Why Do I Get Anxious When I Meditate? Why “Calming Down” May Not Always be the Optimal Goal

Why Do I Get Anxious When I Meditate? Why “Calming Down” May Not Always be the Optimal Goal

The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices are becoming more and more well known. And yet, many folks struggle to meditate and find it an extreme challenge to “go inside” and be still.

Often, the assumption is that the individual simply needs to exert greater discipline or “just practice”. And it is so true that meditation is a practice that our bodies can learn and eventually become skilled in.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that sometimes going inside and “trying to be still” may not be the ideal path either to healing or to greater awareness.

As more research comes to light about the effects of stress and trauma on the nervous system and how our bodies respond, there is a greater awareness developing that the one-size-fits-all approach of “just practice” in order to meditate better is not always helpful.

When an individual experiences trauma, the body develops various coping mechanisms to function in a world that it has experienced as unsafe. When an organism’s healthy nervous system development is thwarted through early developmental trauma, or when someone undergoes a shock or series of traumatic events, the body’s innate “reset” mechanisms can become altered. This can lead to an inability to settle at a physiological level.

If a particular nervous system has learned at a subconscious level that it is not safe to “be”, it may be more helpful to bring in practices to learn to be in the body in a healthy and safe way before it makes sense to learn to transcend the physical experience. We might need to bring on board some basic skills and practices to help us feel safe in the body… before practices such as sitting still and focusing on the breath can be effective or can achieve the desired results.

Another possibility is that we may need to work with, shift, and release some “fight or flight” energy that is constantly running internally and causing an ongoing restlessness. In this type of scenario, trying to demand or require “stillness” of the system when there is energy that is actually needing to be released can be counterproductive.

Being in nature or working with conscious movement are two examples of practices that can help an individual begin to connect to the body. Working with body-based trauma or stress healing modalities in a safe and attuned environment can also help ground, connect, and orient an individual to being in their body in a way that feels connected, safe, and comfortable.

As we become more aware of and attuned to the diversity in our nervous systems and past experiences, we can empower individuals to understand their own system and what it needs, to experience true self care at deeper levels, and restore resilience and wholeness… along with opening to deeper levels of consciousness.

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