Want to lessen your anxiety? Try mindfulness meditation.
Originally published on IntrovertDear.com
I can say with absolute certainty that mindfulness meditation has changed me for the better. It’s all about observing your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations — and returning to the present moment when your mind wanders — without any judgment.
But this wasn’t always the case.
Being an introvert, I was already hyper-aware of everything, including myself — I do my best thinking alone and tend to live in my head. But it turned out that I wasn’t as self-aware as I thought, especially when it came to how much my overthinking was negatively affecting me.
You see, I’m a chronic overthinker. Aside from causing stress, overthinking can have a negative effect on your physical health, showing up as headaches and digestive problems. Consumed by anxious thoughts, I started to notice my breathing was more shallow than usual at certain points in the day. Not surprisingly, this occurred whenever I felt stressed or anxious.
Cognizant of this side effect of overthinking, I knew I had to find a way to quiet my anxious thoughts and take back control. I’d tried meditation in the past and remembered how peaceful it had made me feel. So I decided to give it another try and make it a consistent daily practice.
I did this by tracking my meditation sessions in the calendar feature of the Calm app, which gave me an overview of my progress. Keeping my meditation practice consistent helps, as well: I meditate alone every morning in my bedroom, before the day starts. Allowing some flexibility in the length of my sessions, usually anywhere from two to 10 minutes, has also made the practice easier to implement.
As I’ve improved my meditation practice, I’ve started to reap the benefits, such as inner peace, increased self-awareness, and more appreciation for the present moment. And it’s been shown that mindfulness meditation can help introverts gain confidence, regulate emotions, and release the past. Yes, please.
While mindfulness meditation can help anyone, introverts and extroverts alike, I think introverts can especially benefit by learning to live more fully in the moment — something we tend to appreciate anyway.
4 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Benefits Me — and Can Help You, Too
1. It keeps my perfectionism in check.
It’s not uncommon for introverts to be perfectionists: We’re usually known for being sensitive, introspective, and detail-oriented. To that end, we might take constructive criticism to heart, dwell on what we perceive to be shortcomings, and obsess over the small details. My own combination of idealism and ambition causes me to have high expectations — sometimes to an unreasonable extent.
When I first started meditating, I took an all-or-nothing approach. If I couldn’t sit as still as a Buddhist monk, then I couldn’t focus and meditate at all. My perfectionism held me back and I didn’t even realize it — it caused me to believe my lack of focus was a character flaw and not something many people struggle with.
But I realized I was being extremely hard on myself, especially as a beginner. Looking back, I see how unreasonable my expectations were, but it shows how far introverted perfectionism can go.
In essence, mindfulness meditation brings me back down to reality. My mind will often wander between the past and the future, and I have to gently remind myself to come back to the present. I do this by refocusing on my breath and by silently repeating the mantra in, out to myself each time I inhale and exhale.
I’ve also learned not to judge myself when I become distracted — it doesn’t matter that I’m meditating imperfectly; what matters is that I’m doing it and that it has a positive impact on me.
2. I reconnect with myself.
Whenever I’m passionate about a societal issue, I show that enthusiasm by learning everything I can about how I can be an ally and take action.
In the past few months, for example, I’ve been consuming a lot of news on the pandemic, climate change, and Black Lives Matter movement. I want to do my part to combat these issues, but after a recent period of burnout, I realized that obsessive consumption of information is counterproductive: I wasn’t taking time out for a break from the news.
Living in a world that often sways more to the extroverted side, it’s easy for some introverts to forget about self-care. But it’s important that we take time out for ourselves, and meditation is my way of protecting my solitude: It’s just me, my breath, and the stillness.
In that silent, meditative space, I reconnect with myself, replenish my energy, and reclaim my time. After each meditation session, I emerge more relaxed, centered, and focused, and ready to take on the day.
3. It reminds me to slow down.
When dealing with stress, I used to go to the gym. But when the pandemic started and the gym closed, I lost one of my main coping mechanisms. As much as I can do at-home workouts, I prefer the gym, as it would give me an escape from everyday life.
But meditation has become another major stress reliever. It’s forced me to slow down and sit with my feelings and thoughts in stillness instead of numbing them in movement.
While exercise is also a great way to release feelings of stress and anxiety, meditation is a perfect way to both observe, understand, and release those feelings, then dive deeper into those thoughts and emotions. For instance, it’s helped me sit with difficult emotions, like frustration, disappointment, and fear. I don’t shy away from these emotions anymore because I’ve learned not to judge them as “good” or “bad,” but as beneficial to figuring out why I feel the way I do.
Mindfulness meditation has also helped me tune into my outside world more. In a recent tennis match with my mother, for example, I noticed how concentrated I was on the game and not on my mistakes. As a result, I not only enjoyed the game more, but also the quality time spent with my mother.
In general, introverts tend to be much more concerned with their inner world of thoughts, ideas, and daydreams, and we sometimes lose sight of what’s happening around us. But by becoming more observant of what’s happening in the moment, you’re able to tune into bodily sensations — like tension, warmth, or heaviness — and how you physically react to situations.
Meditation has not only made me more keenly aware of tension, pain, or discomfort in certain areas of my body, but also of my breathing. With heightened awareness, I’ve learned how to practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing — which slows your breathing rate while strengthening the diaphragm — so much so that it’s become automatic.
4. I live more fully in the present.
As a writer, it’s only natural that I daydream — plus, introverts tend to be naturally introspective. While I appreciate this ability, I also understand how my tendency to daydream can distract me from conversations.
But meditation takes me out of my head and reminds me to stay in the moment. As a result, becoming more mindful has sharpened my focus in conversations. Instead of passively listening and waiting to engage, I’m much more of an active listener now.
I do this by using both verbal and non-verbal cues, such as affirmations and nodding, and paraphrasing to show understanding. Doing these things not only help me, but I feel they make whomever I’m talking to more engaged, too.
How You Can Start Meditating
If you’re new to mindfulness meditation, I recommend starting with guided sessions. These will introduce you to the basics of mindfulness: deep breathing, body scans, and mindful awareness. You can find guided meditations on YouTube and on meditation apps, like Headspace, Insight Timer, and Aura.
Calm is my personal favorite app, though, because of its relaxing scenes, library of themed meditations, and personal meditation tracker. But no matter which app you try, a lot of them offer free trials and sessions, which is perfect if you’re on a budget.
If you make meditation a regular practice in your life, you’ll soon feel the benefits — such as less anxiety — like I have. And, these days, we can all benefit from that, right?