How Meditation Helps Me with Anxiety
There’s a deep stigma that comes with mental health issues which makes whatever you are suffering feel even more paralysing.
By JEANNIE SHAW
Mental Health Issues
My first real encounter with anxiety was about 8 years ago. Now that I understand what anxiety feels like, I realize that I’d had it before. Perhaps it was not substantial enough to make an impact. When I truly got the sense of what it was and how it affects the body and mind, I found myself at the drug store seeking pills to help calm my nerves.
A dear friend of mine who is now a certified therapist and Quantum Healing Hypnotherapist suggested it at the time. Til then, I was not fully in touch with the highs and lows of these kinds of afflictions. “If you have an ailment in your body, you’d take a Tylenol without a second thought”, she said. “Why not take something for the pangs of low level thought processes that are leading to anxiety?”.
There’s a deep stigma that comes with mental health issues which makes whatever you are suffering feel even more paralysing. Not only are you in anguish over it, but you’re embarrassed to tell the tale. And the turmoil exasperates.
Asking for a Friend
Well, it got the best of me. I could hardly breathe. My body felt like it was near to exploding from stress. And it was all thoughts – imagining worse-case scenarios. Oh what a wonderful film maker the mind can be. So cinematic and theatrical. All characters in their most flamboyant presence. And here I am, the audience, completely and devastatingly engaged.
I gave in. I needed help and the feelings were too much for me so finally I made my way to the pharmacy. I felt embarrassed to ask fearing that it was a clear indicator of a “weak mind”. The bouts of panic and overwhelming negative thoughts were overpowering me and I had to make a choice – it felt like breathe or be swallowed up in the theatre of my mind. Never to be seen again. Dramatic much? I know.
I summoned the courage to ask for what I needed, after explaining a bit of the backstory to the pharmacist. After all, I needed to justify that I’m not crazy. If only you knew… the roads I have travelled dear sir. You would take these pills too. Unmoved and unperturbed, he proceeded to package and give me the pills – afterwards I thought I could have just said “asking for a friend”.
Cannabis Would Be My Go-To
I was anxious about a conversation I had to have with someone very dear to me. I didn’t know where to begin or how to say it. It would change one of the ways we dealt with each other forever and it would mean the end of a long time venture. During this time, the pill was my rescue. And, it worked. Since anxiety isn’t something I deal with on a daily basis, I just needed it to get through that one episode.
There are people, however, who deal with anxiety on a daily basis and either medication has adverse effects on them or they just don’t like medication as a long-term remedy. Some people also turn to cannabis. If I were to rely on any form of medication, cannabis would be my go-to.
“The bouts of panic and overwhelming negative thoughts were overpowering me and I had to make a choice – it felt like breathe or be swallowed up in the theatre of my mind. Never to be seen again. Dramatic much? I know.”
Fast forward to years later when I became very close friends with someone I’ll call Maria to protect her identity. Maria suffered from anxiety on an almost daily basis. Whereas my anxiety finds me in times of stress over very specific things, hers would find her over what would appear to be minuscule details of life to the average person. Even though I had become aware of my own anxiety and had some idea about it and what it can do, I had never suffered it on a daily basis outside of what I would consider to be major issues.
Maria and I would spend countless hours on the phone or messaging so she could process her fears and feelings. Sometimes all it took were conversations and pep talks. Mostly, I’d just listen without judgement. It created a safe space for her to share anything at all. While it helped her, it also taught me about how to create a safe space for others and appreciating safe spaces for myself. To this day, I feel like I could share anything with her and she would not judge me for it.
Maria is one of those people who medication affected adversely. Some prescribed medication can lead to even darker thought processes, cause drowsiness or other effects in the body.
“Maria and I would spend countless hours on the phone or messaging so she could process her fears and feelings.”
How Meditation Helps Me with Anxiety
Besides having access to pep talks and a non-judgmental listening ear or medication of any kind, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to navigate anxiety is through the practice of mindful meditation.
Yet, I can tell you that in the abyss of the most tumultuous anxiety attacks, meditation might be the last thing on your mind. But, if you just give yourself a chance, it can truly work.
Many years ago, I was just sitting watching life go by. I suddenly became aware of my breath, almost as if it were separate from me. Then I realized it was me.
It was the life energy – the “I am”. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. It was my essence, spirit manifested in this vessel. Breath is the movement – life force and our bodies are the outfits, traversing this earthly plane making our way moment by moment through all these ups and downs. Connecting to that breath is a form of meditation.
Practicing meditation on a daily basis will help to regulate your anxiety attacks. Once you master it, your body will learn to react positively to it for the most part. It’s like training a child, a dog or a muscle.
Eventually, your body understands that you (your higher self) are going to take control of the vessel. So as the mindful breathing begins, your body learns that the small me (your personality) is no longer in control. And, if you sit there long enough, the anxiety starts to fade. Sometimes you may find that you need to meditate a few times a day to get through it. Sometimes, one time for the day will be enough.
If you’re new to the concept of meditation and how it works, here’s a video on how to meditate and a sister blog post if you’re someone who prefers to read.
“I suddenly became aware of my breath, almost as if it were separate from me. Then I realized it was me. “
No Choice but to Sleep
If you can trust in the blissful connection to your breath, meditation will see you through. And, trust me, I’ve had moments where it feels like nothing will soothe my loud and rambunctious anxiety.
My experience is that it starts as a small bubble in your tummy til it fills your entire abdominal space. If it continues, it can flood to your chest and throat and even cause nausea or headaches. It can make your heart feel like it’s beating out of your chest. Anxiety can stifle your breathing and physically bring you to your knees. It’s as if it has a life force of its own that overthrows you.
Imagine if you will a kingdom (you) and the enemy (an army of endless soldiers) climbs over every wall, breaks through every chain and obliterates every guard in your castle. If I were to paint a picture of anxiety, it would resemble that.
I’ve had moments where I felt like I couldn’t fight it and there I’d find myself, feeling defeated and out of resources. Either I’d cry so much and have not another tear to give or my body would become so exhausted, it has no other choice but to sleep.
“Anxiety can stifle your breathing and physically bring you to your knees. It’s as if it has a life force of its own that overthrows you.“
Ride The Waves
Again, I will admit that there are times that I was so low, I just couldn’t bring myself to meditate. In those instances, I would just ride the waves as they are. When they would swell up to their full expansion, I just let them have their way with me. At some point, there will either be no more tears or my body will give in for a rest. And a nap is a great reset button.
2020 has been quite a year and there’s an overlay of energy that can take its toll on you whether you see it or not. If you feel like you’ve tried meditation and it just didn’t work for you, consider taking long walks (preferably in nature where there are lots of trees and foliage.) Walking releases feel-good endorphins that serve as natural painkillers. You may enjoy also taking your shoes off, connecting to the grass, the ground or taking a walk along the beach and allowing the water to splash up against your bare feet. In these tiny moments that seem fleeting, your mind goes into another zone. And in those few seconds where you are distracted, you give God a chance to touch base with you.
Remember that mental health affliction is something that almost everyone will go through at least once in their lifetime. You are not alone and there is no reason to feel shame. Whatever your ailment is, seek professional help where needed and try building your mindful meditation practice so that you can have a daily dose of connection to your breath (your higher self/Source/God).
“Again, I will admit that there are times that I was so low, I just couldn’t bring myself to meditate. In those instances, I would just ride the waves as they are. When they would swell up to their full expansion, I just let them have their way with me. “