There is no one cause and no blanket fix for anxiety and depression. However, according to studies reported by Harvard Health, scientific discoveries are paving the way for even better understanding and treatment. These studies show that certain practices including exercise, engaging activities, and mindfulness meditation will help most people.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is the process of being in the present for your thoughts, emotions, and what’s going on around you without engaging in them. Mindfulness meditation is taking the time to sit and practice doing that.
You might think that you’re “naturally” anxious or distractable but would you believe it if I told you that mindfulness is your natural state. But like anything else, what we repeatedly do, we become. So rather than thinking you “are” an anxious person, consider that you “became” an anxious person. Now if you could only find your way back to your natural peaceful state — or somewhere in that neighborhood.
That’s where practicing mindfulness meditation comes in and here are 3 ways that it will help.
1. Mindfulness meditation helps to reduce worry and rumination
The mind worries because it’s trying to solve your problems for you. With compulsive, repetitive dialogues with ourselves, we imagine that we’re thinking things through. But not really. Actually, not at all.
One simple exercise you can do now to check me on this is to write down one or two instances where rumination brought about clarity or solutions. I doubt you can find any such instance.
What does help you solve your problems are journaling, talk therapy, support, getting advice, or taking action to do what we’re avoiding or afraid of. By meditating, you will begin to worry and ruminate less and less. Because of the effects that mindfulness has on the brain, yours will change when you begin to worry less. And a changed brain equals a changed individual.
Worry decreases when mindfulness increases.
This works because mindfulness helps you learn to stay with difficult feelings without analyzing or suppressing them. You will learn to let those thoughts just float by as you become aware that wait, worrying isn’t helping me solve my problems.
2. Mindfulness meditation helps to increase self-compassion
Many people who suffer from chronic anxiety or depression have had some form of trauma in their past; some go back all the way to childhood. Emotional neglect is a common type of trauma and its one that comes in many forms. You could have had all the things that money can buy but felt neglected (and therefore traumatized) as a child. For example, if your parents or caregivers didn’t understand you, didn’t spend enough time with you, or there was a fear that you had to manage as a little one on your own.
On the other extreme is actual abuse. Sadly, many of you had to hide abusive experiences suffered at the hands of your parents and caregivers. That silence often leads to shame, blame, and feelings of “not enough” in adulthood.
Meditation can help you escape these mental traps. It can help you distance yourself from fault mode to care mode as you recognize that you’re first, a human being. Your needs were exaggerated. You didn’t ask for too much. But now, as an adult, it is your job to revisit those wounds with help and support to help yourself heal.
Unlike self-criticism which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you.
When you start giving yourself what you need instead of beating yourself up, your anxiety and depression will begin to subside. This is the power of self-compassion. It shifts your focus from ignoring your needs to taking care of them.
One study even found that the self-compassion byproduct of mindfulness meditation even led to a decrease in recidivism rates among criminals who practiced mindfulness. And you know that got me thinking, for every single one of us, there should be some time limit on how long we beat ourselves up for. I’m not even kidding when I say many of you give yourselves sentences far longer than real criminals get, and ironically, YOU were the victim.
3. Mindfulness meditation can increase your energy and vitality
Do you know how much energy it takes to worry and beat yourself up? A lot!
An overactive mind exhausts the body because after all, body and mind are connected. What you do to one affects the other. Worry and negative thinking can cause muscle tension, tightening of the abdomen, and distorted breathing which restricts oxygen from getting to vital organs in your body.
To help you become aware of the energy-draining effects of worrying and rumination, I reluctantly suggest the following exercise.
The Effects of Worrying Exercise:
- For two days, do nothing but worry (or change nothing if you already worry all the time). Three to four times during the day, check-in on your energy level. Jot down how you feel or use a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 to indicate how energetic you feel.
- Then for two days, do the reverse by shutting out all worrying. I suggest creating a list of things to do to mindfully keep yourself occupied. Once again, write down how you feel 3-4 times during the day.
I reluctantly suggest this exercise because I don’t want for one minute to put you through any type of distress, but maybe like me, you like to compare and contrast these ideas. Doing it can definitely drive home the point a lot sooner and more effectively than taking my word for it. So, knock yourself out.
But I already know the outcome so for those of you who are willing to take my word, let me tell you: worrying is exhausting. And not worrying increases your energy. With more energy, you’re going to be more motivated, hopeful, and productive. All feelings that disrupt symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Now let me leave you with some good news! Research suggests that even 5-10 minutes of mindfulness meditation practiced daily can be beneficial. With habits like meditation that reshapes the brain, it’s about consistency more than the length of your practice. It is with consistency that you will retrain your brain and change it (and yourself) for the better.