In part I of this series we covered some false yet commonly held beliefs about meditation. You may recall I also challenged readers to take part in the practice by committing to meditation for 5 minutes 3 times a week. Were you able to incorporate meditation into your routine? If so, take a few moments now to reflect on how well it worked for you. What did you like about it and what frustrated you? Do you still have questions? Hopefully this post will answer some of them!
As we discovered in our earlier post, choosing a meditation practice can be overwhelming; there are so many different varieties! So, how do we know which is the right one for us? Let’s explore this today as we examine how versatile mediation can be when it comes to addressing various forms of psychological distress.
If you’re struggling with…
Depression, try practicing gratitude and loving-kindness
Symptoms of depression like sadness, crying spells, and feelings of emptiness can leave us feeling helpless. We may also have recurring negative thoughts about others and ourselves. Often it can be hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. For these difficult times, I recommend two types of guided meditations: gratitude-focused and loving-kindness.
The practice of gratitude centered mediations is an optimistic and soothing process. Most gratitude meditations invite us to list several things or people we are thankful for, and many will ask us to engage in visualization so we can engrain the positive feelings associated with them into our psyche. These meditations may ask us to consider seemingly small concepts, such as the notion of having a roof over our heads or air to breathe. The goal is to raise our awareness about just how amazing life is. The shift in thinking that happens during a gratitude meditation can be instrumental in countering negative thoughts and feelings of low self-worth.
Loving-kindness meditations provide a comforting antidote to the harsh self-criticism that accompanies depression. These meditations help us take a break from our inner critics and emphasize acceptance of ourselves, wherever and however we are in our lives. The practice usually involves reciting an internal mantra where we imagine ourselves as happy, healthy, and safe. We are invited to notice how the act of visualizing these changes makes us feel in our bodies. We can mentally extending warm feelings and wishes to family, friends, strangers, or even the whole world! A primary goal of each of these kinds of meditation is to regain the sense of connectedness that is often lost as a result of depression.
If you’re struggling with…
Low self-esteem, try affirmations
Everyone has struggled with negative thoughts or feelings about themselves at some point or another. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting or situational and other times they can be chronic and recurring. They may be targeted towards our bodies, career achievements, or relationship status. In other cases, past negative situations or early childhood traumas have instilled faulty belief systems in us that cause us to feel inferior or unworthy.
Meditations with affirmations seek to promote the rooting of healthy, strong, and positive messages in our subconscious to counteract our internalized bullies. Affirmations can be expressed silently or out loud, but it’s recommended that we complete them with a firm and upright posture to further promote feelings of self-confidence. The affirmations may vary or might be repeated depending on the meditation we choose. Through affirmations, we can learn and pay attention to particular phrases that trigger the positive mindset we wish to possess.
If you’re struggling with…
Anxiety, opt for a body scan or breathing exercises
The anxiety, physical discomfort, and high levels of emotional distress that accompany anxiety can make us feel unwelcome in our own bodies. Often our thoughts focus on situations outside of our control and trigger a sense of dread. By engaging in body scan exercises, we give our minds a break. We focus our care and attention on the often neglected physical self by inviting ourselves to check in with one muscle group at a time. We search our bodies for any signs of tension, tightness, or other unwelcome sensations. By giving ourselves permission to focus on our physical self, we can distract our psychological self from anxious thoughts and feelings.
Breath-focused exercises achieves the same goal when it comes to focusing on something outside of our thoughts. These exercises also provide an added benefit by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for bringing the body back to equilibrium after a perceived threat or state of distress. Breathing deeply and consistently sends the message “I am alright, I am safe” to your body, which is often just what we need when we find ourselves in the throes of an anxious episode. Breathing exercises vary widely and may include counting breath, holding the breath between the inhale and exhale, or placing one hand on your belly while your breathe.
If you’re struggling with…
Stress, let visualization be your guide, or check into yourself and your surroundings with mindfulness
I don’t believe anyone is a stranger to stress. Whether it’s a fast-approaching deadline at work or an unexpected life event, stress can permeate our minds and bodies. Stress can cloud your judgment and impair your ability to think clearly, leaving you more susceptible to negative coping patterns.
With mindfulness, we tap into the imaginative part of our mind and create visions or images, which affect the primary visual cortex in the same way it would if these visions were actually happening. In this way, visualization can be a healing retreat from the havoc that stress wreaks on our psyche. Common visualization meditations may involve imagining a beam of white light radiating from our chests, or standing beneath a waterfall as it washes our stressful thoughts away.
As I touched on in the previous post, mindfulness is also an excellent way to put stress in its place. Mindfulness is a great antidote to stress when it comes in the form of ruminating thoughts or nagging physical symptoms. Mindfulness invites us to focus on the present moment and engage in something other than our worries. I like to practice what I call the 5-5-5 awareness; 5 minutes spent engaging the 5 senses, 5 times a day.
You can make this practice fun by being more specific about your sensory experiences. Try focusing on vision by picking a different color to focus on each time, like trying to identify all of the red objects in a room. Augment the practice by adding soothing music or taking note of any interesting noises around you.
If you’re struggling with
…sleep, try progressive muscle relaxation
Sleep is so vital to our health and yet it can be so elusive. It is as though the moment we tell ourselves we need to relax, our bodies and minds become even more hyperactive. Sleep becomes difficult when we are preoccupied with what already happened during the day or with what the next day holds for us.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to put both our bodies and our minds at ease. You can opt for a guided recording that takes you through the exercise or simply narrate yourself; starting with your feet, tense your muscles as tight as they can go for 6-7 seconds and then release and let them relax. Complete this for each major muscle group, moving up your body through your calves, thighs, abdominal, hands, forearms, shoulders, neck, and face. The goal is to make your body feel heavier and ready for a restful sleep. Your mind will also feel calmer after focusing on your muscles for several minutes. Make sure you are breathing in and out as you relax your muscles. As a reminder, for restful sleep it’s also best to limit the use of electronics right before bed, so put away those iPhones at least two hours before you go to sleep
Even if you’re not struggling with any of these specific issues we covered today, the meditations listed are all wonderful ways to connect with yourself. If a particular type of meditation resonated with you, give it a try to see if it helps you! You may also find apps such as Calm, Headspace, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, or Insight Timer useful as you build your mediation practice. Check back for my next post where I’ll provide a review of these apps in more detail complete with a list of pros and cons to help guide you in your ongoing meditation journey!
Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!