What to do when you’re anxious Now

Meditation is a great way to decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety.  These symptoms often begin “in the head” when the mind starts to dwell on regrets about the past or worries about the future, so it makes sense that learning to stay in the present will help.  Meditation is a long-term solution, which leads to a calmer presence and less physical and emotional reactivity.  I recommend it to anyone who will listen.

The trouble is, I am often suggesting this long-term solution to people with a more immediate problem.  Studies show that regular meditation can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety within a few weeks, but in the meantime they are still popping up during work or social interactions.  Besides taking time to work, formal meditation also isn’t a practical way to reduce anxiety in real-life situations.  We can’t just sit down and meditate for 20 minutes whenever we feel stressed or overwhelmed.  That’s usually frowned upon in business meetings!

There are ways to use meditation techniques for faster results, however.  These tools are simple and portable, and can even be done around others without attracting unwanted attention.  The two meditations below are based on the principles of mindfulness, which quickly guide us back to the present moment.  In that space, worries and regrets are recognized for what they are: simply thoughts, not reality.  These “quick fixes” will be most effective when used as part of a formal meditation practice.  Try the longer version first, to become familiar with the technique, then use the quick fix as needed during daily life.

Practice 1: Find Solid Ground.  Helps with physical symptoms of anxiety or stress.

Why this works: The mind reacts to uncomfortable physical symptoms of anxiety by dissociating or detaching from the reality of the present moment.  This practice re-establishes the mind-body connection, firmly grounding us in the present.

Longer Practice: Find a comfortable seat in a chair and gently close your eyes.  Follow your breath for a few rounds, then allow your focus to shift to tactile sensations in your feet.  Become aware of sensation in the soles of the feet as they rest on the ground.  Conversely, notice where the solid ground is rising up to meet your feet.  Let go of any thoughts or stories, and gently direct the mind back to the sensation in your feet whenever you become distracted.  Pay particular attention to feelings of solidity and support, becoming absorbed in the groundedness of your feet on the earth.  Rest here in sensation for 10 – 20 minutes.

Quick Fix: Start by inhaling deeply, then exhaling slowly through your nose.  Focus awareness on the sensation of your feet touching the ground.  Feel the heels, the balls of the feet, and each toe resting on the earth.  Recognize the support of solid ground rising up to hold you, feeling the strength of your connection to the earth.

Practice 2: See What’s Real.  Helps with feeling overwhelmed, frazzled or caught in repetitive worries.

Why this works: When we are stuck in worries, we are distracted from the present moment.  This practice reconnects us with the physical world and returns the focus to what’s real.

Longer Practice:  Sit comfortably with your eyes open.  Take a few breaths, focusing on the sensation of air moving through the nostrils.  Allow your eyes to rest on a prominent object in your visual field, such as a tree, if outdoors, or a piece of furniture.  Scan the object slowly, noting details of color, texture and movement.  Describe it fully in your mind until this feels complete, then move to another object, scanning it in the same way. Slowly take in everything you see, moving from object to object.  Return your attention to naming what you see whenever your mind becomes distracted.  Notice what’s around you in this way for 10 – 20 minutes.

Quick Fix: Inhale deeply, and exhale slowly through the nose.  Then open awareness to what you see around you.  Choose one object of focus, describing its color, texture, and every detail with complete attention.  Whatever you see, allow it to completely fill your vision, attentive only to what you take in with your eyes.  Feel yourself present in this setting, aware of everything around you.

With regular meditation, it’s easier to notice when we are ungrounded, or distracted by thoughts.  Then we can use these techniques to reconnect before symptoms of anxiety or stress become overwhelming.  Eventually we won’t need to rely on quick fixes, because they will be a normal way of staying present for life.

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