For our second episode and post, we’re answering a question we received on Instagram. The question asked what to do when we have anxiety arising WHILE we are actually meditating. This is a great question, and happens to a lot of us. Sometimes, we find ourselves experiencing more anxiety during formal meditation practice than we do in everyday life. First, it can be helpful to understand why this is perhaps happening. Often when this happens, we’re noticing an underlying anxiety that is being suppressed in some way. It may not be intentional or your fault; we are constantly stimulated in our lives by sounds, things to do, sights, and the multitude of experiences we have every day. When you sit in meditation, you are minimizing these stimuli and the unpleasant experience of anxiety may seem heightened and obvious. It can be helpful to understand it so that we don’t take it so personally or identify with it so strongly.
When you do find yourselves in this position of anxiety, there are a few things you can do. First, you can tune into the experience and see how it feels. Generally, an emotion is a combination of a sensation in the body and a pattern of thinking. Can you tune into how the anxiety actually feels in the body? Perhaps you can feel a tightness in the chest, some stomach tension, or some energy in the limbs. See what you can physically feel in the body and tune into the sensations. You may also notice that the mind falls into a specific pattern of thinking. Often, it’s a pattern that is repetitive and rapid, but see what your experience is like.
Tuning into the anxiety like this can sometimes be overwhelming. Another method for approaching the anxiety is to respond with compassion. You can use simple phrases of compassion such as, “May I care about this anxiety.” When we respond like this, we are re-training the mind to not react so strongly with aversion. As we respond repeatedly with compassion, we’re able to be with the anxiety without so much resistance. The habit of the mind when we notice anxiety is to respond with hatred or aversion; as we practice responding differently, we’re able to meet the experience without adding additional suffering to it.
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