Roughly 14 percent of Americans meditate — a number that’s nearly triple the mere 4 percent in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And its popularity is only going up: The meditation market value is set to double from $1.2 billion in 2017 to $2 billion by 2022.
None of this is surprising when you consider mindfulness can improve pretty much every aspect of your life. For starters, people who practice mindfulness are better able to regulate their emotions. Because of this, studies show that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, prevent depressive episodes, control stress, and increase self-compassion and body satisfaction. Mindfulness also helps boost your brain, improving focus and information retention and reducing the power of distractions.
Mindfulness also encourages healthy behaviors , like getting regular health check-ups, exercising, eating healthy, and cutting back on nicotine and alcohol. It can also help lower blood pressure (probably thanks to stress control) and improve cardiovascular health (mostly from helping people quit smoking).
But, as everyone who has ever tried to sit on the floor, quiet their anxiety, and clear their mind knows, meditation is really effing hard to get into.
Chances are, you’re overthinking it — for starters, you’re not supposed to clear your mind, but instead just allowing thoughts to come through judgement-free. But there’s another potential roadblock: Some people actually feel more anxious when they’re supposed to be relaxing. Here’s how to know if you have relaxation-induced anxiety (yep, it’s a real thing) — plus how to be mindful even if you’re anxious. WTF Is Relaxation-Induced Anxiety?
It’s worth noting that a lot of people for whom meditation will eventually help, initially feel uncomfortable and antsy in their early sessions. Often, that’s because people are under the impression their swirling thoughts should stop when they meditate. When they don’t, the spiral of questions and thinking continues, which can exacerbate the anxiety over “not doing it right,” explains Jasmin Terrany , a Miami- and New York-based psychotherapist and mindfulness and meditation coach.
“Whatever thoughts and emotions arise within, that’s what is inside you at that time. The challenge people experience is that they are actually dealing with those things directly during mindful practices instead of distracting or self-medicating not to feel it, which can make it all feel more overwhelming and challenging,” says Terrany.
But a recent study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found people who are more sensitive to shifts in negative emotions — that is, those who have a hard time calming after a stressful meeting, or coming down from being scared — feel more anxious when they’re lead through relaxation exercises like mindfulness and meditation.
It’s called relaxation-induced anxiety and anywhere from 17 to 53 percent of adults experience it, according to an older study out of the University of Cincinnati.
It’s similar to what happens when you’re wired or experiencing insomnia and try to force yourself to fall asleep — the harder you try and relax, the more frazzled you get, says mindfulness expert Beverly Conyers, author of Find Your Light: Practicing Mindfulness to Recover from Anything .
If you’ve read every beginner’s guide to meditation and still can’t seem to get the hang of it, you may simply be neurologically predisposed to prefer more adrenaline-fueled relaxation activities (more on that later) than tranquil ones, says Manhattan-based psychologist and elite performance coach Ben Michaelis, Ph.D.
It likely has something to do with dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in reward, motivation, memory, and attention, he explains. “Although we are all driven by it, some people, often high performers, may have more of this neurotransmitter or may be more sensitive to its effects,” Michaelis says. “If you are one of these people, then trying to ‘chill’ will only make you more anxious because you are fighting your natural brain chemistry.” How to be Mindful When You’re Anxious AF
“Ironically, many of the people who are most in need of some calming relief are the ones whose anxiety spikes when they try to relax,” Conyers says. For our purposes, it doesn’t much matter whether you have official relaxation-induced anxiety or just standard trouble sitting with the uncomfortable feelings when you sit down to meditate — either way, slowly wading into mindfulness and meditation, rather than jumping in deep, can help you build a practice over time. Here’s how:
Start being more mindful. Simple acts of mindfulness are the most approachable way to begin to sync your intentions with your mind. It then has a snowball effect — if you intentionally practice mindfulness on the reg, you’ll naturally become more mindful in all areas of your life which will help you control your anxiety more, all our experts agree. Learning to master your breath, for example, can help calm your nervous system when you’re supposed to be tranquilly enjoying savasana but you’re actually spiraling out about your post-yoga to do list.
Do a full-body scan . The goal of mindfulness is to control and focus your attention to the present moment. Practice micro-moments to help build to bigger ones: While sitting or standing, do a body scan from your head to your feet, Conyers suggests. Release tension by unclenching your jaw, lowering your shoulders, and relaxing your hands. Gently straighten your spine. Soften your gaze as you look forward. Breathe evenly and feel the stress leave your body.
Practice smiling . “Not only does smiling make you feel good, but it actually changes your mental and physical biology, increasing happiness , relieving stress , boosting your immune system , and lowering your blood pressure,” says Kathleen Hall, Atlanta-based stress expert and founder of The Mindful Living Network . Plus, smiling is contagious so you’re also changing the mood of those around you, which inherently will benefit you. Try smiling at every person you say “hi” to — the coffee barista, the office security guard, your boss. It’ll help to reduce anxiety and allow you to move into mindfulness and meditation more readily.
Sweat it out. If you have trouble with tranquility, try a repetitive, […]