Why It’s Difficult to Meditate with Anxiety

As a socially anxious college student sitting in class, terrified of being called on by my professor, if you’d told me (Mitch) to “gently rest my awareness” on the physical sensations of the fear-sparked knot in my throat, I would have laughed at you. This assumes, of course, I could even squeeze any air out.

As a psychologist and author specializing in mindfulness approaches, I believe I’ve lost touch with that experience of high anxiety from my youth. However, I’ve benefitted from the reminder that, as powerful and helpful as mindfulness can be in managing anxiety, it can legitimately feel (and be) inaccessible to those struggling with bouts of acute anxiety reactions. Mindfulness instructions often suggest for practitioners to place attention on their bodily sensations, to “let go of judgment” and to “rest” or “simply notice” their experiences “just as they are.” They often include well-intended reminders like there’s “no wrong reaction or experience”—no way to mess meditation up. These kind sentiments can make the practice of mindfulness all the more daunting for those whose anxiety is regularly at fever pitch. Consider my co-author Joe’s experience of using mindfulness to help curb his panic attacks. To read more from Mitch Abblett and Joseph D’Antuono, Esq., click here.