I Got Serious Anxiety Trying to Meditate
My heart felt like it was beating faster and somewhat irregularly. My breath was short and I felt like I was suffocating. I noticed every area of discomfort in my body. The irony is that I was trying to get the exact opposite result.
I was actually trying to meditate and calm myself down.
I lead a rather busy and stressful life, at least from my perspective. I’m a newish father with a 1-year-old. I have a full-time job that lets me work remotely so I can watch my son — which can be a blessing and a curse. I freelance on the side for additional income. And I’m fairly involved in my church community.
This results in full days where I go from one thing to the next and my mind is constantly racing. You probably have different activities and obligations than I do, but can you relate?
I wake up with thoughts flooding my brain — often with things I have to do, things that are overdue, and things that will be obstacles in getting them done. Then I go to sleep with similar thoughts — things I didn’t do, things I failed at doing, and all the things that got in the way. They’re all spinning around in my head like a snow globe vying for attention, but not slowing down enough for me to go to sleep.
So I Decided to Start Meditating
Every blog and guru recommends it, so there must be something to it, right?
I downloaded an app called Headspace which provides guided mediation. The purpose of it is to develop the practice of being able to clear your mind of thoughts and focus on one thing. It’s supposed to be a good way to start your day, as well as develop the skill to calm your mind when things get hectic.
So I set my alarm to wake up a little earlier, before my baby wakes up, so I can get in a meditation session. I get comfortable and open my Headspace app to begin.
Each session starts with the same basic routine.
Deep breaths… in and out. Close your eyes. Notice all the sounds around you. Do a scan of your body, noticing how everything feels. Clear your mind and focus on your breathing. If your mind wanders, try to bring it back to focus.
Oddly, I found it extremely difficult to sit still and think of nothing. I noticed how quickly my mind would dart off into the day. Bringing it back and keeping it still was more of a struggle than I thought. And as if my brain were punishing me for not letting it wander, discomfort started spreading throughout my body.
I noticed every ache and itch in my body, and sitting comfortably suddenly became very uncomfortable. Parts of my limbs would become fuzzy and numb. Random points of skin on my body became unbearably itchy all of a sudden. I started feeling nauseous, in a claustrophobic way, even though I was sitting in a large room with my eyes closed. I felt like I was suffocating, and my breathing got really fast as I struggled to get in air.
Is meditating supposed to be traumatic?
I eventually made it through the 10-minute session and ended up being a lot more stressed than I was going in. But I think it revealed how busy my mind is that I can’t even be still for 10 minutes.
Why is it So Hard to Be Still?
It has nothing to do with being physically still — I can sit in front of a TV and watch Netflix for hours. The challenge is being mentally still.
There’s no need to convince you of how insanely busy our lives are. Our schedules are bursting at the seams but there’s no place to spill onto. Our minds are so overstimulated that even when we “rest,” we’re still processing the fast scrolling feed on the screen in front of us.
Intensity has become the new norm.
Our brains know nothing less than to process stimuli. It’s like a weird version of mental PTSD from busyness — we’re always in a heightened state of action that when there is calm, we don’t know what to do with it.
It’s no wonder so many of us suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. We yearn for peace but don’t know how to live in peace.
I Force Myself to Meditate
It’s retraining my brain to rest.
I try to meditate every morning, though I usually only make it a couple times a week. Some days aren’t too bad. Other days are still intensely stressful. But overall it gets easier. I’m able to be calm for longer. I start looking forward to those times of stillness.
Is meditation improving my life?
To be honest, I’m not sure. I don’t meditate consistently enough to notice a difference. But the benefit is learning to meditate in the midst of chaos.
It’s easy to meditate when life has slowed down. It’s hard to mediate when there’s a lot going on. But that’s when it’s needed the most.
When my mind starts racing, it’s more than just a laundry list of tasks. It’s more like fireworks of intense emotions of all kinds, highs and lows. The achievements of the day carry with them euphoric feelings of pride, yet they clash with all the failures of the day carrying the weighted feelings of depression. Thrown into that mix are all the challenges and unknowns that are spreading the paralyzing feelings of fear.
Being overwhelmed by the day can quickly spiral into being overwhelmed by life. Mistakes from the past week become regrets from past years. Worry about a lack of productivity turns into fear of a lack of significance. Our minds are great at escalating small things.
That’s why it’s so important to bring stillness to the mind in moments of growing chaos. We may not have much control over the activities of our day, but we can exercise more influence over the thoughts spring up. It doesn’t mean we stop processing and feeling — that’s absolutely necessary. But it’s helpful to quiet the thoughts when they become too loud and too fast.
So I’ll continue to force myself to meditate because I want to develop the muscle to calm my mind. When my brain begins racing, I want to be able to pull on the reigns and bring it back to a place of stillness. Even when my day is chaotic, my mind should be able to experience peace.
I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to be busy. I believe in a full and productive life. But scattered chaos in our minds can often work against what we’re trying to achieve. Stillness can bring clarity. Clarity can bring focus. And focus can help us do more, and better.
All the while being good to ourselves and good to the people around us.