BY HANNAH STAPLETON, GRACE ATTENDER
I’ve struggled with anxiety for roughly 7 years now. I know the panic attacks and the niggling worry that causes me to pick at the skin around my thumbs until they bleed. My mind overflows with things that haven’t gone wrong yet (but certainly will) or things that could go wrong at any given moment. I am desperate for rest but can never seem to find it. I try to pray but get distracted or can’t even find the words to vocalize the chaos inside me. My mind will not give me respite.
I’m pursuing counseling (and if you struggle with anxiety, I can’t recommend therapy enough, if it is accessible to you). But while I wait to get in with a therapist, I’ve been looking for something to help me snatch a few moments of peace, just a few moments where it does not feel like the world is going to cave in around me.
Enter meditation/mindfulness. I have been the biggest mindfulness skeptic: ask my husband. It sounded a bit too hippy and also, how on earth am I going to think about nothing for two minutes? IMPOSSIBLE. When my husband would encourage me to try it to cope with my anxiety, I would always tell him, “yeah, that doesn’t work for my brain. Quiet time with my thoughts? Always a bad idea.” But I’ve been desperate.
I read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, which seems as close to a Meditation for Restless Dummies as I could get. At the start of the book, he describes meditation as simply sitting somewhere, eyes open or closed, and just focusing on your breath. Paying attention to air entering and leaving your lungs. And when your mind wander, note it without judgement (“hey that’s a random thought”) and bring your focus back to breath. That didn’t sound too bad. It seemed more focused than just trying to empty out your mind and think about nothing. I could handle thinking about my breath.
Harris gives several other types of meditation throughout his book: some of them made sense to me, others less so. But the more I read about it, the more this practice seemed to make sense in my faith. As a Christian, when I sit to meditate, I sit in the presence of Jesus. I’m not necessarily praying, in the “Dear God, here’s what’s been going on, here’s what I’d like to ask of you” sense. Jesus and I are just sitting together. Hanging out. I’m paying attention to the air He put into my lungs. I’m becoming aware of the body He knit together for me and starting to be a little bit kinder to it.
And when I focus on just those things – the presence of God and the body He gave me – I don’t have room for the anxious thoughts. Meditation helps me see myself through Jesus’s eyes. When my anxious thoughts creep in, I can step back and be kind to myself. Remind myself that all this anxiety response is is just a response. My brain telling me I care about something so much I think I’m in danger. That Jesus is bigger than this response. That when I focus on Him and my breath, when I consciously pull my brain away from the anxiety and push it into the arms of Jesus, I find a moment of peace.
I’m still going to counseling. I still need more help managing this anxiety than just meditation. But spending time with God like this has carved me a safe space when I start to feel out of control. And spending a bit of intentional time with Jesus never hurt.