How to Meditate for Anxiety: Simple Steps and Techniques

Published June 27, 2022
Young woman sitting on yoga mat meditating

Meditation has been used for thousands of years for religious reasons and to help improve concentration and mental well-being. The practice remains popular today and is used to manage a wide range of typical issues that we confront in our modern world, such as stress and anxiety. In fact, meditation techniques for anxiety and breathwork for anxiety are sometimes used in clinical settings to help reduce symptoms without the side effects of medication. But you don't need to be in a clinical setting to take advantage of their benefits.

Meditation and breathwork are closely- related skills that you can turn to when you experience anxiety-related stress or agitation. They are techniques that you can perform on your own time and in your own way. Once learned, they can bring relief to your daily routine, one breath at a time.

What Is Anxiety?

If you constantly feel overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings, and worry, you may be experiencing anxiety. Anxiety can impact your daily life and make it difficult for you to concentrate. Anxiety pulls your mind in different directions due to worry.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), anxiety disorders are among the most common psychological disorders that people experience. If you're a person that experiences symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate or muscle tension, you're not alone.

Research shows that 20% of adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year. In addition, if you're a female, you are twice as likely to experience an anxiety disorder than males. Because anxiety is so prevalent, it has inspired research into endeavors such as meditation and breathing techniques in order to find effective ways to help people cope.

What Are Meditation and Breathwork?

Meditation, known as the practice of focussing one's attention on the present moment, stems back as far as 5000 BCE. Psychology has turned to the practice as a way to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It involves monitoring one's thoughts in order to be fully present or aware of one's surroundings. For example, if you bring your attention to the body, you may notice feelings or sensations that you might not notice when you're distracted by your busy schedule. And, even though it may surprise you, this is a kind of meditation.

Grey haired woman concentrating on breathing exercises at home

Breathing techniques are a staple of the meditation practice. They involve bringing one's attention to the breath. For example, you can focus on where you feel your breath most when you breathe. Does it feel more strongly in your upper chest or your lower belly? This is breathwork, which has been found to have positive impacts on anxiety.

Benefits of Meditation

Research has found that there are several health benefits that meditation can provide. The NIH recommends that meditation be practiced daily in brief intervals, such as between 10-15 minutes, in order to experience these advantages. Some of the positive health effects include:

  • Decreased negative mood
  • Decreased symptoms of anxiety
  • Enhanced attention
  • Increased emotional regulation
  • Increased working memory

Benefits of Breathwork

Controlled breathing techniques have been found to have positive effects on anxiety symptoms, as well. Some of the benefits include:

  • Increased emotional regulation
  • Increase feelings of relaxation
  • Increase well-being
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety

How to Meditate

Now that you know some of the benefits of meditation, you may want to incorporate the practice into your lifestyle. But, how do you get started? A meditation practice can be broken down into manageable steps. If you follow these guidelines, you will have a better idea of how to start a practice yourself. Remember, every person is different so what works for one individual might now work for another, and that's okay.

Choose a Meditation

Before you start, choose a guided meditation that you wish to try. Also, decide how much time you can dedicate to your practice at the moment. For example, if you're meditating at the start of your day, you may have less time to give to your practice than if you were meditating at the end of your day. Find what works for you.

Find a Comfortable Position

The first step in meditation is to get comfortable. After all, you'll most likely be in this position for about 5-15 minutes. You can lie down or sit in a chair. If you're seated on a chair, make sure your back is straight and your feet are planted on the ground. You can close your eyes or keep them open and focus on the ground in front of you.

Follow the Meditation

Once you're settled, you can start to follow the meditation. If you choose a guided meditation, align your breath and concentration to the words spoken by your narrator. They may have you focus on different aspects of your body. For example, with a breathing exercise, they may ask you to notice where you feel your breath most strongly, such as in your nostrils or in the upper chest.

Note Your Thoughts

Meditation is a called a practice for a reason. When you meditate, especially when you first start, you may notice that your thoughts will wander to different chores or tasks on your to-do list. Did I do the laundry? What will I make for dinner? Has it been five minutes yet?

This is both normal and okay. Whenever a thought arises, simply note it and return your attention back to the meditation. Try to do so without judgment of your thoughts or yourself. Returning your thoughts back to the meditation is what the practice is all about.

Bring Your Attention Back to the Room

When your meditation practice has come to a close, bring your attention back to the room. Take a second or two before you open your eyes. Maybe even stretch a little. Check in with how you feel. When you're ready, move on to the next aspect of your day.

Meditation Techniques for Anxiety

You can always look up guided meditation practices online. However, you don't need to have a guide in order to practice. There are several meditations that you can walk yourself through alone. Just like with a guided mediation, all you need to do is be present in the moment and do your best to focus your attention.

Young Woman Taking a Walk And Relaxing In Nature With Eye Closed
  • Ground yourself. Anxiety can make people feel dizzy or overwhelmed. This is one reason why a grounding exercise can be helpful. Sit in a chair or lie down. Focus on the sensation of your body against the surface. Feel how it supports you. Then, focus on how the legs of your bed or chair are supported by the surface of the ground. Try and feel that support, as well. Next, think about how everything and everyone is supported by the Earth at every moment. See if you can feel that support and carry it with you throughout your day.
  • Note the five senses. Start in a seated position or by lying down. Note five things that you see in the room either out loud or in your mind. Observe four things you can feel. For example, your feet against the ground. Focus on three things you hear. Then, observe two things you smell. Finally, note one thing that you taste.
  • Take a walk. If you like to be outdoors and have the option to step outside, then explore a mindfulness walk. During a mindfulness walk, you can focus on being fully present. For example, notice the way the sunshine feels on your skin or the way the birds sound in the trees. Try to only observe the things around you and don't assign judgment in any way. Just be in the moment and see what it has to offer.

How to Practice Breathwork

Although breathing techniques are often a part of meditation, they can also be practiced on their own. Take a few minutes out of your day to practice breathwork for anxiety. It may bring you the sense of calm you're searching for.

Show Up for Yourself

If you notice that you feel anxious, stressed, or frustrated, remind yourself that you have coping strategies to lean on to help you through. Show up for yourself. Think about what you need at the moment and give yourself some time to practice a strategy that may alleviate your symptoms.

Find a Comfortable Position

You can practice breathing techniques anywhere. Find a comfortable position sitting upright in a chair with your feet planted on the ground. You can also lie down if that is more comfortable. See what works best for you.

Choose a Breathing Technique

Choose a breathing technique that you want to practice. You may want to consider factors such as how much time you have or whether you are able to practice in private or at your desk. All breathwork for anxiety can reduce negative symptoms, but you may find that you develop a favorite.

Focus on Your Breath

As you start your breathing practice, focus on the physical sensations of your breath. For example, note the feeling in your nose as you breathe in and as you breathe out. If you practice a counting exercise, remember to count your breaths.

Feel Yourself Breathe

One way to help you feel more present and connect with your breath is to feel yourself breathing. You can do this by placing your hands on your stomach to make sure you are breathing more deeply into your lower belly. If your breath is more shallow, you will most likely feel it in your upper chest.

Try to Stay Focussed

It's normal for thoughts to pop up while you breathe and count your breaths. Simply note them whenever they arise. Try not to judge them in any way. Then, bring your attention back to your breathing.

Return to the Room

Once you have concluded your breathing practice, you can bring your attention back to the room. If you closed your eyes during the practice, slowly open them. Give yourself a minute or two to settle before you return your attention to your next task.

Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

There are many different breathing techniques that you can use to cope whenever you have feelings of anxiety that arise. Some of them you may even already be doing on your own. Have you ever taken a deep breath when something stressful happens? That's breathwork. You can incorporate more structured strategies into your daily life to use whenever you need them.

  • Box breaths - Box breaths are a simple breathing technique for anxiety relief. Breathe in to the count of four. Hold for the count of four. Breathe out for the count of four. Hold for the count of four. Repeat.
  • Label your breaths - Some breathing techniques center around counting your breaths. For example, when you breathe in count one, and when you breathe out, count two. You can also label your breaths as in/out, hot/cold, or relax/release. Choose a label that works for you.
  • Three deep breaths - If you only have a short amount of time or are seeking immediate stress relief, take three deep breaths. It may seem simple, but it is enough to help trigger the body's natural relaxation response. You can supplement this breathwork with a different technique later on in the day when you are able to find more time.

More Ways to Cope With Anxiety

Don't worry if breathwork and meditation techniques aren't for you. That's okay, they're not for everyone. There's no one size fits all solution because anxiety affects people differently. Find a coping strategy that works for you.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been shown to have numerous health benefits including the ability to reduce symptoms of both anxiety and depression, and can even help improve sleep. Mindfulness is a practice, which means that it needs to be done constantly and over an extended period of time. It doesn't have to be taxing or stressful to add it to your life. Some ways to practice mindfulness include:

Woman sitting at her desk and writing a journal
  • Make a gratitude list. Write down five things that you are grateful for every day. You can incorporate this practice into your nighttime or morning routines to remind yourself of all of the good things in your life.
  • Monitor thought patterns. This is not an easy task. However, thought monitoring is one way to help keep your mind in the present moment. It decreases thoughts of worry and rumination that may pop into your head throughout the day that cause anxiety. Notice when your thoughts wander. Then, track what events trigger those thoughts/feelings. You can use these observations to better understand your anxiety.
  • Start a mindfulness journal. Find a journal, pen, and the motivation to write. You can write about basically anything in a mindfulness journal as long as you give it your full attention. Reflect on a positive or negative event that happened that day, or write down the sensations/feelings you experience in your body at the time.

Find a Support Group

Another way to cope with anxiety is to find a support group. A support group offers people the chance to talk to and share stories with individuals that have experienced some of the same things they have. It creates a sense of community and is a source of validation. And, it may just feel good to talk to someone who knows what you're going through. Join a support group in person or find one online. Some online support groups include:

Explore Therapy Options

If you're looking for a one-on-one approach to cope with symptoms of anxiety, then you can explore therapy options. Find a mental health professional that suits your specific needs and schedule an appointment. They can help you explore more coping strategies and find what works best for you.

Meditation Resources

Want to learn more about anxiety or meditation? There are several online resources to help guide your journey. For example, you can find an online meditation platform to help guide you through your practice. You can also read up on different coping strategies and ways to find help.

Online Guided Meditations

Sure, meditation may sound like a great idea, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, there are several online platforms that offer free guided meditations. Choose a meditation that you want to explore, such as loving-kindness or gratitude, and start your practice. Some online platforms include:

Meditation and breathwork are efficient and cost-effective ways to cope with anxiety. If you're looking for ways to be more present or that can help your mind and body relax, you may want to give one of them a try. You may feel silly breathing deeply with your hands resting on your belly, and that's okay. Don't let it pull you away from a chance to experience the benefits.

Also, it's important to remember that meditation is a practice that takes a while to form. Thoughts may pop up in your head when you're trying to focus on your breath. Actually, it's almost guaranteed that it'll happen. But it's all part of being human. It's not always easy to try something new, so be gentle with yourself and find a practice that suits your unique needs.

How to Meditate for Anxiety: Simple Steps and Techniques