« 9. Mantra meditation for anxiety relief | Main | 7. Manage anxiety in business: How mindfulness helps »

8. Calming your anxious thoughts

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She has used meditation to help her overcome panic attacks and first began practising meditation in 1987. She is still doing it!

Meditation can ease anxious thoughtsBeing able to manage your emotions is a significant aspect of emotional intelligence. There are many emotions we need to learn how to handle and reduce, including disappointment, anger, resentment, frustration and anxiety.

In this article we are going to focus on anxiety and feeling anxious.

It is an emotion that most of us feel very uncomfortable with, and yet anxiety is common.

If you can learn how to manage your anxiety you are taking another step forward in developing your emotional intelligence and having a happier life.

One important method I have used to develop greater levels of peace and calm, and to quieten my anxious thoughts is meditation.

Meditation has now been scientifically proven to help people reduce their anxiety.

Emotional intelligence 1: What is meditation?

The basic idea of meditation is to practise focusing on a single calming object and to keep returning to it whenever you are distracted from it. It is that simple.

When you are focusing on the calming object, such as the breath going in and out of your body, or the words "peace and calm",  there is no room for the anxiety.

Despite what you may think, two different ideas cannot be in the mind at exactly the same time. However, it is possible to move between two thoughts very quickly.

If you find yourself focusing on an anxious thought and becoming distracted by your anxiety, you simply learn to return to the calm meditation object. You keep gently and kindly returning your thoughts and your mind to the calm meditation object, over and over again. And over and over and over again!

I often talk about it in my meditation classes as being like taming a wild horse. One of my teachers talks about calming the monkey mind so the monkey stops jumping around and settles.

Emotional intelligence 2: How can meditation calm anxious thoughts?

Imagine you have a wild horse on a long rope and it keeps jumping all over the place and pulling on the rope, trying to break away. What would you do? Each time it tries to break away you would probably gently coax it back. Over and over again.

Over time the horse pulls away less and less. When it does pull away it learns to come back to you more readily. In the end it may just stand still. Peace!

The mind is the same. When you first start meditating it gets distracted from the calming meditation object, and generates anxious thoughts, and starts running towards them and creating more and more anxious thoughts, until it brews up quite a storm. 

Every time it runs off you learn to simply and gently coax it back to focusing again on the calming meditation object. The more you do this, over time, the mind will come back more easily and quickly. After a while it learns to stay for longer and longer on the calm meditation object.

Meditation is a training. It isn't like taking a happy pill and suddenly your mind is free from anxious thoughts and you bliss out! It is a training of the mind. The meditations I used to help me train my mind and calm my anxious thoughts and panic attacks are all on these MP3s.

MP3s: $29 (US). Add to Cart

It is the training that eases the anxious thoughts.

What meditation also does, in terms of anxiety, is return the control to you. People become aware of their anxious thoughts arising and know how to soothe and calm them. This is one of the benefits.

Emotional intelligence 3: How soon will the anxiety ease?

I remember one of the women, Margaret, in my meditation class. She was sure, as many are, that she could not meditate. As I do with everyone, I encouraged Margaret to come to the class for at least four weeks before deciding whether it would help or not. It is important to try it for long enough and to understood the process. That's being emotionally intelligent!

In the first week she was very restless and she described her mind as a bucking bronco, jumping all over the place. The second week she was the same; her horse was running wild inside her head. The third week seemed he same.

In the fourth week, Margaret said, “Do you know I still have a horse in my head but it isn’t a bucking bronco any more. It’s got calmer. It’s kind of just walking around now instead of jumping. Well I never!” She was really surprised. The progress had crept up on her! The horse had finally found a more peaceful way of responding.

The anxiety and anxious thoughts ease over time, step-by-step. How quickly this happens can depend on how often you practice. The kind of meditations Margaret used, and that you could try, are on these MP3s.

MP3s: $29 (US). Add to Cart

Emotional intelligence 4: How can I calm down my thoughts?

What helped Margaret? It was the repetition that did it. She just kept coaxing her mind away from the anxious thoughts back to the calming meditation object, until her mind and thoughts learnt not to run away so hard or fast.

I remember the first time I tried to meditate. At my first class I ended up getting irritated by the teacher and at the ticking clock they had in the room. At the end I was more stressed than when I arrived! My mind went everywhere except stay on the calming meditation object. I became more and more agitated inside - my mind, like an untamed horse, kept trying to run away and generate more anxious or irritated thoughts, and I was not skilled at bringing it back.

I went back for a second session. It was just as bad, my mind was still restless, my knee hurt and my nose itched, and I kept getting irritated with the person next to me for fidgiting. I simply couldn't stay focused on the calming meditation object. Was I more relaxed? No way - I was just more aware of how full my head was of stupid thoughts. I left not wanting to come back.

However, I decided to go again. My mind was still racing with negative thoughts and running off in all sorts of directions. I was still fidgeting on the chair. And I still hated it.

But something strange then happened. At the end of the session, the teacher said, "Just notice if anything has changed since you started". Oh, yes! My mind was not racing as quickly, there were fewer anxious thoughts and I was a bit more peaceful. I realised it was the repetition that did it.

After that I began to mediate more often. And over time it became easier for me. The anxious thoughts calmed down, they didn't arise so often, and if they did occur I knew how to soothe them so they left again.

Have you tried meditating yet? Have you stuck with it? It is the repetition that helps. It is a training of the mind that can leave you more in control. It could help you calm your own anxious thoughts and develop your emotional intelligence even further.

Please note: Anxiety occurs to varying degrees, and takes on different forms. Please seek the professional help you need. Meditation is not a cure-all for all anxiety problems.

Want to gain the benefits of meditation? You can do it now using our professional recordings "Happy not hassled". There are four guided meditations of different lengths and types for you and instructions on how to meditate.

MP3s: $29 (US). Add to Cart