Meditation for Neurotics

Prescription for anxiety relief: I always thought meditation was something other kinds of people did. The calm types. I didn’t think it was possible someone with likely ADHD and anxiety could ever sit still long enough to actually focus on anything (or nothing). About a year ago, I saw my doctor for spiraling out of control anxiety and he recommended a daily meditation practice (among other interventions). I told him I didn’t think I could hang. He knew me pretty well, and suggested I try some technology for bio-feedback to make it more of a competitive thing with myself. Normal people find that concept absurd, but it was perfect motivation for me to try something outside of my comfort zone. Furthering the sports analogy, my doctor also emphasized that few people are born good at meditating. It’s just like learning to run or building muscle, you need to regularly engage if you want to get better.

Tech support: I ended up getting a Muse EEG device, which gives you real-time input on your level of brainwave activity. You can set goals for yourself in terms of how many minutes you want to meditate per week. and it gives you positive feedback similar to a Fitbit. It also shows you how many minutes per meditation you spend in calm, neutral, or active mental states. You can actually modulate your level of awareness in real time with the help of the audio cues which correspond to your EEG rhythm. My favorite part is the birds you hear when you’re getting particularly deep. Hearing all the birds is as gratifying as scoring a goal in sports.

The finer points: if you’ve never meditated before, start small with your goals. Even a couple of minutes is a good place to begin. The classic image of someone meditating is sitting up in lotus position, but I actually do mine while lying in bed at night. A side benefit of this approach is it sets you up for a great night’s sleep. It’s probably less important when or how you do it, and more that you create some kind of routine that you can be consistent with. If you can’t afford an high-tech device like the Muse, there are many techniques to clear your mind or to focus your mind on something. While later additions to this blog will explore various approaches, a good place to start is simply to focus on your breathing and/or to recite a simple intention, such as “I will be kind to myself” or “I am here; I am healing myself.”

Results: I’ve been regularly meditating for about a year now. It’s been one of several complementary interventions, which have drastically brought down my anxiety levels, and helped me cope with a high-stress day job. It’s had the additional benefit of helping me take a step back and see that the whirling narrative in my brain which can sometimes become ruminating or spiraling is not actually the same as my core self. One starts to be able to observe the negative self-talk or the fear as something extrinsic and something which can be intervened upon. The knowledge that I am not my thoughts or my narrative has been a key part of healing bigger traumas and generally figuring out a healthier way of living. If you’ve never tried meditating, make this your year! -Jess

Screen shot from Muse EEG device

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