Who hasn’t fantasized about running away into the quiet of the mountains when life starts to feel overwhelming? Although, there’s no need to join a monastery to benefit from the mindful practices of Buddhist monks. In fact, you can ease meditation for anxiety wherever you are: sitting in your Prius in traffic, tucked under the sheets, or even at your desk before a conference call. This isn’t just going through the motions of “relaxing” — meditation for anxiety works.
In a review of 19,000 meditation studies, researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland found that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. The findings of their research review were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Best Ways to Meditate for Anxiety
“If you have unproductive worries,” 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 said, “you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that — a thought, and not a part of my core self.”
One of Dr. Hoge’s studies found that mindfulness-based stress reduction helped to ease anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In fact, meditation was more effective than a control group, who were simply taught stress management.
It doesn’t take any fancy, expensive equipment or training to start reaping the benefits of meditation. Many lauded meditation experts have made their guided practices available online, and there are simple practices you can try alone. Here are some of our favorite practices to get you started.
Mediate with a monk
Andy Puddicumbe was overwhelmed by life — he actually did run away to the mountains and become a monk. Thankfully, for us, he broke out from behind the monastery walls and created the popular meditation app, Headspace. There, he offers a brief 11-minute meditation for anxiety.
Alternate nostril breathing
You may have tried this technique in a yoga class, though it’s so simple, you don’t need an instructor to guide you through it. Here’s how to do it:
- Hold your left nostril down with your left thumb and inhale through your right nostril. Then close your right nostril with your left index finger, so both are closed, and hold the breath. Release your thumb from your left nostril and exhale.
- With your right nostril still closed, inhale through your left. Now close your left nostril with your thumb, so both nostrils are closed, and hold the breath. Release your index finger from your right nostril and exhale.
That’s one round. Going through at least five rounds to calm the nervous system and foster a sense of relaxation.
Meditate in the RAIN
Tara Brach, Psychotherapist, meditation teacher, and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C., teaches a form of self-compassion meditation called RAIN — an acronym that stands for Recognize, Allow, Investivate, and Nurture. Here, she leads the 20-minute RAIN meditation. She also has other meditations available on her website to help with anxiety, such as a 5-minute Arriving in Mindful Presence meditation and a 10-minute Basic meditation.
With your feet on the floor, imagine breathing into your heels. As you exhale, imagine your breath flowing out through your toes. Your feet aren’t actually moving, but you’re creating a “rocking chair” motion in your brain.
Meditate for self-compassion
Kristin Neff, PhD, is a world-renowned self-compassion teacher. Her TED talk, The Space Between Self-Compassion and Self-Esteem, is worth watching. Her meditations include a 5-minute Self-Compassion Break and a 24-minute Self-Compassion Body Scan.
Meditation for anxiety doesn’t have to take place under perfect conditions. In fact, part of the beauty of meditation for anxiety is that you can use it anywhere — on an airplane, in the doctor’s office, or in line at the post office. The location doesn’t matter as long as you’re starting to feel calm.