I am considering medication to help manage my stress and anxiety, but before I make a decision, I’d like to explore all my options. What are some holistic approaches to help lessen my anxiety and stress levels naturally?
In American culture, we are starting to hear words like “Mindfulness” and “Meditation” more frequently in our everyday lives. It is no coincidence that as our society becomes more demanding, that we are searching for ways to cope with increasing levels of stress. We all have become so connected technologically through e-mail and social media, but we are so disconnected personally.
Our daily experience is one of constant distractions, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, etc. We do not allow ourselves the time to reflect and check in with ourselves mentally and emotionally. It should be no surprise that anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54).
So let’s take a look at what mindfulness meditation is and how it can help alleviate stress and anxiety. At the core, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us or within us. Medical researchers are discovering that the benefits of mindfulness meditation to our physical and mental well-being are astounding. Through this practice, we can reduce stress and anxiety while improving our self-talk, creativity, memory function, focus, and compassion.
A recent study by Dr. Elizabeth Hodge a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders found that mindfulness-based stress reduction programs help to lessen anxiety in individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Mindfulness teaches people to recognize thoughts and emotions for what they are, simply energy, and it allows us to create space from our thoughts and provides us with time to think before we react. Those who suffer from anxiety struggle with thoughts that are distracting and hold too much power, so cultivating the mental strength to be present in each moment can be a powerful tool.
Mindfulness meditation is the daily practice of sitting quietly to experience each moment as it arises. If you are interested, try this meditation practice:
Sit comfortably in a quiet place free from distractions with a straight spine, and chin slight turned towards your chest. Close your eyes and take five slow deep breathes. This will help to trigger your brain’s natural relaxation response.
Now allow yourself to breathe naturally and bring your focus to your breath, feel the cool air on each inhalation and the warm air on each exhalation. Allow your thoughts and feelings to come and go without attachment. Do not control your thoughts or follow them, just acknowledge them and return your awareness to your breath. This act alone of recognizing thoughts and bringing your focus back to your breath strengthens brain function and resiliency.
Meditate in this way for 5 – 20 minutes or whatever is most comfortable for you. It is more beneficial to meditate for 5 minutes each day than an hour every two weeks. Daily practice is an essential element of effective meditation.
During mindfulness meditation, the goal is simple awareness, nothing else. Through this practice, we are allowing ourselves the time to connect with our inner-self and let go of the things and roles we get caught up in during our daily lives including, work, parenting, responsibilities, and concerns. It may be that your meditation is relaxing and peaceful one day and confusing and full of obsessive thought the next day. Regardless of the result each meditation session, daily meditation is a positive process that helps us to connect with ourselves and the world around us.
Colin Albro, LGBTQ Program Assistant
The Cortland LGBTQ Center, a division of Family Counseling Services