First of all, if you are punishing yourself for not knowing how to meditate effectively, please take a break. I permit you to stop all punishing thoughts; they are unnecessary.
Second, if you have a lot of anxiety, you are probably really tired of people recommending meditation as a means of “getting out of it.”
Although it may sound appealing, being in a Zen-like state for the majority of your week is not the path to happiness for most humans. If you feel anxious, jumping into a 30-minute meditation is asking yourself to make a drastic u-turn, and unlikely to help.
The truth is that anxiety is a normal, and dare I say, healthy emotion that is a necessary survival mechanism for staying alive. Our brains evolved to avoid danger and seek pleasure, but as I love to point out, to be human is to hold several unpleasant and pleasant emotions in our brains simultaneously. A healthy mind has balance with both the painful and the joyful emotions. We need a little anxiety in our lives. It reminds us to wash our hands, to wear a mask, to look both ways before we cross the street, and fear protects our lives. The problem in our contemporary lives is not anxiety. The problem comes up when we feel shame or confused when we do have anxiety. We end up trying to push away that discomfort. Using meditation to push out or escape the emotion is a recipe for frustration.
One of my mentors compares running away or pushing away anxiety to pushing a beachball underwater in the pool. The harder your push the ball underwater, the higher it eventually pops up in the air.
The answer then is first to accept and acknowledge the anxiety. Then, lean into the emotion instead of pushing it away. It is very empowering to understand that every emotion is a vibration in our body, and that is it. We don’t’ have to act on it; we don’t have to push it away; we can practice allowing that vibration to exist in our body. We can enable that vibration, it passes. You can allow the wave during meditation, which can be transformative. If you start to allow during your meditation practice, then you will find it useful. Or, you can allow the vibration in your body for 90 seconds while fully conscious. Simply describe the physical sensation of that emotion to yourself. If this feels challenging, just ask yourself some questions. Does it feel heavy or light, a pressure, a fast heartbeat? Where in your body do you feel that pressure or heaviness?
If you know what thought is causing the anxiety, try going to the worst-case scenario. Our brains don’t want us even to consider it but don’t listen to yourself. Saying out loud, or writing on paper, what could be the worst of it can open your mind to ideas. For instance, if your brain is concerned about finances, really consider the thought of losing all your money, your job, your house, step by step. If this happened, would you be living on the street? Probably not. Your brain is much more resourceful than you are giving credit. If you are anxious about getting sick, or a family member getting sick, let your mind go all the way there. What is the worse thing that can happen to you? It is counterintuitive, but this little practice somehow is freeing rather than crippling. The tragedy of anxiety is that it brings us into feeling terrible ahead of time. We create these imaginary stories about our future that are not true. Feeling anxious ahead of time is not going to help us avoid feeling grief in the future, and it is keeping us out of exploring our present. So, write out those stories, get them out of your brain onto paper, look at them, and move on. When it is time to feel grief, feel grief. When it is time to feel love, feel love. It is all good stuff and all part of the human experience.