Everyone experiences stress and anxiety. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so let's take a look at a
healthy way to manage symptoms: meditation.
It’s how we respond that can make all the difference. Some people will get grumpy. Others will reach for a drink or a cupcake. Some will try to take a pill to relieve their discomfort. Then, there are the options of going for a run, taking a nap, going to church or reading a book. You can see a therapist, say a prayer or have a talk with a friend.
The point is, we all have our ways of dealing with stress or anxiety—some that are healthy and others that are ultimately destructive short-term fixes.
And meditation for stress and anxiety is just another tool at our disposal.
While millions of people around the globe already embrace the benefits of mediation for stress and anxiety, there are plenty of us who are skeptical. After all, how could doing what seems like nothing make us feel better?
Happily, there’s evidence to back up the claim. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, reviewed nearly 50 trials that they considered to be well-designed and found that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain.
Here’s how it works, as explained by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
She calls those “unproductive worries” and says that mindfulness and meditation work because they disrupt that thought cycle, bringing you to the present moment and reality.
Convinced at least enough to give it a try? Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, has created a series of guided recordings that are available for free at www.mindfulness-solution.com.
But there are plenty of other ways to get started. You can find a therapist who’s trained in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. You might want to try an app like Calm or Inscape. If you’re more of a reader, Goodreads has a list of top books on meditation.
You can even just lace up your tennis shoes and head outside for a walk. As you take your first few steps, notice how your body feels. Don’t rush to judgment; just observe.
Take in what’s going on around you. Spend about 30 seconds to notice what you see—the shapes, colors and movement. Then take about 30 seconds to notice what you hear—the birds, cars or dogs barking. Finally, take the same amount of time to notice what you smell. Finally, take time to observe what you feel—the wind on your face, the sensation of the ground under your feet or the sunshine.
Continue walking, while noticing everything around you. Try not to actively think about what you see; just take it all in. When your mind wanders off, simply refocus on the rhythm of your steps.
Being meditative and mindful is a skill that improves with practice, but here are a few techniques to get your started, courtesy of PsychCentral.
• Practice being mindful during routine activities like emptying the dishwasher or brushing your teeth.
• Take a moment to be mindful right when you wake up (you could do this while brushing your teeth if you’re in a rush or take a moment to sit down and meditate).
• Keep it short. Instead of trying to meditate for an hour a day, strive for short bursts of a few minutes.
• Practice mindfulness while you wait. Instead of getting frustrated while waiting in a line, practice noticing your breath.
• Pick a cue to remind yourself to take a few minutes to meditate. It could be taking a sip of water or walking down a hallway at work.
• Keep working at it. With time, you’ll get better at being in the present moment.
While mindfulness and meditation can be great tools to ease the anxiety and stress of everyday life, it’s also important to recognize that there are times when we all need professional help. If you’re experiencing panic attacks or if worry interferes with your daily activities, there’s no reason to try and tough it out. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.