What to Do if Meditation Doesn’t Help
You asked, we’re answering! Find out how to manage anxiety if meditation isn’t for you
Earlier this week, I asked the Restless community what you’ve been struggling with lately. How to deal with anxiety when meditation doesn’t work for you came up a few times, and as it’s been something I’ve been dealing with for a while now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far! The tips below come from a series of personal trials and errors and is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start, and I hope it helps.
There’s this thing called “DMN” and it’s the devil. Full name: the Default Mode Network, this is the part of your brain that’s associated with reflections about yourself. And it’s 100% not to be trusted. Especially because when you get tired or anxious, it goes on a rampage, often implanting negative thoughts in your head that aren’t necessarily true. Things like, “I look ugly”, “I’m not good enough” or obsessing about that one thing you regret in your exchange with the coffee shop cashier. We’ve all been there. But guess what? These thoughts aren’t true, despite doing their best to make it seem that way.
While traditional meditation is usually recommended for this, distraction can work too. Take something you already know how to do and increase the difficulty level just enough so that it ensnares all of your focus. Once you’re engrossed, all of a sudden those negative nuggets of self-criticism and doubt are suppressed to nothing more than a quiet whimper.
If all else fails, try repeating this mantra to yourself:
My thoughts do not control me, I control my thoughts.
I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true! Helping others can give us purpose and meaning beyond what’s hurting us in this moment. When we don’t have the power to help ourselves, sometimes we still have the power to help others. Using that power is empowering in itself.
An action as small as a phone call to a loved one you know has been feeling lonely lately, making sure to be extra nice to the people you may not usually notice, or donating as little as ten dollars to a charity does big things. You don’t need to take big steps to feel better, small steps work fine too – and to be honest, they’re more sustainable. Creating positive habits like this gives your self esteem a boost, recalibrates your priorities, and the level of power you feel over your life and actions increases. Feeling power over your actions can be indispensable when dealing with out of control feelings like anxiety, or going through something difficult you can’t change.
Sometimes it’s the most obvious tips that can help the most. They’re obvious for a reason! When we’re mentally exhausted, wound up, or anxious, it can start to hurt our quality of sleep. This quickly turns into a devolving cycle. The worse your sleep is, the worse your anxiety becomes. Exercise, even if it’s just going for walk, can help calm some of that service energy for the night ahead and increase your dopamine levels (which are essentially the chemicals that help you feel happy). Plus, it speaks to the earlier idea of doing an activity that just get’s you out of your own head by focusing on something else. When coronavirus subsides, group exercise classes are good for, this but solo workouts help too. Take advantage of all the online classes on YouTube! I got into boxing a while back too, which was really hard. I was so out of my element! But during those 45 minutes, I didn’t think about a single thing but the dude I was trying to hit. And it was a huge relief.
Getting serious about your pre-bed routine and giving yourself permission to sleep in when you need it are also helpful when anxiety is causing you to lose sleep. Taking off your make up and taking care of your skin can be turned into a mindful ritual that signals to your body it’s time to sleep. Treat yourself to some products that make you feel pampered so it’s something that you actually look forward to.
As for sleeping in, try not to feel guilty for giving your mind and body extra time to take care of itself. Give yourself permission to turn all the way off, for as long as you need it. That said, I probably wouldn’t recommend going over 10 hours of sleep, as sometimes too much sleep can make you feel bad too. Find the balance that works for you, and don’t worry about what you “should” be doing instead.
Sometimes our anxiety and emotional pain seriously needs an outlet. If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable confiding in, journaling can be the next best thing. Some people like burning the paper after they’ve gotten everything off their chest. It gives them a sense of closure. But if you’re not up for the effort, even typing out your thoughts on your phone’s notes app can be enough to feel heard.