A Guided Meditation for Panic and Anxiety Disorders with Hypochondria

Meditation is often touted as a great solution for alleviating anxiety and stress. And it can be, but for those of us who have anxiety disorders, meditation and stillness runs counter-intuitive to our body’s natural desire to run and distract ourselves whenever we’re alone with our thoughts. I wanted to share something that has really helped me be able to use meditation and mindfulness as a tool for relaxation rather than a stimulus for panic.

One of the common threads throughout most meditative practices is the breath. We are to slow down our breathing and concentrate deeply on the in and out cycle. I don’t know about any of you, but as someone who struggles with some hypochondria and health anxiety in general, the last thing I want to do is pay attention to my breathing or heart beat. The hyper focusing on particular sensations in the body can immediately send me into panic mode.

My solution? To imagine breathing not as “breathing” but as air filling up an external object that has nothing to do with keeping you alive. I have found that a balloon is a great object that is easy to visualize. It can be relaxing in itself by evoking a playful memory of childhood. Everyone can remember the fun and wonder of seeing a balloon being filled up by helium. Probably best to think of it as air so you don’t visualize yourself breathing in helium and start imagining you’ve been poisoned, are light-headed, dizzy, and talking in a squeaky voice…Yep, our anxious thoughts can be that messed up. Here are the steps I take:

  1. Start in a comfortable position.
  2. Place your hand or hands on your belly close to your diaphragm.
  3. Begin visualizing your belly as a balloon…flat and void of air at the end of your breath out and being filled up with air and rounded as your stomach expands with each breath.
  4. It helps me to actually picture a helium tank in front of me and sliding an empty balloon on the nozzle and seeing the balloon get bigger as my lungs fill with air.
  5. Once I’ve filled my “balloon”, I pull it off the nozzle and see myself pinch the end of the balloon to make sure no air escapes and hold it there for a second or two (pausing my breath at the same time).
  6. Then, I start to slowly let air out of the balloon (and lungs) with my fingers still pinching slightly so all the air doesn’t come out at once. I even try to hear the sound of a deflating balloon as I’m breathing out to be completely in the moment.
  7. Once my balloon becomes completely empty I spend a second putting the balloon back on the nozzle of the tank (pausing my breath) and repeat the process.

Hopefully, this helps some people that struggle with the breathing portion of meditation or have been avoiding it because it feels like confronting fear rather than a relaxing activity. Your breath is important, but this exercise allows you to breathe correctly but still think about an external object to keep health anxiety at bay.

-Justin Farley

Hello, everyone! I have recently published my first chapbook of Christian poems titled “A Voice in the Wilderness – A Chapbook of Poems about God”. This has been developed and polished over the past six months or so. I am happy with the final product and hope you find encouragement in the poems but also a validation that the spiritual life is not all sunshine and rainbows. We all struggle. We all have periods of questions and/or doubt. But it is the yearning that keeps us coming back for more and allows us to experience joy.
You can purchase either on Amazon or on my own bookstore (it is cheaper and has free shipping on my store) and is available on the Kindle and in paperback.
Amazon: Kindle Paperback
Inkspiration Books (my bookstore): Paperback

Thank you for your support!

How Anxiety Distracts Us From God

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 The Noticer

Let me be a noticer of things in your world
instead of a dweller of my inner thoughts,
worries, and selfish longings
that only keep me distracted from you.

For when I uproot myself out of the present moment
and plant my focus on myself,
I rob myself of the joy
of witnessing your glory and beauty
all around me.

I have always been a highly observant person, picking out minor details that others often miss. On my morning walk in the woods today I noticed an old, wooden beam with rusted barbwire wrapped around the edges that had clearly once been a fence post. The problem was that I’d walked this path dozens of times before. Worse, it only stood a few inches off the trail.

What may seem an unimportant observation worried me. I should have noticed this a long time ago. But then again, maybe I’m not quite as observant as I once was…not since anxiety and worry have become a constant companion.

I sat there looking at that fence post, noticing for the first time the rotting wood and the crumbling decay of age. In my perifocal view I then noticed a bee hovering around a flower and insects crawling along the earth. I was struck with the realization that I have formed a habit of being so stuck inside my head observing my anxieties and worries that I have lost an awareness of the world around me.

I’ve decided I’m still a highly observant person; I’ve just been preoccupied with the wrong details. Anxiety and worry cause us to retreat inward, focusing on only our thoughts and feelings, preparing for the “what ifs” of the future. In the process they rob us of the joy and experience of life in the present moment.

God dwells in the here and now. God speaks in the present. God walks with us in this moment. When we try to place ourselves in the future, we make no room for God. For the future is determined by His will, not ours. And that is what anxiety and fear inspire us to do, don’t they? To just sprint past God and try to prepare, plan, and control what happens next. We lack faith in God’s providence, so we seek out our own providence. We are finite creatures who are not built to withstand that kind of responsibility. When we put ourselves in control of managing our future, we collapse under the weight of worry.

Even more importantly, when we are constantly distracted by our worries and removed from the here and now, we miss out on the wonderful experience of witnessing God’s glory and beauty all around us.  The beauty of a sunset, the feeling of the wind against your skin, the magic of the leaves changing colors, the love in another’s eyes, the wisdom God passes on in seemingly unimportant things.

It’s a hard fight to pull yourself out of your own head and leave all the worrying behind. It’s maybe an even harder fight to trust in God. But there are opportunities for redemption all around us, yet we have to be attentive to the present moment to recognize them. If we remain focused on the incessant cycle of self-centered thoughts, we deny ourselves the gift of seeing God’s divine presence right here, right now.

-Post and Poem Written by Justin Farley