Why Meditate For Anxiety Disorder Recovery
Last updated: July 27, 2020
Over the 12 years that I have worked with AnxietyCentre.com, I have recommended to hundreds of anxiety disorder clients that they begin a meditation practice if they haven’t already. An estimated 65% of those clients take my enlisted advice and begin to meditate in a way that is helpful to them.
But what about that 35% who find it so difficult, or uncomfortable, or who think it’s just not necessary for their anxiety recovery?
Can they still recover and not practice meditation?
Well, let’s think first about what we mean by “meditate.” I’m not talking about a meditation retreat, where people meditate for days, sometimes in total silence. That type of meditation would be unrealistic for our purposes and can actually be harmful to some people. I’m talking about a practice that would take just minutes per day.
I have always told my clients that we do not necessarily mean a spiritual meditation, though that could be beneficial. What we mean is to purposefully set a time and place where they intentionally breathe slowly and deeply, put their thoughts on something neutral or relaxing, and relax their muscles.
Most people find that instruction a permission-giving invitation to do something that they secretly have been wanting to practice anyway. I say secretly because many anxious people are driven to accomplish things and feel guilty if they allow themselves time to relax and just “chill.”
It often touches on what we call a misbelief (an underlying factor often associated with the development of anxiety disorder). The misbeliefs include thinking that they are lazy if they haven’t completed their “to do” list before they relax or take time out for themselves.
It includes misbeliefs that we can keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny, just pushing through our body’s signals that we are overworking it, or even worse, not even being aware that our body is giving us such signals.
Relate to this description yet? I am sure that a good percentage of you do relate. These are common misconceptions, especially in our North American Cultures, but also in many other cultures that value doing over being, performance, and achievement over who we are.
These various cultural and personal values have developed sometimes for good reasons. Perhaps that’s what it took to survive a difficult season in life. Perhaps we set a worthy goal and worked hard to achieve it, e.g. starting a new business, completing an educational goal, providing for our family through a hard time. Those are worthy efforts.
The problem with those noble efforts often lies with the fact that we don’t realize that those “pushes” are for a season and not intended to be for a lifetime or even a long season. The problem also often lies with trying to live our life like it is a sprint rather than a marathon.
Pacing and rhythm are so important for our physical, mental, and relational health. We need times of rest and recovery to follow times of activity. This is really not an option if we wish to live a healthy, long life and to build and maintain healthy relationships over the long haul.
This is where meditation comes in. It provides us with a time of rest and recovery for mind, body, and spirit. The deep, slow breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that is in charge of the “rest and digest” response.
The opportunity to slow down our thinking gives us a time to be in the present moment rather than thinking about the past or the future, our regrets, or our worries or plans.
The space to relax our muscles gives our body the opportunity to recover from the constant demand for action and tension. It gives our body the opportunity to communicate to us in a space where we are listening and paying attention rather than ignoring it and pushing it past our limits.
Yes, we have limits. Perhaps that is the first concept that we push back on when meditation is suggested. In this era of being a “superhuman,” it may be difficult to realize and admit that we indeed have limits.
To slow down and allow time for rest and recovery means we cannot say “yes” to everything. It means that we must say “no” to some things and to some people.
This may trigger another “underlying factor” that must be addressed while attempting to begin a meditation practice. “What will others think of me if I say ‘no’ to them and I just lay there relaxing instead?” Perhaps they will think, “That is a great idea…maybe I can muster up the courage to so some of that as well!”
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So, to answer my initial question, can people still recover from anxiety and not practice meditation? Without this rhythm of activity and rest, it is doubtful whether the body will tolerate constant, long-term activity and “pushing” without rebelling in some sort of fashion. That may be anxiety, anxiety symptoms, or some other sort of pain or dysfunctional, out-of-balance manifestation.
So how can we begin a helpful meditation practice, especially when it is difficult to make oneself even slow down for a moment? There are many ways to meditate, but I will give a few suggestions here.
One place to begin, for those who resist slowing down for various reasons, is to begin with a walking meditation. You won’t even have to stop moving for this one! It means that when you are walking, you are taking in a few deep, slow breaths and exhaling slowly.
You are paying attention to your senses more than your thoughts as you move along in a walking meditation. You pay more attention to your feet on the ground, to the various sounds around you.
In this type of walking, it is not helpful to stop and talk with people. Just let them go by, no need to make eye contact or engage in conversation, just move on and keep listening to the sounds, feel the temperature and the breeze, pay attention to your breathing, notice how your body feels, but without judging any of those things. They just are what they are.
If there is traffic, there is just traffic noise; it’s not good or bad, it just is. If there are birds, then just listen to the bird sounds, they just are. If your many thoughts want to grab your attention, do your best to let them come and let them go; this is not a time to plan your day or review a past interaction.
Another principle for those that have difficulty beginning a meditation practice is that A MINUTE COUNTS! When I first begin coaching a person for anxiety recovery, I do set a goal for them to meditate for twenty minutes, two times per day. That is the initial goal. Many people will not reach that goal for weeks.
If meditation is new behavior for you, it will likely take a while to build that habit of meditation. You may begin with three deep, slow inhales and lengthened slow exhales a few times throughout the day. That counts! As with a good exercise habit, you will want to challenge yourself to increase the minutes in meditation/relaxation as you move along in order to accumulate better and better benefits.
A personal Coach or Counselor/Therapist can help you adapt your meditation practice specifically to your personality, your daily habits, your unique barriers. The benefits will eventually be numerous:
- being able to relax your tired, tense muscles, may decrease pain that has accumulated over time
- developing deeper breathing habits may increase the effectiveness of the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange in your lungs, and may decrease things like dizziness or tingling that may have crept in due to shallow breathing over time
- being able to be more in the moment, may improve your sense of peace as well as benefit your relationships, your ability to be more patient with others, to be a better listener
- being able to slow down your racing thoughts and notice more of what is going on around you and inside you, may increase your clarity, creativity and your sense of peace
- decreasing the tension and worry that often comes from the inner critic, may help increase self-acceptance and acceptance for others
These are just a few of the numerous beneficial fruits that may develop from a regular meditation practice. There are numerous helps available for meditation today, many more than when I first started working with AnxietyCenter.com clients.
Several can be found in our store, at https://anxietycentre-store.com/. I do recommend narrated meditation recordings for the novice meditator until you are well-practiced in guiding your own relaxation process.
An AnxietyCentre.com Coach/Counselor/Therapist can also tailor meditation recommendations to your particular needs and preferences. So take a moment and breathe, begin to develop a rhythm of activity and rest in your daily life. Though you may struggle at first, the long-term benefits will be worth it!
Read research about the benefits of meditation:
- Meditation – A Silver Bullet Remedy For Anxiety And Stress
- Meditation Reverses Changes In DNA That Cause Stress
- Meditation Changes The Brain In 8 Weeks
Recovery Support members can read more about the benefits of meditation in the articles, “The Important Benefits Of Regular Deep Relaxation,” and “Deep Relaxation - A silver bullet for anxiety and stress” in chapter 14.
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