Full disclosure: I live with mild anxiety. I don’t usually experience the pervasive anxiety that affects entire days — except for a few postpartum months after both of my kids were born. But my anxiety still sits inside of me, a tight, squirrelly knot squatting right under my sternum. It’s worse on some days, especially when life is throwing grown-up stuff at me that I don’t want to deal with, or if I haven’t slept well, or if I haven’t moved my body.
I thought I had a handle on my anxiety for the most part. And then I found myself drowning one day. It was an ordinary day, but I rolled out of bed just feeling “off.” I snapped at my son for not moving fast enough even though he had plenty of time. I growled at my husband for not helping me with the garbage even though I knew he was on his way to an early morning meeting. I couldn’t even do the simple things like unload the dishwasher or fix my daughter’s hair without feeling that knot under my breastbone wanting to shake loose and take over my entire being.
I couldn’t take a deep breath in. I started having heart palpitations. I even tried breathing into a paper bag, splayed on the floor while my family watched. The voices in my head kept telling me that I was falling apart, and I was listening to every single word, wholeheartedly believing them.
I felt awful.
I’d been doing meditation sporadically, using the Headspace app because I liked the idea of someone guiding me through it. My son’s school had started doing daily meditations, and they were having good results with kids’ behavior. I’d read study after study about meditation, written about it, and truly believed in it, but something about doing it every day felt overwhelming to me. I made a lot of excuses — time, boredom, I’d rather sleep in.
But that day when my world felt like it was spinning off its axis and I couldn’t seem to control my increasing anxiety, I decided that I needed to try something else. I started right then.
I cued up one of Headspace’s SOS guided meditations and did it twice in a row. And then a third time just for good measure. My breathing slowed down. My heart stopped palpitating. And most importantly, the annoying voices stopped telling me that I was falling apart, that I was failing.
On that day, meditation was kinda like magic.
And since then, I’ve made meditation one of the priorities of my day. It’s not always magical for me. I still get anxiety. I still struggle with maintaining the daily routine. I can really only sit there for 10 minutes, and I’m usually gently nudging myself throughout the practice to focus on my breathing or the imagery instead of worrying about the ingredients for pot roast or what I said three years ago and if I made my friend mad or not. It’s a process. It’s not always easy or smooth.
But some days it is. I find myself just being in the moment more throughout the day — even if I’m just washing dishes or folding underpants or driving kids to soccer. And sometimes just being there makes it all feel like life and not just more drudgery that I have to get through.
Gently being aware of that tight feeling behind my breastbone, noting it as a feeling, and not giving it power has helped in small ways throughout my days. Being able to observe the inner voices that have nasty things to say and letting them go on their way without damaging my fragile self is so much better than believing in what they are saying.
Meditation probably isn’t right for everyone, and it’s certainly not a cure-all. If you have serious anxiety or panic attacks or feel like there’s something more going on, then you need to go a step beyond and seek some professional support because you deserve it, and it can get better. But if you have mild, occasional anxiety like I do, meditation is definitely worth a shot.