Does Meditation Help With Anxiety?

Updated: May 2

This article is going to take on an unfixed narrative style. Consider this article an open diary or free-form expression highlighting post-meditative thoughts and realizations about my own mind. But through this article, I'm making a concerted effort to unravel a kind of yarn we are all tangled in to some degree or another—thoughts.

Here goes…

As I began my meditation this morning, I gave myself this simple task:

“Instead of assuming I already know what is causing my stress, I’d like to look inward in a more receptive way.”

After five minutes of focusing on my breathing, I endured some painful thoughts related to the intention above. They included:

  • I have this annoying, persistent spiraling in my head coupled with a pooling like hot lava in my chest.

  • I am meditating, but to what end? I’m sitting with my legs crossed, my back comfortably prostrated, my eyes closed, focusing on my breath, but why? What's the point?

  • This meditation doesn’t seem to be improving my current mental state in any meaningful way. I've done this before many times, and though I always feel better after every meditation, these effects are not long-lasting and I find myself returning to my default anxious state.

After some time of torturing myself with these thoughts, I came to some small revelation that changed my attitude about meditating. A flip was switched but the mind was still overrun by swirling thoughts and faint melodies playing on repeat.

The intrusive melodies could be compared to those rare but jarring instances when you’re listening to a song on your computer and the entire system freezes but the song is still playing, but stuck in an annoying 2-second long loop.

What is meditation really for?

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but this is what I discovered:

Meditation creates awareness, not peace of mind. To expect—or feel entitled to—peace of mind is silly.

I'm pretty sure meditation is not meant to be a cure for anxiety. It is no panacea in the fight against stress.

It is something done for its own sake.

To meditate under the common misperception that the act of meditation alone will eventually grant you happiness, is silly.

But, meditation is a very useful tool for getting your life in order. Think of meditation as as a tool that can help pave the way for a much-needed reality check.

Meditation Does Not Calm the Mind

That’s right. I said it.

Instead, it is a practice that puts you in a vulnerable position. It’s like when you catch a child in the act of some petty thievery after having turned a blind eye to their naughty actions for so long. Your awareness of what they’re doing catches them off guard because after a while of putting up with their bad actions, they began to believe what they were doing was okay.

Meditation reveals the folly of your mind to your mind. With no distractions, the mind is left with no choice but to bear witness to its pattern of behavior.

In my case, I could find these emotions, which were paired with some interesting actions:

  • Addiction all across the board — technology, thoughts, nervous habits, etc

  • Judgemental thoughts — of myself and others

  • Unfulfilled states — the need for more — more peace, more love, more stability, etc.

  • Anxiety— brought upon by subconscious feelings of entitlement.

And most of all, meditation revealed to the mind how exhausted of itself it was. The mind spends so much time dawdling about in all of this nonsense that it fails to see just how simple deflating stress can really be.

Spiraling Out of Control

The mind further complicated things by seeing this flurried mental state brought upon by many internal and external circumstances as problems that needed to be solved.

Oddly enough, the reason why all of these anxious thoughts were arising was precisely that the mind was trying desperately to solve far too many problems at once.

How ironic.

So this means attempting to tackle anxiety by solving it makes the anxiety worse. This is both terrifying and hilarious!

When the mind, in its healthy and authentically productive state, seeks to solve problems, it is just trying to survive. It doesn't want to stay in a state of impermeable bleakness. It wants to find ways to feel more accomplished, receptive, and confident.

I believe that every problem—no matter what the problem—must be dealt with with a kind of humble curiosity and receptivity to change, where you realize your expectations will not always be met.

But the mind struggles. This is even true when it begins to achieve some degree of success. Sometimes the mind overworks itself and begins moving faster than it should. Sometimes the hope of achievement can be so alluring that the desired goal can lead you to progress at all costs.

The song of moving up in the world has a kind of pretty ring to it, whereas regressing backward intuits a sense of falling or losing control. Comparatively, the feeling of wading in the present reality of one’s solitary accomplished goal elicits its own complex form of terror in the career-driven individual.

“I’m doing well, but not well enough to be happy.”

This commonly used internal dialogue seems to be a detrimental side effect of the constant anxiety-plagued feedback spiral mentioned above. It is, quite ironically, adversely affecting our ability to be the high achievers we so desperately seek to be and to be seen as.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

As the old adage goes, the first step to getting out of your head is to realize you are knee-deep in it, or something like that.

It’s a new take on an old adage. Bear with me here.

Here goes my resolution…

It might be painful at first, but the sooner you realize your own mind can be toxic, repetitive, self-indulgent, entitled, scared, and in many ways childlike, the easier it will be to say NO to the mind's entitlement to its desires.

You can say no to the person in your head who fears never achieving the things they so wrongfully believe they’re entitled to. It's also easy to feel entitled to dwelling in your own sorrow merely because the things you believe you are entitled to are not present in your life at this moment.

You may also feel entitled to the things you do have as if somehow the things you do have will be with you forever.

Newsflash — They won’t!

You’ll lose everything someday. You’ll die and have nothing, not even your mind—I think.

Personally, I have no idea what will happen to my mind when I'm gone.

The Great Contradiction!

So, you know that scared person who is afraid and uncertain about what is to come and dissatisfied about what has already come to pass?

Love them.

But don’t love them as if to allow them to feel entitled to their chaotic flurry of petty expectations. Love them like a parent would love a child. Let them know they neither deserve their suffering nor do they deserve their desires.

It isn’t about deserving.

It never has been. You also don’t attract or repel what you like nor do you attract or repel what you don’t like. At least not in some kind of magical thinking type of way. Instead, you happen to your internal and external environment in a way that is no meaningfully different than how your environment happens to you.

You both have and have not free will.

There are things you can perceivably control, like:

  • Goal setting

  • Doing kind things or unkind things for others

  • Controlling your behavior/impulses

  • Etc.

But, you can’t control the way the outside world reacts to the effort you put into the pursuit of your desired outcome as it pertains to each goal. You are powerless against this. This is a universal absolute, perhaps one of the only universal absolutes.

This is, I believe, the single-most terrifying truth you will face as you grow older. Some day you will be forced to watch everything you worked so hard for fall apart.

Personally, I want to believe that what I do now will bear fruit in the future, and it might.

I want a guarantee while being fraught with this primal intuition that there is no guarantee and there never will be. It would be so much easier if the world outside of my control, my reach would bend to my will.

But it never will. It will only as it wills, assuming it wills anything.

And that's okay.