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Meditating Through the Physical Sensations of Anxiety

July 15, 2018 George Abitante

The physical sensations of anxiety aren't pleasant, but you can work through them. Learn to use meditation to cope with the physical sensations of anxiety here.

One aspect of anxiety that can be challenging is the physical sensations of anxiety. Anxiety is frequently accompanied by the unpleasant side effects of anxiety in your body that can include rapid heart rate, feeling short of breath, having discomfort in your stomach, or even feeling dizzy or foggy. These sensations can make it difficult to work through your anxious thoughts, and can actually exacerbate your initial anxiety. Additionally, if you experience the same physical sensations of anxiety often enough, you can reach a point where those physical sensations induce anxiety on their own, creating a feedback loop that can be very difficult to disrupt. One tool that I've found helpful for working through physical sensations of anxiety is meditation.

Meditation and the Physical Sensations of Anxiety

Meditation encompasses a wide variety of traditions and techniques, but today I will be focusing on using deep breathing and attentional engagement to work through physical sensations of anxiety. Meditation has often helped me when my anxiety involves unpleasant physical sensations, and I hope the techniques I share here will be useful to you too. I recommend starting by practicing these meditations when you are not feeling anxious, and then as you develop confidence in the techniques to start using them when you notice challenging physical sensations accompanying your anxiety. For each of these meditations, begin by taking deep breaths until you feel your body relaxing, then start the meditation of your choice.

Physical Sensations of Anxiety -- Three Meditations

  1. Heart meditation -- This is a meditation I like to use when I notice my anxiety is centered on sensations involving my heart. After you've taken several deep breaths, place one hand on your chest, the other on your neck, and gently feel for your pulse. Pay attention to how your heartbeat and heart rate changes at each inhalation and exhalation and allow yourself to notice the variety of sensations produced by your heart. As you practice this meditation, you will become more accustomed to the natural fluctuations of your heart and consequently less concerned by those changes.
  2. Breath meditation -- I use this meditation when my anxiety is focused on my stomach. After taking several deep breaths, place your hands on your stomach and with each breath, follow the path the air takes as it moves into your lungs while you inhale and do the same as you exhale. Focus particularly on how the space in your chest and stomach changes with each inhalation and exhalation, and attend to your stomach as it expands and contracts. Examining the path of my breaths in this way has helped me engage with my stomach and become more comfortable with the range of sensations it presents.
  3. Body scan meditation -- This is a very flexible meditation that you can adapt to fit your needs. I usually start with my attention on my head and slowly allow my attention to move across my body to my toes, during which I maintain deep, slow breaths. If during this process I identify an area that has some discomfort, for example, if I'm experiencing a headache, I bring my attention back to that area and simply remain aware of it. This practice helps me to maintain a sense of calm even when I'm experiencing discomfort and to acknowledge how transient those uncomfortable feelings are.

I've found these meditation techniques helpful for working through the physical sensations I experience when anxious. What other kinds of meditation do you find helpful for working through the physical sensations of anxiety?

Check out my last post where I discussed several steps I've found useful for working through anticipatory anxiety.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2018, July 15). Meditating Through the Physical Sensations of Anxiety , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/7/meditating-through-the-physical-sensations-of-anxiety



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

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