Finding Inner Peace: The Magic of Mindfulness Meditation for Stress and Anxiety (With a Guided Meditiaton)

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"Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It's a way of entering into the quiet that's already there - buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day." - Deepak Chopra

Hey there, lovely readers! Today, I want to tell you how mindfulness meditation can be a game-changer for those dealing with stress and anxiety. After I tell you about that, I have a guided meditation to help you put it into practice! In today's fast-paced world, where deadlines, expectations, and digital distractions constantly demand our attention, it's no wonder that stress and anxiety have become such a common experience. Stress and anxiety can leave us feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need of an escape, a reprieve, or simply a moment to catch our breath. Fortunately, there is a very simple practice that can help us face the stressors of life (since they are an inevitable part of life), without so much overwhelm, worry, and anxiety.

Mindfulness meditation is not a new-age fad or an esoteric practice reserved for monks in far-off monasteries. It's a simple, practical, and highly effective method for managing stress and anxiety, not to mention it has several other benefits as well. In this blog post, we'll explore what mindfulness is, what meditation is and how to do it, and why it can be helpful for stress and anxiety.

What is Mindfulness?

Before we go into mindfulness meditation and how it is helpful for stress and anxiety, let’s talk about what mindfulness is.

My favorite definition of mindfulness is from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley which is, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”

And here is how some well-known mindfulness teachers define it:

Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in service of self-understanding and wisdom.”

Thich Nhat Hanh defines it as, “Being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment. I drink water and I know that I am drinking water.”

Jack Kornfield explains, “Mindfulness has two aspects: receptive and active. Mindfulness is first, a spacious, kind, non-judging awareness of the present. Second, mindfulness includes an appropriate response to the present situation.”

And finally, Tara Brach says, “It is the felt sense of wakefulness, openness, and tenderness that arises when we are fully here and now with our experience.”

It seems to make sense that if we are just observing what is happening in this present moment, not lost in thoughts or feelings, and we are doing this with kindness and gentleness, it could defuse stress and anxiety, or at least not feed it.

It’s also important to remember that mindfulness is not something that we have to create, it is actually something that we all already have within us, we just need to cultivate it so that we can access it more often. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in.

What Mindfulness Meditation is (and isn’t)

Let me start with what meditation is NOT. There are many misperceptions about mindfulness meditation, and I like to get these out of the way first.

Meditation is not stopping thoughts or clearing the mind.

I don’t know how many times I’ve suggested meditation then hearing “I can’t meditate because I can’t stop thinking” or “my mind is too busy.” It is okay if you have a busy mind, or you can’t stop thinking. Our minds are made to think, so it is unreasonable to think we can stop them from doing this for more than a couple seconds. One of my favorite quotes about this is from Jack Kornfield. He says that “just as salivary glands secrete saliva, the mind secretes thoughts, thoughts think themselves. This thought production is not bad; it’s simply what minds do.” Another fave is from Tara Brach, “If we are at war with our thoughts, we will be fighting for a very long time.”

The purpose of meditation is not relaxation.

 This is often the byproduct of meditation which is a great perk and one reason it can be super helpful for stress anxiety. Like I mentioned before, if you are less lost in thoughts, you’re not fueling those feelings. However, if we go into meditation with an expectation that it should be relaxing, and then it’s not, it can feel frustrating (which fuels stress) and pointless (which it’s not). I’ll get to the actual purpose of meditation later.

We are not trying to stop uncomfortable feelings in meditation.

Again, this can be a byproduct of meditation, but uncomfortable feelings are part of this human condition and meditation can actually help us learn to be with these without stuffing them down. When we stuff uncomfortable emotions like sadness, grief, fear, anger, etc. they can leak out as stress and anxiety about other things, so if we can make space for them in meditation and work with them. It can decrease unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Now we got those biggies out of the way, let’s talk about what meditation IS.

Meditation is a formal practice of just noticing what is happening inside of us and outside of us with non-judgement and kindness (sounds a little like the definition of mindfulness, huh?). 

This includes how the body is feeling, what emotions are showing up, thoughts that arise, sounds, smells, sights, whatever is being experienced in this moment. You are training your mind to notice when you are lost in thoughts that are fueling stress and anxiety and letting them go, so it is easier to do outside of formal meditation.  But HOW do you do that? There are several meditation practices that can allow you to do this; here is a simple practice to start with.

How to Meditate

1) Set a timer.

Set a timer for the time you want to meditate. It might be 1 minute, 10, 20, whatever you want. If you’re just getting started you will likely want to start with a shorter time and build up to longer practices.

2) Find your posture. 

Find a posture that allows you to be alert, but relaxed. This might be sitting cross-legged on a cushion, on chair, or even lying down or standing up. Many photos show people sitting directly on the floor to meditate, but this can get quite uncomfortable after a few minutes, so I would recomend having a cushior or pillow under you if you are on the floor. As best you can, try to have your spine as straight as you comfortably can, bring your shoulders down from your ears, and place your hands wherever feels most comfortable. You can close your eyes or keep them open with an unfocused, downward gaze.

3) Find a comfortable anchor. 

An anchor is an object in the present moment that you can return your attention to throughout the meditation. This might be some aspect of the breath, such as sensations in your nostrils or throat, rise and fall of your chest or belly, or feeling the pause at the top or bottom of the breath. It might be a sensation in the body like your sit bones on your chair or cushion, sensations in the hands, your feet on the floor. It could also be a sound or something in your visual field. Once you’ve identified this, rest your attention on it.

4) Return to the anchor. 

When (not if) you notice your attention has been pulled from your anchor, maybe to a sound or body sensation or into a thought stream, just notice this with a kind, mental tone and return the attention to your anchor. You aren’t pushing away the other experience, just letting it go when you return to the anchor.  You will do this over and over and over and over and over and over… you get the point. This coming back to the anchor is part of the practice and a really important part of the practice, so falling into thought is not a failure, or a sign that you are doing it wrong, or that you suck at meditation. IT IS PART OF THE PRACTICE.


- We are not trying to stop thoughts, we just want to be aware when they are happening, so we are not lost in them as much, and they don’t fuel unhelpful feelings like stress and anxiety.

- Try to let go of expectations that your mind is going to settle or that you are going to relax (it’s more likely to happen this way anyway), and just have the intention to place your attention on your anchor and notice whatever shows up with kindness, and return to the anchor over and over and over (gently and kindly).

A couple other things to consider: 

Meditation can help relieve anxiety and stress in the moment and can be a way to respond to difficulty (still try not to go into it with the expectation that it will…), but to get the long-lasting benefits and a more preventative way of managing stress, it takes consistent practice. So, try to have a scheduled time each day to practice. 

If you haven’t meditated before, start with a brief practice, maybe 3-5 minutes and build up to a longer practice. 

It can also be very helpful to find a meditation group to sit with weekly. There is something about meditating with others that can be really helpful. 

With all that said, try not to have an all-or-nothing mindset. If you miss a few days, or if it’s impossible to get in a daily practice, make it happen when you can. Some practice is better than none!

Why Can Meditation Be Helpful for Stress and Anxiety?

Now that you know what mindfulness meditation is and how to do it, let me tell you a bit about why it can be helpful for stress and anxiety. 

It helps us get unhooked from thoughts that fuel stress and anxiety.

One significant reason is that anxiety and stress are often fueled by thoughts that we are lost in and identified with. In other words, we believe our thoughts and they become this mind-made reality that’s usually different from actual reality. How many worries have you had that never came true, but it felt like it was inevitable?  If you’re like most people, probably A LOT. When we meditate, we learn to recognize thoughts when they happen or when we’ve been lost in them. Then we can recognize that they are just that- thoughts, little zaps in the brain, nothing more. When we notice this, we can make a choice to disengage with the thought and return to the present moment- body, breath, hearing, tasting, smelling, which is usually way less activating than that mind-made world and when we spend a bit more time there our nervous system can relax. A great quote by the meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein illustrates this, “From thoughts come actions. From actions come all sorts of consequences. Which thoughts will we invest in? Our great task is to see them clearly, so that we can choose which to act on and which simply to let be.”

It helps us become more aware of our body and change how we relate and respond to it.

Another reason that mediation can be helpful for stress and anxiety is that it helps us become more aware of our body. We can start noticing when we have tension in our body or shallow breathing and choose to respond to this by releasing that tension and taking some deep breaths which also can soothe the nervous system. We can also notice the sensations of anxiety, such as tightness in the chest, knot in the belly without judgement or story. When we can just note it as a sensation rather than something awful that we cannot stand, it can feel more manageable than it is with the story and judgement. Additionally, we can see that those sensations eventually pass, that they don’t last forever, which can be an important insight.

It helps us respond rather than react.

A third benefit of meditation is that it can increase our ability to respond rather than react. What many people that I have worked with who have started meditation report is that they notice they are able to pause before reacting to a situation, rather than reacting in a way that might lead to regret later. A quote by a famous psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, captures the power of this ability, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When we can respond in skillful ways it can lead to less anxiety and stress about what we might have said or did in moments of high emotion.

Try it out and see what happens!

There are many other ways that meditation can help relieve stress and anxiety, but I would encourage you to try it out and see for yourself. You may not notice the benefits right away, but you are literally changing your brain, so it can take time, just keep practicing and you will likely see the benefits. If you are interested in a guided meditation to help you with this practice see the video below. 

One final note, while meditation can have great benefits for many people, that is not the case for all. If you do notice a significant increase in anxiety or other mental health symptoms, especially symptoms related to trauma or other significant stressors, it may not be for you, at least practicing mindfulness in this way. I would recommend checking with a therapist or meditation teacher to get guidance around this if you are noticing this.  

If you’re interested in some additional guidance and other ways to use meditation and mindfulness to work with stress and anxiety, I offer online therapy for stress and anxiety that is getting in the way of life and would love to work with you. You can check out my services here , or to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see how I can help you, click here

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