“Observe your thoughts as if you are not you.”
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
A moderate degree of anxiety is a normal part of the human experience. In fact, when experienced at the right level, it promotes motivation. However, when your sense of anxiety and worry increases significantly, becoming a persistent part of your day-to-day, our ability to function has the potential to decline at home and work.
Individuals presenting with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience some or all of the following:
- Persistent worrying or anxiety out of proportion to the activating situation.
- Overthinking worst-case outcomes.
- Perceiving situations as threatening when they are not.
- Difficulty handling uncertainty.
- Fear of making the wrong decision often leading to indecisiveness.
- Inability to let go of a worry.
- Inability to relax and feeling keyed up or on edge.
- Difficulty concentrating.
Meditation Practice for Mental Health
Buddhist Psychotherapy became a standard part of clinical practice in the early 90s. This was most prominently seen in specialized courses developed in graduate programs targeting both mindfulness and meditation practice as a way to manage mood disorders (Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder).
Meditation techniques, when applied to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, have shown to promote improved coping while decreasing stress reactivity. In other words, individuals report less symptoms after a period of meditation practice, and tend to experience less stress to the same activating event in the future.
In this article, we expand on previous work asserting the effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation as treatment for anxiety. We now turn to the practice of sitting meditation using two techniques rooted in traditional meditation practice, the Directed Attention Technique, and Thought Labeling Technique.
Preparing To Meditate
You do not have to be a buddhist to practice meditation. There is no need to buy an orange robe, burn incense, or gong a massive bell.
To practice the meditation techniques described below, we recommend the following before you start:
- Find a quiet place to sit with no distractions.
- Turn off your devices (cell phone, computer, television, etc.).
- Sit comfortably on the floor or couch.
- Relax your body while holding a comfortable but decisive posture.
- Close your eyes and notice the quiet around you.
#1 – Directed Attention Technique
Once you have found yourself settled in your meditation space with your eyes closed, spend time paying attention to the sounds both from around you and your body. You may hear traffic outside, or someone walking upstairs. It’s okay to notice these sounds.
Now, direct your attention to the sounds coming from your body. You will hear your heartbeat, the feeling of yourself sitting on the floor, etc. Pay close attention as you guide your attention even deeper into physical sensations.
Next, pay close attention to your breath. This is where your practice will sit for the remainder of this exercise. Notice the temperature of the air entering and exiting your nose and mouth. Don’t try to control it, simply notice your breath as you breath in, and then out again.
Before you know it, your mind will wonder to thoughts about your day, individual people, or emotionally difficult situations. Once you notice this happening, direct your attention back to your breath. Notice again the sensation of air in and back out again. Every time you attention drifts, bring it back to your breath.
#2 – Thought Labeling Technique
The second meditation technique is designed to build awareness about the types of thoughts taking up your head space. Simply building this awareness of mental patterns helps build insight, and thus decreases internal distress.
Sit in your quiet meditation space without distraction. Close your eyes and direct your attention to the room you are sitting in, the sensations in your body, and your breath.
Once you have settled, allow your mind to drift. You will not be directing your mind back to your breath as you did in the previous exercise. As your mind drifts, be an observer of the thoughts you are having. Then simply label the thought.
As an example, you might notice your mind drifting to a conversation you had with your boss earlier in the week. You remember how it felt to sit across from her and how anxious you felt. As you allow your mind to tumble over this event, attempt to label the thought into a specific category. In this case, the category might be, “fear”.
As your thoughts drift from one event to other, label the thoughts in this same way. There were only be a few categories that emerge. Fear, insecurity, approval seeking, are all common categories.
As the observer of your thoughts, over the course of time, you will see a pattern emerge in the types of thoughts that fill your mind. Unfortunately, for most of us, our minds are full of broad strokes of negativity. Simply noticing this helps build insight.
Once you see your patterns, it is worth asking yourself why that particular pattern continues to emerge.