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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Meditation and Anxiety

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 19th 2013

Meditation and AnxietyCan meditation help reduce the suffering caused by chronic anxiety? This is a question raised by Dr. Michael Baime, MD, who meditates and has his patients do the same. He begins his article with a definition of meditation:

Definition of Meditation by Michael Baime, MD:

"For the purposes of this brief discussion, we can define meditation as an exercise or technique that strengthens awareness by bringing attention to rest on a stable focus. All meditation practices teach you to focus your attention on some aspect of your immediate experience. For instance, the traditions known as “mindfulness” (which originated as Buddhist meditation practices) often focus the attention on the shifting sensation of the breath."

Michael Baime's article on meditation and fear can be found at:

https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/can-meditation-help-you-overcome-fear

Many beginning meditation students make the mistake of believing that there is a right and wrong way to meditate. What they find bothersome and discouraging it the fact that, despite focusing on the breath, they continue to have thoughts. In actuality, there is no right and wrong way to meditate. In addition, it is impossible for the mind to not think. The idea is to gently refocus on the breath when thoughts inevitably occur. In refocusing on the breath, it's important to not be self judgmental. As Dr. Baime points out in his article, the important thing in meditation is to be mindful in the moment. That means being aware and without self criticism.

When sensations of fear, anger or other emotions are experienced during meditation a technique for not giving it importance is to make a mental note of it and refocus on the breath. In other words, if, during meditation, there is a thought or sensation of anxiety, one makes states, in the back of their mind, "emotion" or "anxiety" and gently return to the breath. The idea here is that thoughts cannot be suppressed and any attempt to do that will result in more thoughts. Instead, being aware of the thoughts, making a note of them and returning to breath prevents becoming attached to that thinking because the thoughts are allowed to pass by.

The main theme of Dr. Baime's article is to answer the question of whether or not meditation can reduce anxiety. His answer is interesting because it addresses the nature of meditation. In effect,

"Does meditation help you to overcome fear? Yes and no. When your deepest self is known to be this vast there is nothing to fear. Yet fear happens, over and over again, forever. So does everything else. Sometimes it rains and then the sun comes out. Sometimes you look at the sky or fall in love. There is a flowing stream of life right in the center where you are right now. The fear is another ripple in the stream.

Overcoming fear is no longer important. All of life, including the fear, is part of what makes it so outrageous, so incredible, to be here."

In other words, meditation helps reduce the attachment made to the emotional state of fear because it is viewed as a normal part of life that does not have to be exaggerated. Mindful awareness allows it to be noted and attention focused elsewhere.

Allan N. Schwartz

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

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