So in 2016, I made it my mission to take on this Anxiety Monster once and for all. (Not realizing that thinking of it like that doesn’t help, but I had to start somewhere.) I thought I would list the things that have helped, but realized that would make this entry (even more) ridiculously long. So I will be going over one thing that has helped me in each entry in the hopes that it perhaps helps someone. I will also be sharing links to stuff I’ve used (everything in bold italics is a link). This brings us to #1 – Meditation
“Meditation Lite” – Videos and Apps
As my fellow anxiety peeps (heeey!) can attest, the internet can be quite the dangerous place for us. We all know what it’s like to get a strange symptom, google it, and quickly be convinced we’re dying of some horrible disease that we will suffer horribly from. Well, this search engine story has a good ending.
Early in my anxiety battle, I googled “how to get rid of anxiety”, and discovered Barry McDonagh. He sells a program called “Panic Away” (which I never purchased). I think he also sells a book on Amazon. Anyway, I found his YouTube videos were quite soothing (it helps that he has a calm voice and a nice Irish accent). Also, a lot of his strategies make sense, although some seem extreme when you’re terrified of everything, but THEY WORK. For example, he suggests in the midst of a panic attack to play out the worst thing that could happen, to ask your anxiety to get worse, and guess what? That makes it go away, I know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true! I still use his gratitude exercise to this day, although I no longer get panic attacks. There’s also an interview with a doctor that’s very good and very calming.
Once I discovered Barry’s guided meditations helped me, I started looking for more. I then discovered The Honest Guys on YouTube and they were life-changing! They are great for beginners to listen to, because they are guided. The speaker has a soothing voice and a British (?) accent (what is it with the accents :)? They currently have 329 videos, so there’s something for everyone. They have everything from relaxing music, to sleep meditations/talk-downs, to nature sounds. They even have a headache relief meditation that actually works. They also have sci-fi stuff and stories based on The Hobbit book/movies.
I used to listen to these YouTube videos/meditations as much as possible. For example, I’d make a small mistake at work, crazily assume I was about to be fired, and every sound, look, conversation, you name it, sent me over the edge. I’d want to go to the hospital because I couldn’t feel my hands, it felt like my throat was closing, and my heart was racing so fast I could feel it throughout my whole body. I’d go lay down in my car and listen to a calming meditation and almost all of the time, it helped. I’d go back to work still somewhat stressed but if someone sighed or something, I wouldn’t go straight to freakout mode. I still listen to a couple of the Honest Guys’ Daily Affirmations every day to start my day off on a positive note.
The only problem with listening to the YouTube videos away from home was that it would kill my data plan and drain my battery. So I started looking for apps to use. Headspace was a cool one, but after the first 10 sessions it’s no longer free, and the plan was too expensive for me. But it’s a great place to start if you want to learn the basics of meditation.
Another great resource for a meditation app is Calm (which is my favorite). Calm has 7 days of “beginner meditations”, but also a lot more guided ones for free. On the paid version, they have a deeper 21 day, anxiety, gratitude, happiness, stress management, and so many more. They have some that can be as short as 3 minutes, all the way up to one that is 30 minutes – your choice, it’s basically the same meditation but can fit the schedule of someone on the go. They also have wonderful nature sounds and combo nature sounds/music to play in the background, and the images for the sounds/music are just beautiful! They also have “sleep stories”, which can help lull you to sleep. I use this app every single day. It also helps that they track your progress and you get congratulated when you keep up with it daily (yeah motivation!).
Meditation events have been pretty awesome for me, because I get to go out and socialize with wacky, awesome, and kind people, and care for my brain (and experience some pretty incredible stuff that would need it’s own blog entry). Shelly Tygielski has a free guided meditation on Hollywood Beach, Florida every Sunday morning that people really seem to enjoy. I’ve only been to that one once, though.
An event I adore and have been to 4 times so far is Rich Gausman and Samantha Marcum’s ॐ Reiki – Crystal Bowl Sound Healing – Gong Waves ॐ at PS Yoga Studios in Oakland Park, Florida. That event is donation-based, but they suggest $10. The pic I put in this entry was taken there.
I’m sure they have events like these (and many other kinds) in most areas.
“Meditation Medium” – Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice I try to cultivate in my daily life. It basically entails trying to be “present”, which means being where you are instead of in your head. This is immensely helpful for anxiety sufferers, as we tend to spend most of our time in our head. How many times have you driven somewhere, only to realize you were on auto-pilot and remember nothing about your drive? You were in your head. When I’m driving, I try to notice the colors of all the trees around me, the colors of the road, the signs and stop-signs, I marvel what an awesome invention my car is, and so on. It makes my drive so pleasant and I feel so appreciative and less stressed out.
I discovered Palouse Mindfulness and was really amazed by the fact that it was free. This mindfulness/meditation practice was originally taught in hospitals, and patients saw remarkable recovery not just from mental stress, but reductions in their illnesses (even cancer) after completing this program. I think it’s still taught in hospitals, but they also teach this course in California (CEOs, Silicon Valley geniuses, etc. attend). Everything that is taught in that course is available completely free online in an 8-week format. You don’t even have to give them your e-mail or anything. You do, however, need to be dedicated to do this program. There are videos to watch, articles to read, and guided 20-30 minute meditations to follow daily. They also want you to keep 2 “journals” for your progress which you also fill out daily. I only got up to week 2 and plan on starting it up again some time, but those 2 weeks were 2 of the best of my life and I never felt calmer and happier.
“Meditation Level Expert”
All of these practices have led me to the point where I can do unguided meditations on my own. The thought of that seemed weird and scary not that long ago. I used to try everything to not be in my head and would distract myself as much as possible. Now I look forward to my Me Time. It is a loving act towards myself to take care of myself in this way.
There’s a huge misconception that meditating is all about clearing the mind. There are so many forms of meditation, but the one I do is simple. I just close my eyes and focus on my breath (you can count, or repeat a mantra, or whatever you’d like). I prefer to listen to nature sounds, music or even white noise because even minor noises distract me. So, as I’m breathing, the thoughts come. I (try to) welcome them, not pay much attention to them, and envision them floating away. I give them a label, and have discovered the majority of my thoughts have the same label (I’m kind of cataloging and organizing my thoughts, but not storing them anywhere). If the thoughts don’t float away, I don’t berate myself (which is sometimes a challenge). When I’m meditating more often or for longer periods of time, the “spaces” between the thoughts get bigger. Sometimes I experience pure bliss or even visions in those moments (those rock!). Mostly though, I just feel OK.
The purpose of this meditation is not a “quick fix” for anxiety. I don’t do it once and then feel amazing (although that can happen). It’s more like it teaches me not to give much attention to those annoying thoughts. As anxiety sufferers (heeey!), I think we get stuck in those negative thought loops. One thought can lead to another, or we can ruminate on the one, and pretty soon we’re down the rabbit hole like Alice, stuck in Crazy-not-Wonderland, knowing what we’re thinking is unlikely and illogical and irrational but.. What if? It’s a terrible place to be, like your thoughts are running the show and you’re just along for the (worst ever) ride.
So meditation, for me, has not quelled or snuffed out those thoughts completely when I am in The Real World (not mediating, I mean), but now they’re softer when they do come. I don’t fear them. When that usual thought pops up in The Real World that I’ve recognized so many times in meditation, I can sometimes laugh and say to myself, “There I go again, creating scary fantasies” or “Yup, freaking out over something that probably will not ever happen”. In those moments, I know how free I truly am. When the anxiety was really bad, I feared I would never live a normal life and didn’t think this could ever be possible.
Meditation was the start of my journey, and was used in conjunction with many other tools. I will share the next one soon. 🙂