
What is meditation?
The Cambridge dictionary defines meditation as: “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.
Meditation doesn’t mean trying to think of nothing
Successful meditation doesn’t mean we’ve managed to stop the flow of our thoughts.
It can help to think of meditation as contemplation to bring our awareness to an object of focus.
It’s not possible to stop our thoughts, even for a moment. The practice of meditation or contemplation means we sit quietly and keep drawing our mind back to our chosen object or form of meditation. That might be our breath, a sound, an image, a mantra, whatever it is we’re going to be repeatedly noticing that our mind has wandered and drawing it back.
Why grounding helps
5 senses grounding practice
Find 5 things you can see around you. And name them to yourself to bring them into your awareness. Maybe you see a leaf, the sky, your socks, find 5 things and note them
Next find 4 things you can touch. Your clothing, the grass, a cup of warm tea, bring your awareness one by one to 4 things you can touch and notice them in as much detail as you can. Feel the temperature and texture and describe them to yourself.
Now listen out for 3 things you can hear around you. Listen out for birds, vehicles moving, people talking. What 3 things can you hear? Note them to yourself.
Next find 2 things you can smell: maybe you have an essential oil to hand, or you can detect a smell in the air, some herb tea, your clothing. Inhale 2 scents and be curious and open about them
Finally, acknowledge 1 thing you can taste. Maybe sip some tea or water, or bite into a piece of fruit.
The Challenge with Anxiety and Meditation
A disturbed mind will always fill any space we create with unwanted thoughts. It can feel like anxiety is breaking into the quiet you are trying to create. No-one likes to feel at the mercy of their anxious thoughts and sometimes anxiety breaks in with a lot of energy and disturbance din our mind and we’re going to find it very hard to sit with that.
The fault isn’t with meditation, it’s the high anxious energy in our mind that’s the issue.
Let’s look at some things that can help settle the mind so we can have a more peaceful meditation experience.
Meditation isn’t just what happens when we sit, it’s influenced by the full 24 hours around the time we sit for.
Meditation is affected by whatever stirred our mind up in the time before we try and meditate; that might be caffeine, an argument, reading or hearing some negative news, a health scare, a movie. Anything that stirs up our mind will come to the front when we try and sit quietly.
Meditation needs to be nurtured, like making a beautiful garden we need to take care of the weeds and prepare the soil to plant flowers, herbs, or vegetables. The same is true for a healthy meditation practice.
The good news here for anxiety sufferers is that preparation for meditation also helps calm anxiety, so it’s a very worthwhile investment in our mental well-being.
How to calm the mind by meditation with awareness
Practices like mindful walking or yoga are helpful in calming the mind by bringing awareness to moving and stretching the body, and using our breath to invite a sense of calm presence.
Why Guided Relaxation helps anxiety
Guided practices help settle an anxious mind into the practice, there are spoken directions to follow to keep the mind focused, and relaxing music to support the experience. If the meditation facilitator is experienced, they will know how to direct the practice to help you feel more calm and relaxed.
Guided Relaxation can be used as a support to other forms of meditation.
Choosing a practice that goes beyond the mind
Mantra Meditation Mantra meditation involves softly chanting a mantra and listening carefully to the sound of the mantra.
Meditation beads are used for counting the repetitions of the mantra and to engage the sense of touch.
Ayurveda on meditation and anxiety
Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, recommends we audit our life to focus on increasing a sense of calm well-being. That means cutting out the things that disturb and stir up our mind and increase anything that helps us feel more settled and open to the meditation experience.
Sometimes experienced meditators choose to practice some quiet breathing, or a gentle walk, before they sit in meditation to help them settle into their practice.
These are things we can add into our day, whether we choose to meditate formally or not. In recovery from high anxiety the focus is always on what we can do to feel more calm and in control.