Anxiety and Stress Management through Mindfulness

Recently I started a mindfulness-based meditation practice in order to help deal with anxiety and the stresses of the constantly busy, always plugged-in, productivity-centered lifestyle that I, and so many others, tend to live in. Now, the first thing many people think when you mention meditation is that it's a bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Or, like me, you might live in a place like Portland, Oregon with yoga studios and natropathic doctors on every corner, and may have heard of some of the benefits of meditation in general. However, for most of us (and until recently, me included) it seems like a big commitment to find time to meditate every day.

For the last year or so I've thought about meditating, but there was always the element in my mind that I didn't have time to go build a shrine, buy candles and incense, learn to sit in a lotus position, and say "Om" for an hour a day, let alone buy into some kind of spiritual belief system. I had heard all these good things about meditation being a centering time where you step outside your normal life to just BE, in the moment, but I was still resistant. So, what turned it around?

Mindfulness and meditation for anxiety

Well, I am the kind of person who worries a lot, and my anxieties can sometimes get the best of me. I've been asking a lot of big questions about my life recently and I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the anxious feelings. It got to the point where I was losing track of what was even making me so upset in the first place. I decided to get some help. I found a therapist close to my house who specializes in anxiety, and on his website he said he emphasized a mindfulness-based approach. I didn't really know what that meant at the time, but I went ahead and made an appointment. Meeting with him and subsequently doing research on the topic led me to trying it for myself, and I've got to say, after a couple of weeks of consistently taking time to be mindful, I have really noticed a difference.

I felt like sharing this because being low-stress is a really important part of maximizing not only your happiness, but your mind and body as well. High stress lifestyles are associated with a bunch of things including weight gain, poor sleep, lack of concentration, and increased rates of heart disease and stroke (but don't let that stress you out!). There are a lot of well-documented methods of reducing stress, and mindfulness has been shown to be one of the most effective. Since stress management is so crucial, and I've been so focused on it recently I'm sure I'll be talking more about this is subsequent posts. This is already getting a bit long though, so I'll finish up just telling you my basic practice I've implemented, and supply a few links that I've found helpful. Here's my practice:

My basic mindfulness meditation practice

  • After breakfast I go to my meditation space (my basement bonus room)
  • I light a stick of incense (cause I'm kind of a hippie, and it's good atmosphere)
  • I set up my pillows so I have good back support 
  • I take some deep breaths and just try to focus on my breathing for a couple of minutes
  • I play one of the longer guided meditation recordings provided by UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center and follow along with the practice
  • Once it's done (approx. 20 minutes) I open my eyes, do some stretches and then go about my day
Nag Champa always helps...

This really has made a huge different in my outlook because I know I can come back to a focused, aware state if I ever start to get too stressed. The basic practice is one of listened to your body, focusing your attention on what you are feeling, hearing, smelling, sensing, thinking or experiencing in this very moment without placing judgement on any of it. Just being.

I'll go more into the specifics of mindfulness practice, benefits, research and my experiences with it in later posts. Thanks for reading!

Mindfulness Links

Here are some awesome links to check out if you want more information on mindfulness:

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