Stress and anxiety are everyday responses to the demands of daily life. Stress and anxiety can manifest physically through difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and altered digestion, among others. These may be signs from your body that you need to reduce daily stressors and find healthier ways to cope.
Meditation may be a very helpful tool for those looking to find new coping methods for stress and anxiety.
Meditation is an intentional practice to train concentration, achieve present-moment awareness, and to quiet the mind and body. Meditation allows you to let go of everyday distractions and focus on the present. While meditation may promote feelings of relaxation, there is a difference between the two. Meditation requires concentration and practice over time to truly make a difference.
Individuals may have their own reasons to meditate, but the goal is to increase one’s ability to focus and to be present. The world is full of distractions: emails, news headlines, social media notifications, and advertisements. With meditation, you can minimize the negative effects and stress associated with these daily distractions and learn to embrace the present. This not only relieves stress in the moment but may lead to an improvement in overall health.
The main health benefit of meditation is an improvement of your mental and emotional state.
As family medicine specialist Sarah Zaman, DO of Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health notes, this can directly improve physical health as well.
“Along with a healthier emotional state comes increased activation of the parasympathetic, or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system, which moderates energy use. This can improve one’s physical health all-around, including an improvement in digestive health, lower blood pressure and heart rate, which is linked to a state of relaxation and improved cardiovascular health.”
Meditation can help manage and alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety by increasing mindfulness and silencing intrusive or racing thoughts. Once you become mindful and observant of your own reactions and thoughts, you can begin to understand yourself and have more control of your reactions to stressful situations.
In moments of high stress or anxiety, people often need different meditation practices to help calm them down. Even focused breathing can be highly effective.
There are many different types of meditation. While many imagine meditation as sitting cross-legged on the ground in silence, the practice can also incorporate breathing techniques, visualizations, and repeating mantras. Regardless of the method you choose, the desired result is the same.
Below is a simple breathing exercise you can try in moments of high stress or anxiety:
Close your eyes and concentrate on the physical sensations that arise throughout your body. Focus your attention specifically on your chest wall and abdomen as it moves with each intentional breath.
- Take a slow, intentional deep breath for 6 seconds
- Hold at the top of your breath for 1 second
- Exhale slowly for 6 seconds
- Repeat for at least 10 breaths
During the first few meditation sessions, you may find yourself restless or easily distracted. This is perfectly okay, and a common reaction for beginners.
“It is very natural to feel distracted during meditation, and that is the point of practicing this skill,” says Dr. Zaman. “When my thoughts begin to drift, I make note of the thought and let it pass without getting frustrated. Not being critical of oneself is key to being able to do this successfully.”
Keep in mind that meditation requires practice and patience. If you have racing thoughts while meditating, acknowledge the thought but do not stay with it; gently let it go and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Even with a busy schedule, 5 minutes of meditation per day can go a long way. Many people meditate first thing in the morning, during lunch, or right before bed. It’s important to find time in your day when you aren’t in a rush. If your schedule is overwhelming, consider setting up a daily reminder to meditate on your phone.
If you’re curious about whether meditation is making a difference in your life, be observant of your regular behaviors. Take note of your stress levels and observe how your reactions to everyday challenges change over time. If you find that a certain meditation practice isn’t working for you, you may want to try one of the different types mentioned above.
Several free phone apps are available that offer thousands of meditation guides. Among the most popular are Mindspace, Calm, and Insight Timer. In addition to guides, these apps also offer meditation music, workshops, and personalized timers to keep you on track during a meditation session.
Always remember, your journey into meditation can begin anywhere and at any time.