Meditation has been proven to help reduce anxiety and stress by teaching people how to let go of unproductive, negative thoughts and emotions that usually get in the way of living happily and fully. In addition, research suggests that meditation can even reduce pain, so it’s no wonder that many people want to give it a try and learn more about how to meditate to lower anxiety and stress levels. But where do you start?
There are so many different meditation techniques out there, and they can be confusing if you don’t know anything about them!
This guide will help you learn the basics of eight popular meditation techniques and give you some pointers on how to use them to reduce your anxiety and find peace in your life. So try them out and see which ones resonate with you! Or, better still, join my course, From Stress to Serenity on Demand, and learn them all with my personal guidance!
How meditation can help with anxiety
There are many ways meditation can help with anxiety, but it’s important to note that there is no simple solution. What works for one person may not work for another, so experiment until you find a method that matches your personality.
Following are the 8 simple meditation techniques to reduce anxiety.
1) Relax and Be Aware
Learning how to relax doesn’t mean you have to quit your job or stop working; it simply means learning how to look inside yourself and focus on something that helps you calm down. The following is a quick overview of the teachings of Sayadaw U Tejaniya.
Meditation is an incredibly effective way of doing just that. By being aware of your breathing, thoughts, surroundings, etc., you can train yourself to focus on more appropriate things—and as a result, become less anxious.
Right now, ask yourself: what are you aware of? You may notice sounds around you, sensations in your body, or the fact that you are breathing. You may notice if you are feeling tense or relaxed. Can you consciously relax your body a little?
You don’t have to sit with your eyes closed. Relax your jaw and the muscles of the face. Let your shoulders drop as much as possible. Now take slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth while noticing how this affects your level of relaxation. Allow your out-breath to be longer than your in-breath. How does this feel? Relax, and simply be aware of how each breath affects you from head to toe.
Benefits of relaxing and being aware
Meditation is more than just relaxation. It’s a practice that can help us refocus our thoughts when experiencing anxiety. When you meditate, you teach your brain how to let go of external stresses so that you can be more in tune with your surroundings—and yourself. Here are some 5 benefits of relaxing and being aware:
- You’ll feel less stressed. Meditation is a natural stress reliever. It helps us stop worrying about things we can’t control, so we can focus on what really matters in life. When you meditate, you teach your brain how to let go of external stresses so that you can be more in tune with your surroundings—and yourself. Studies have shown that meditation can reduce anxiety by as much as 39 per cent!
- You’ll sleep better at night. Meditation is a great way to prepare your mind for bedtime. It will help you relax so that you can get a good night’s rest, which is essential for your health and well-being. In fact, meditation has been shown to improve overall sleep quality by as much as 65 per cent!
- You’ll be less impulsive. Meditation teaches us how to think before we act. When we are mindful of our thoughts, we realise we don’t have to make decisions based on emotions or cravings. Instead, we can make smart choices that lead us down a path toward success—and away from regret!
- You’ll have more energy throughout the day. Meditation helps us stay focused on what matters most—our goals and priorities—so we don’t waste time worrying about things out of our control or getting sidetracked by unimportant tasks. Studies show that meditation can increase productivity by as much as 46 per cent!
- You’ll be happier. Meditation teaches us how to let go of unbeneficial thoughts, so we can focus on beneficial ones instead. When you meditate, you learn to be present in your life and appreciate all you have, rather than focusing on what you lack. Studies show that meditation can increase happiness by as much as 29 per cent!
2) Cultivate Gratitude and Appreciation
We get dragged down by negativity when we focus on what we don’t have or feel sorry for ourselves because of things that don’t go our way. Gratitude and appreciation are antidotes to anxiety and stress. So start building appreciation into your daily life and enjoy the beneficial effects this practice has on you and everyone around you.
Benefits of cultivating gratitude and appreciation
- Gratitude helps you feel less lonely.
- Gratitude boosts your energy levels.
- Gratitude improves your sleep quality.
- Gratitude makes you more optimistic about life in general.
- Gratitude increases your happiness levels.
- Gratitude reduces feelings of envy and jealousy towards others.
- Gratitude makes you feel more socially connected with other people.
- Gratitude helps you connect with your spiritual side, which can benefit your mental health.
- Being grateful can improve your overall physical health (e.g., lower blood pressure).
- Gratitude helps you focus on what’s going right in life rather than what’s going wrong or what you don’t have.
- Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can be an antidote to depression.
- Gratitude is contagious—when you’re grateful, it rubs off on other people around you.
- Gratitude helps you get more done at work (e.g., increases productivity).
- Feeling grateful towards others makes them like you more and want to help you out in return (i.e., a win-win situation).
- Gratitude helps relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Gratitude can improve your immune system function, which can lead to fewer sick days at work or school—and less time spent worrying about getting sick in general.
- Gratitude reduces physical pain, such as headaches or chronic back pain.
- Cultivating gratitude can help you live longer by reducing stress-related illnesses (e.g., heart disease).
- Gratitude helps you feel more connected with other people in general (even strangers).
- Being grateful for what you have motivates you to keep improving your life situation (rather than give up).
So, gratitude and appreciation can help you feel less anxious and stressed out.
Here are 5 ways to cultivate gratitude:
- Write down 3 things you’re grateful for in your life right now (e.g., people, places, experiences).
- Write down 3 reasons why you’re grateful for each thing on your list.
- Write down 3 ways that being grateful can improve your health and well-being.
- Set the alarm on your phone to go off once per day at random times during the day—and when it goes off, stop what you’re doing and reflect on 1 thing that you’re grateful for at that moment in time.
- Before falling asleep in bed each night, reflect on your day and name 3 things you’re grateful for. Don’t just name them; feel the sense of gratitude in your heart space and enjoy the beneficial effects this has on your sleep.
Appreciation is similar to gratitude but broader in scope. Here are 10 ways that appreciation can help you:
- Cultivating an attitude of appreciation can improve your overall well-being.
- Appreciating what you have makes you less likely to be depressed or anxious (because you’re focusing on what’s going right in life).
- Being appreciative can help you appreciate other people more—and they’ll feel better about themselves as a result of your appreciation.
- Cultivating an attitude of appreciation can make it easier for you to get along with others because there will be fewer conflicts between people (e.g., fewer arguments over small things).
- Appreciating what you have makes you less likely to feel jealous or envious of other people—and they’ll appreciate your positive outlook on life as a result.
- Being appreciative of what you have makes it easier for you to accept your current situation in life—rather than constantly thinking about how much better your life could be if only…
- Appreciating others can make them like you more because they’ll feel good when they’re around you (and want to spend more time with you).
- Appreciating others can make them feel more appreciated as a result, which will motivate them to go out of their way to help others. Can you think of a better way to improve the world?
- Cultivating an attitude of appreciation makes it easier for you to be kinder towards other people—and they’ll appreciate your kindness as a result.
- Being appreciative helps you live in the moment, rather than constantly worrying about what could happen in the future (or dwelling on what happened in your past).
3) Build continuity of mindfulness in your daily life
One of the simplest, most-effective ways to relieve anxiety is through mindfulness meditation in daily life. According to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a pioneer in the mindfulness movement of applying the practice of mindfulness meditation into every moment of your waking life, this involves being aware of what is present in your life, from a non-judgement space of openness, acceptance and interest.
To build continuity of mindfulness in your daily life, regularly ask yourself: ‘What is happening right now? What do I know is happening at this moment?’ Once you are aware of what is present for you, ask yourself: ‘What else is happening?’
As you connect to what is present in your experiences, you begin to establish your awareness or mindfulness. The culmination of regular check-ins in this way builds momentum in mindfulness, which results in the continuity of mindfulness in your daily life.
Benefits of building continuity of mindfulness in your daily life
- You’ll be able to be more aware of things in your life more clearly.
- You’ll feel more calm, relaxed, and peaceful.
- You’ll increase your ability to focus your attention where you want it.
- You’ll be better able to resist impulses that distract you from your goals.
- The quality of your interactions with others will improve dramatically.
- Your creativity will increase, as well as your ability to find solutions in complex situations.
- You’ll be able to deal with change more effectively.
- You’ll feel happier and experience greater joy in your life.
- You’ll develop a sense of equanimity toward whatever happens in your life.
- You’ll experience less stress in your life. And that will help you live longer!
- You’ll develop a healthy relationship with food, allowing you to eat more healthfully without feeling deprived.
- You’ll become more compassionate toward yourself and others because when we can accept ourselves as we are, we can be more understanding of others who are different from us.
- You’ll develop greater self-acceptance, self-confidence, and a greater sense of personal freedom and control over your life.
4) Incline your mind towards calm throughout the day
Making meditation an integral part of your daily routine will help you stay calm throughout the day. Incline your mind towards calm throughout the day. Try it out for a few weeks; stick with it even if you only have time for 30 seconds of quiet reflection a few times each day. You’ll begin noticing an immediate difference in your anxiety levels, and almost immediately you’ll gain more freedom from stress.
Here are the steps to incline your mind towards calm:
- Ask yourself: what is the level of my stress and anxiety right now?
- Consciously relax any tension you feel in your body, and take a few deeper breaths. Ensure your out-breath is a bit longer than your in-breath
- Notice if you are feeling a tiny bit calmer than you were a moment ago. If so, congratulate yourself! You have managed to incline your mind towards calm in under a minute!
- Repeat regularly throughout your day.
Remember that the aim is not to totally get rid of your stress and anxiety. If you could do this, you would already have done it! The aim is to incline your mind towards calm, so anything in this direction is success. The more regularly you practice this, the more your mind will naturally move away from stress and anxiety, and towards peace and calm.
Benefits of inclining your mind towards calmness throughout the day
Meditation can initially seem intimidating, but it’s easier than you think. You can get started with this simple meditation technique for anxiety. Research shows that even a few minutes of daily meditation has many beneficial outcomes: from reduced stress levels to increased energy and improved focus. Here are 10 benefits of inclining your mind towards calmness throughout the day:
- It can help you manage your stress levels.
- It can boost your immune system.
- It can help you get a better night’s sleep.
- It can increase your energy levels throughout the day.
- It can improve your focus and attention span during work hours (and even during meditation itself).
- It can help you become more compassionate towards others.
- It can improve your self-esteem and sense of well-being.
- It can reduce anxiety, depression, and even anger levels in people who suffer from these conditions.
- It has been shown to help with chronic pain management.
- And it can increase your overall sense of happiness and well-being (and isn’t that what we all want?).
5) Cultivate metta or loving-kindness
Loving-kindness meditation, or metta meditation, is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety. In it, you’ll begin by cultivating self-love and then extending that love outward in concentric circles of increasing range.
To start, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and take a few deep breaths. Then repeat the following phrases as you wish yourself well: May I be happy; may I be healthy; may I live with ease. As you say each phrase, smile as you feel warmth and goodwill towards yourself. Silently repeat the phrase three times.
Next, move on to the people closest to you—family members or friends—and repeat the same process. Finally, extend your love outward in ever-widening circles until it encompasses all living beings on Earth. Take a few moments to enjoy the feelings of love and compassion that come from the practice before slowly returning to normal awareness. You can do loving-kindness meditation for five minutes daily or incorporate the practice in your daily life. Wish everyone you see in the streets health, happiness and ease! Let this practice become a part of your life and watch how quickly it reduces anxiety and improves well-being.
Benefits of cultivating metta or loving-kindness
Sometimes known as loving-kindness meditation, metta is a form of meditation for anxiety that focuses on cultivating loving-kindness for ourselves, our family members, friends, acquaintances, and all other beings in our lives. It’s a wonderfully beneficial practice with numerous benefits.
Here are 10 benefits you should know about:
- It cultivates self-love.
- It helps us be more compassionate towards others.
- It builds our capacity for happiness, contentment, and joy in our lives.
- It helps us learn how to love ourselves even when we don’t feel lovable, which is particularly helpful for those who struggle with low self-esteem or negative self-talk (e.g., I’m not good enough).
- It cultivates our capacity for forgiveness by helping us understand that it’s possible to forgive others as well as ourselves.
- It increases our capacity for empathy by helping us recognize that all beings want happiness and to avoid suffering—just like we do—and that they have feelings just like we do.
- It helps us cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, which is one of the most powerful antidotes to anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress.
- It teaches us how to respond rather than react when someone says or does something that triggers negative emotions in us, which is particularly helpful when dealing with difficult people in our lives (e.g., family members, and co-workers).
- It cultivates a sense of calm and peace within us that makes it easier for us to deal with stress, anxiety, and other forms of emotional distress.
- It helps us develop a deeper sense of connection to all beings by helping us see that we’re all connected—and it reminds us that we’re not alone on our journey through life.
6) Practice forgiveness
Practising forgiveness is one of many ways you can reduce anxiety and find freedom from stress. Forgiveness simply means letting go of feelings of resentment or anger toward another person. Still, you may feel stuck if you are unable to forgive yourself for past mistakes.
By forgiving yourself, you no longer need to dwell on negative thoughts about what happened in your past; instead, you can focus on moving forward with a clearer mind. Focus on forgiving others when possible, but remember that first, you must learn how to forgive yourself.
Benefits of practising forgiveness
Forgiveness is very practical. Forgiveness can help improve your health and reduce anxiety, among other benefits. Here are some of them:
- Forgiveness promotes emotional health. According to a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, people who forgive tend to experience lower levels of negative emotions such as stress, anger and sadness compared with people who don’t forgive or who hold onto grudges.
- Forgiveness reduces anxiety. According to a study published in Behavior Research and Therapy, research has shown that unforgiving people are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than those who are forgiving.
- Forgiveness helps you sleep better at night. A lack of sleep can make it harder for you to cope with stressful situations throughout your day, making it even harder for you to fall asleep at night. But forgiveness may help ease anxiety and stress, which could help you get a good night’s rest.
- Forgiveness lowers blood pressure. According to a study published in Health Psychology, unforgiving people tend to have a higher blood pressure than those who forgive easily.
- Forgiveness improves heart health.
7) Finding joy in life. Notice pleasantness in life
When you see someone laugh, enjoy a beautiful sunset, or have a great time with friends, try acknowledging that you’re happy for them. For example, silently say I’m glad for your good fortune; it makes me feel happy as well. This can also be practised when something terrible happens in your life—being robbed, losing an important relationship, or experiencing other setbacks.
Benefits of noticing pleasantness in life
When we find something beautiful, interesting, or delicious, it feels good. That’s because of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. It enhances our mood, sharpens our focus, heightens pleasure—and sometimes even makes us want to do more of whatever it is that we’re doing. It’s like a thumbs-up sign from our nervous system that says keep going!
So here are 5 benefits of finding joy in life:
- Builds Resilience
- Builds Awareness
- Fosters Gratitude
- Strengthens Relationships
- Increases Focus and Productivity
8) Develop your sitting meditation practice
Don’t worry if you’re not good at sitting still. Just sit! Meditation practice is a gentle art, so try out different approaches until you find one that works for you. If your mind is jumping around like a monkey, just watch it without judging yourself—and then gently bring your attention back to your breath.
If you have trouble focusing on your breathing, focus on counting each inhale and exhale. You can also create a mantra by inhaling or exhaling with each breath cycle. This can help you stay focused on your breathing while quieting an overactive mind. Start with five minutes of meditation per day and work up from there as time allows.
Practice these simple meditation techniques, to help reduce anxiety:
- Start by sitting comfortably with your spine straight. Don’t slouch, or you may fall asleep. Close your eyes and relax your body, letting go of any muscle tension. Focus on breathing deeply and slowly from your diaphragm, not shallowly from your chest, as if you were breathing into a paper bag. Keep counting each breath until you reach ten, then start over again at one. Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and breathe out for four counts. Do that for about five minutes every day. This will help you develop concentration so that when you move on to more advanced meditation techniques for anxiety, it will be easier to focus without distraction.
- Once you can meditate for five minutes without being distracted, try focusing on a single object instead of just your breathing. It could be anything: an image, an object like a candle or crystal, even an idea like love or compassion.
- If you still find yourself distracted by thoughts, move on to more advanced meditation techniques for anxiety-like observing thoughts as they arise instead of focusing on them.
- Once you can observe your thoughts without being pulled into them, try meditating with a candle or crystal in front of you. As soon as your mind wanders from your mantra or image, gently bring it back to its focus point.
- If you find yourself getting frustrated that your mind keeps wandering during meditation for anxiety, try counting how many times it happens in one session. Then set a goal for yourself: say, I’m going to keep my mind focused on my mantra for at least two minutes today before I get distracted. Once you reach that goal, increase it by another minute or two each day until you are able to sit still for 20 minutes without getting distracted once.
- Finally, when you can meditate for 20 minutes without being distracted, try combining all of these techniques into one advanced meditation technique for anxiety. Keep your eyes closed and focus on an image or candle flame while repeating a mantra in your head over and over again. When thoughts distract you from focusing on either of those things, observe them as they arise instead of focusing on them. Don’t judge yourself; just accept that they happened, so they don’t distract you any longer than necessary.
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