Thursday, May 10, 2012

Anxiety and Meditation

"Anything can happen
From the point of conception, to the moment of truth
At the point of surrender, to the burden of proof
From the point of ignition, to the final drive
the point of the journey, is not to arrive." -- Rush "Prime Mover"

My anxiety about losing this pregnancy was extremely high yesterday morning. I was catastrophizing things, envisioning our first sonogram ending up just like the previous ones: no baby, two broken-hearted parents. I was really lost in my stories about this, and boy was I suffering! I tried a few tactics to manage this. One, intellectualizing it: "Worrying isn't going to help, so stop. You can't control it." Two, praying for God to remove my anxiety. This technique rarely helps me and it didn't help now. Three, applying "real but not true." That took the edge off, but I remained restless and discontent.

I sat down for my morning seated meditation, and Tara Brach's voice came into my head, with one of her catch-phrases: "What is asking for attention?" I got in touch with what was behind my anxiety, which was the intense longing to be a parent, and for this baby to thrive. Instead of getting lost in what that "meant," which would be more stories, I focused on the sensations of that in my body. The longing manifested clearly in my heart area, and had a distinct color, sensation, texture. I just paid attention to those sensations for about ten minutes, noting them, and not either grasping for them or pushing them away. Just holding them lightly with a tender quality. Evidently, that is what was asking for attention, because my anxiety evaporated, and I was able to stay in the present moment and out of anxious obsession for the rest of the day. What sweet relief!

I have a belief that we all need tool kits for different situations. I don't have one pain management strategy to manage my chronic pain; if I did, I'd be up a creek. This is why people who rely only on pain medications for pain relief rarely find any relief. My pain tool kit includes: warm baths, meditation, exercise, sleep, massage, Feldenkrais, and other techniques, in addition to medication, which I use too. I am coming to understand the same principle applies to my anxiety: I can't have only one tool for it (i.e. Xanax) either, nor can I apply just one meditation technique to it. The technique described above worked yesterday. Sometimes, I need to focus on my anchors (breath, sounds, or bodily sensation) to ease my anxiety -- I literally need to distance myself from it in this way. Sometimes I use a "titrating" technique taught to me by some of my teachers: I pay attention to the bodily manifestation for anxiety, usually in my chest and throat, for a few moments. Then I titrate my attention and apply it to a neutral place in my body, like my thigh, where my anxiety doesn't manifest. Sometimes, my anxiety is too severe for seated meditation at all, and I need to do more walking meditation or mindful movement.  I'm grateful to be developing my tool kit, but it felt like a huge victory yesterday to get such dramatic relief from just opening to what was legitimately asking for my attention.


Steven said...

Hi Sarah,

Visiting your blog for the first time in a few months. Pleased to read that you're pregnant again. My prayers are with you.

Among my other projects, I've been doing more research on stress and neuroscience, and how slow FlexAware can stimulate parasympathetic nerve activity. The slower the better, either sitting fairly still or with some movements, any movements.

I've also been meditating more regularly, at home and occasionally at Tara's Wednesday evening classes, using FlexAware breathing as a meditation. For me, and a few people I've taught that to, it's more effective than trying to sit still. As you've heard me say, stillness tends to stiffness, and moving gently is less effort and more relaxing than trying to not move. Something you might experiment with.


Sarah said...

Thanks for the well-wishes and comment, Steve. I'm a huge fan of mindful movement (including Feldenkrais, which I'm studying again) and walking meditation, in addition to my seated practice.

Regards to you, too,