Meditation and Managing Anxiety

Above: the meditation fountain my sister and I got my mom for Christmas.

     It has recently come to my attention that some of you are interested in hearing about my meditation habits. I’d like to preface this by saying that I am absolutely not an expert, and these tips and ideas are simply things that have worked for me, from my own personal experience. They might not be right for you, but if they are, all the better! I first started meditating as a way of coping with/ managing my anxiety. I do not use medication to manage it, for personal reasons, although I do not have anything against those who do. As Amy Poehler says in her fantastic book Yes Please, “Good for you, not for me.” Because of that, I have had to find other ways to manage my anxiety, and meditation has been one of them. Right now, my anxiety issues are often linked with my body in some way. For instance, the most common cause has to do with my blood sugar. Basically, whenever I get low blood sugar and start showing symptoms of that (i.e.: shakiness, lightheadedness, nausea) I begin to panic because I have a distinct fear of throwing up. And that’s when the anxiety just takes over and makes things way worse than they need to be. (This usually results in violent shaking and an inability to calm down on my own.) 

So my therapist and I determined that I needed to find a way to head the anxiety off before it gets out of control. There are two things I do when I start feeling anxious. 

1) I eat some Triscuit crackers and drink some water, because many times what I’m feeling is my body’s way of telling me that it needs nutrition. 
2) I meditate. 

My therapist recommended this amazing app called Virtual Hope Box, which you can get on your phone, tablet, or iPod, and it has seriously become a life saver. It is divided into four sections, to be used when you are feeling anxious: Distract Me (which includes a bunch of distracting puzzles and games to completely get your mind off of your anxiety), Inspire Me (which has almost 100 inspirational quotes to lift your spirits), Coping Tools (which has an activity planner and coping cards), and Relax Me (which has five different guided meditations). Relax Me is my go-to coping tool when I start feeling anxious, especially when I’m somewhere new and uncomfortable. My favorite meditation is the Forest Meditation, because I love to go for walks in the woods, and have fond memories of doing so. Therefore, a four minute meditation in which you are instructed to visualize yourself walking in the woods works pretty well to calm me down. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been really working at these meditation practices for the past 5-6 months now. I typically do the Forest Meditation every night before I go to sleep, and usually end up half-asleep by the end of it. The biggest thing about meditation is this: practice makes perfect. My therapist told me this when he first recommended the Virtual Hope Box app. If you want to rely on meditation as an anxiety coping mechanism, you really do need to practice. It’s like this: when you get anxious, or have a panic attack, everything becomes much scarier and a lot harder to get under control, right? Therefore, for a meditation to work, you need to have practiced it many many times. You need to have felt the calming effect of it when you are not anxious, in order for it to calm you down in the heat of your anxiety. I’ll be completely honest here: in recent months when I’ve been in the middle of an anxiety attack, I have not used meditation to pull me out of it. This is because when I get really anxious, by the time I think of meditation, I'm too far gone for it to work. Instead, I’ll watch TV or YouTube videos, because I KNOW that pure, mindless distraction works to pull me out of myself and calm me down immediately. I have, however, used the Forest Meditation (to much success) when I’ve felt a little inkling of anxiety before going to sleep, either at home or in a foreign place. 

I will say that I was not a stranger to meditation before the Virtual Hope Box. I’ve practiced yoga semi-regularly since I was about 16, which has a meditative quality during the “Shavasana” or corpse pose, at the end. What I mean to say is, I’m used to it. I would definitely recommend trying yoga as a way to get into meditation, although the guided meditations in the Virtual Hope Box app work really well too. Basically, there’s no one way to get started. For instance, my mom never really connected to the Shavasana in yoga, and instead practices meditation for 30 minutes each day simply by sitting in her room on a mat, with her iPad timer set. Everyone’s different. You just have to be willing to try to find what works for you. Mental health is seriously important, albeit undervalued, in this day and age. I think everyone would benefit from putting themselves first more often, and thinking about what’s right for their body and mind before anything else. It definitely takes practice, because it is ingrained in us to behave in the exact opposite way. But it’s definitely worth the time and energy.

So that's about all I have to say on meditation and managing anxiety, at least for now. If anything I've said in this blog post helps even one person out there, I'm happy. I hope you're all having a great week! 

-Fran