Meditation for Anxiety

By Tergar Meditation Community Team • 5 min read

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Everybody knows what it feels like to experience anxiety: the shortness of breath, racing pulse, rushing thoughts, and so on. Indeed, you may be more familiar with these sensations than you’d like to be! And by now, you have probably noticed that those with anxiety are often told to try meditation. But how does meditation work for anxiety?

Does Meditation Stop Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural experience. So, the basic idea is not to eliminate it but to cultivate our ability to simply be present with it — and even make friends with it! Training in awareness through meditation changes our relationship with anxious thoughts and feelings, and allows the anxiety itself to transform.

It will take a while for this change to take place as you strengthen your recognition of awareness. An easy place to begin is to meditate with less emotionally-charged objects, such as the five senses.

What is the Technique?

When using meditation for anxiety, it is often helpful, especially at first, to combine a couple different approaches. One method is to direct your attention to some other perception you might be having at the same time (for instance, a smell or a sight), which shifts your attention away from the anxious feelings until they are less acute.

Another method is to make the experience of anxiety itself the focus of your meditation. To do that, simply observe the various sensations that arise along with the anxiety. Think of it as sitting by a river, watching the water flow by, and it doesn’t matter whether the water is calm or wild, full of junk or crystal-clear. And if you notice that you’ve gotten swept away by your thoughts, that’s great! The moment you notice, you are already back in a state of meditation.

“My anxiety accompanied me like a shadow, but when I got to know it through awareness we became very good friends.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Feeling Worse and Feeling Better

Before you turn to meditation to cope with anxiety, it’s important to keep in mind that at first, observing the various sensations that come with it may make them seem even stronger. That’s totally normal. Try it for a short while, even just a few seconds. If you feel overwhelmed, no problem. Simply shift to the first method by focusing on another sensory perception, such as a sound. Explore toggling back and forth between the two approaches in a single session to see what happens.

Use Support

It’s good to use support for your meditation. “Support” isn’t something that is meant to facilitate an escape from anxiety or to block it out, but rather to help you become more stable and present with whatever you are feeling. A common support is the breath, but you can use anything that works for you, like the ambient sounds in your environment or the sensations of your body, whatever they may be.

MEDITATION FOR Anxiety

  1. Take a meditation position: keep your spine loosely straight and let your body relax. If you find that you can’t relax, just allow that to be true — that in itself is to be relaxed! You can gently close your eyes, or leave them slightly open; whichever feels most comfortable.
  2. Direct your attention to your physical sensations.  Begin by noticing any sensations in your forehead, and move down through your body. Whatever you feel is fine, whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant, or nothing in particular. Just lightly notice and be aware of it. Then, at your own pace, move your attention throughout your head and face, down through your neck and into the shoulders. Gently notice whatever sensations you encounter, and allow each part to lightly relax as you bring your awareness to it. Move your attention through your arms to your wrists, hands, and fingers. Then move it down your back to your belly, hips, legs, into your feet and all the way down into your toes.
  3. For the rest of the session, be lightly aware of the sensations throughout your entire body. There’s no need to precisely identify, focus hard on them, or change them. Just let them rise naturally to your awareness, and allow yourself to be relaxed and present with them. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions can come and go freely — as long as you remember to notice your physical sensations, your meditation is going fine.
  4. It’s normal to quickly get lost in feelings, thoughts, and so on. But as soon as you notice that you got distracted, you are already back in awareness! Gently return your attention to your breath. Let this process continue over and over, with short intervals of awareness repeated many times — aware, forget, aware, forget — for the duration of your session. Every time you notice that you were distracted, you’re strengthening your meditation practice.
  5. To end the session, open your eyes and just rest for a few moments. Take in the environment around you, the sights and sounds. If you like you can rotate your shoulders, or wiggle your fingers and toes.

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More Resources

Befriending Panic

Watch this short video “Befriending Panic”, where Mingyur Rinpoche describes his own experience of meditating with panic attacks, and shares a simple guided meditation.

Intro to Meditation

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Do you want to try meditation, but don’t know how to start? This free course is specially designed for beginners, and takes only a week to complete.

About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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