Meditation and Anxiety

By Gabby Wnek, LCSW*

I want to start off with a story that I tell a majority of my clients about meditation and my journey with it. Meditation can seem very intimidating. I share my story so that your experience with meditation is easier and less scary than mine was, if you choose to play with it.

I was in California, in a pain clinic that was teaching physical therapy work and meditation. I was in a room of about 8-10 fellow anxiety and pain sufferers lying down in what looked like sleeping bags, tucked in like a caterpillars in cocoons. The psychologist started doing a guided meditation without a script and told us to focus on the feeling of “sinking” when you exhale, the “ahhhh” feeling. After about a 30 seconds of this exercise my first thought was: “WE ARE DONE, RIGHT???”. Being someone that was a tight ball of anxiety, with million thoughts running through my head, and lying there in pain, it felt like torture. I thought I was not going to explode. The worst part of it, is that he kept going. I do not remember how long the meditation lasted. It felt like it lasted for 12 hours when in reality we may have done 10-20 minutes.

Meditation is a skill. It takes time to learn and master. You do not become strong in the gym over one day. It took me a year and a half twice a day every day to be able to do a 45 minute meditation.

This is how I tell clients to start to meditate if they wish to:

Place a timer on your phone for 10-15 seconds. The key is to start with a short duration of time. If there is high anxiety in your system you will not able to do anything more than a short period of time. The goal is to build your capacity to breathe and concentrate on your breath. For those 10-15 seconds your job is to focus on your breath and every time that you have a thought or are distracted by something else come back to your breath. It is going to feel like you are playing ping pong in your mind going back and forth. That is very normal. If you start to feel frustrated with the process, that is also very normal. Remember: patience! It will become easier for you. Once you feel comfortable with 10-15 seconds slowly start to increase your time.

Myths of meditating:

1.) I have to turn off my brain and thoughts!

NOPE! Meditation is about being aware of your thoughts, not holding onto them, letting them go, and returning to your breath.

2.) I have to sit when meditating!

NOPE! I learned to meditate laying down. You do have to be careful with that so you do not fall asleep.

3.) I am not good at meditating!

There is no single wrong or right way to meditate. However your practice is, is how it is supposed to be. Practice and patience is key.

4.) Meditation takes such a long time!

Not necessarily. Meditation can be as short or long as you want it to be. I use the Calm app and do the daily calm meditations in the morning that are about 10 minutes. Stopping and breathing for a minute a couple of times during your day can be a meditation practice.

Benefits of meditation:

Meditation is one of many practices that can be very helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms. It is also a great way to become more mindful in your everyday life. You do not have to spend hours meditating to feel the benefits. The key is to be as consistent as you can. Happy meditating!

1Sharma H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233–237.

*Gabby sees clients out of the Yorkville office