It seems like lately the world is on edge more than ever. For almost two years pretty much everyone has been dealing with uncertainty and fear induced by the pandemic, and it’s taking its toll on us. Prior to 2020, anxiety and depression were already on the rise, but covid, political division, and racial strife have accelerated and exacerbated these challenges for people.
If you suffer from anxiety – you are not alone. Whether it’s related to the current world situation or not, I understand what you’re going through, because I’ve been there. Anxiety is no walk in the park – it can negatively impact your health and relationships, disrupt your sleep, make work more challenging, and just plain make life feel harder.
But I want you to know – it is possible to find relief. Whether you work with a doctor, therapist, or find ways to release your anxiety on your own – there is a path out there that can work for you. If you are suffering, it’s my hope that my own personal story gives you some hope.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, therapist, or medical professional. This post is purely about my own personal experience and is not provided as medical advice. Make sure to discuss your specific situation with your doctor or therapist.
My Journey With Anxiety
I’ve suffered from anxiety for almost as long as I can remember. Starting in middle school, my anxiety manifested as all kinds of symptoms – diarrhea, gas, racing heart, sweaty palms, shakiness, and sleepless nights.
When I went away to college, my anxiety worsened. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, unsure of what the trigger was, overwhelmed with fear and nausea. For more than a decade this happened at least once a week, sometimes more. It would take me 2-3 hours of watching DVDs and nibbling on saltine crackers to get back to sleep.
After my husband (then boyfriend), Brian, and I moved in together in 2009, he noticed my anxious tendencies. I was good at hiding my anxiety from most people, but living with a partner exposed my symptoms to someone else. He encouraged me to try meditation to find relief.
Why I Was Skeptical of Meditation
I tried meditation a handful of times over the next few years. My mind would chatter incessantly during every session, and I felt like a failure. And I often found myself too busy to sit quietly even for 10 minutes – it just didn’t seem like time well spent. I thought, what’s the point?
When I started my business in 2014, I began listening to lots of business podcasts. Many famous entrepreneurs like Tim Ferris and Marie Forleo touted the benefits of meditation, but I still wrote it off. I told myself if it didn’t work before, it wouldn’t work now.
Throughout the first half of my 30s, my anxiety lessened a bit. I saw a therapist regularly, and quit an extremely stressful job. But my anxiety was still always lurking somewhere in the shadows. Although I’d improved, I still often had anxiety induced IBS-like symptoms and the occasional 3am anxiety attack.
The Scariest Thing that Ever Happened to Me
If you know my story, you know that in January of 2017, I experienced the most eerily bizarre coincidence of my life – my mom and I were both diagnosed with ovarian cancer, just 27 days apart.
From her initial phone call in early December to tell me her doctor’s suspicion of cancer, my anxiety came roaring back. Every day felt like a battle: I was exhausted from sleepless nights and running to the bathroom on repeat.
And then after 6 weeks of watching my mom’s horrific cancer story unfold, I embarked on my own cancer journey. I noticed a hardness in my abdomen and headed to the doctor. Before I knew it, I was facing major surgery and the most gut-wrenching anxiety of my life. When I came out of the operating room, my oncologist delivered the news: stage 1a ovarian cancer.
Fortunately, since my cancer was caught so early, no additional treatment was needed. But as the drugs wore off and I headed home, the next couple of months were an uphill battle. My mind was going absolutely crazy with fearful thoughts – “what if it comes back? What if they didn’t actually get it all in the surgery? Does this mean I’m more likely to get another type of cancer? What about my mom? Hers is a lot worse – what if she doesn’t live?”
Reaching for Relief in My Darkest Hour
Those first several weeks after my surgery felt awful. With little energy for anything else, I started using the Calm app on my phone to guide me through soothing meditations.
I also discovered Gabby Bernstein’s book, The Universe Has Your Back: From Fear to Faith. I’d actually picked it up a couple months before, but now I was desperate for relief from my fearful thoughts. And it helped. As a modern spiritual teacher, Gabby is a huge proponent of meditation, and describes simple meditations you can do in her book – with or without an app.
Meditation helped me climb out the dark hole I was in that entire winter. It didn’t solve everything, but it definitely helped me release some of my anxiety, sleep better, and feel more optimistic about my future. I gained a new lease on life and was able to feel deep gratitude for everything that was going well – my marriage, my business, my friendships, and my body’s ability to heal, walk outside in the sunshine, and ride my mountain bike (one of my most favorite things!).
Navigating Anxiety & Grief When I Lost My Mom
It’s hard to believe it’s now been five whole years since my and my mom’s cancer diagnoses. So much has happened and my life has changed in so many ways – the most significant thing being that my mom passed away in October 2020.
Even with my meditation practice, my anxiety still spiked during the last couple months of my mom’s life. Trying to navigate cross-country travel and self-imposed quarantines to be with her was extremely stressful (thanks, covid). But because of my regular practice, my anxiety was quieter, less frequent, and more manageable than it would’ve been had all this gone down years ago. I got to spend 4 of the last 6 weeks of my mom’s life with her. It wasn’t what I’d call fun, but I was able to be present with her and witness the bittersweetness of it all.
It hasn’t been easy, and I miss my mom a lot. Nearly sixteen months later, grief still sneaks up on me from time to time. Not to mention, the pandemic has added a whole other layer of emotion and challenge to things – covid cancelled Christmas for us two years in a row – in 2020 because we weren’t traveling or socializing, and in 2021 because Brian (and possibly I) actually got covid – sigh.
Something I never could’ve anticipated was that meditation has helped me tremendously with my grief surrounding all of these things. It didn’t take the pain of losing my mom away, and it didn’t make missing two Christmases with my family hurt any less. But it helped me stop judging my grief. Western culture has certain ideas and timelines of what grief is supposed to look like. When I wasn’t meeting those expectations, meditation helped me accept my grief and stop pushing against it – which actually led me to feel better.
What Life is Like After Five Years of Meditation
Even with all the challenges, so many beautiful things have happened in my life too – things that I (partially) attribute to the groundedness that meditation provides. I sold one of my businesses and took the other one to six figures. I became certified as a transformational coach. I’ve developed some of the deepest, most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had. Brian and I traveled for 3 months to Patagonia and New Zealand, and our marriage is stronger than ever (side note: flying used to make me extremely anxious, and now 90% of that anxiety is gone when I fly!).
In the last five years, meditation has become a non-negotiable part of my life. It doesn’t fix everything, but it helps – a lot. I still experience mild anxiety sometimes, but I no longer have chronic anxiety – anxiety that’s present every day, affecting my life in negative ways all the time and keeping me from truly living.
The Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Meditation
Here are some of the most valuable things I’ve learned after five years of meditating regularly:
- The point is NOT to quiet your mind. A lot of beginner meditators get frustrated because they think the point of meditation is to turn off their thoughts, and that’s just not true. Our minds are designed to think, and telling them to shut up for 10-15 minutes is pretty much impossible. Meditation is about witnessing your thoughts and releasing them without judgment. It’s about slowing down and intentionally relaxing your mind and body so you can respond to life mindfully instead of reacting to stressful situations on autopilot.
- There is no right or wrong way to meditate. When I started meditating, my mind would say “you’re doing it wrong, you suck at this, you’re failing!!” What I’ve learned is the more I tell myself I’m doing it wrong, the less likely it is I’ll stick with it, and therefore won’t see the benefits. Showing up is more important than doing it a certain way.
- On days I don’t meditate, I notice. After 5 years of meditating nearly every day, if I miss a day, I notice how much more easily I get irritable and anxious. Traffic, tourists (I live in a ski town), people not following covid protocols, and work frustrations all make me react negatively on autopilot.
- Meditation is like going to the gym. Go once and it doesn’t provide great results. Go regularly and over time, things start to shift. One day you wake up and realize you’re different, you’re calmer. It’s not a magic pill and it doesn’t happen overnight. But with a committed practice, you WILL see positive results.
- Meditation is a sustainable, healthy, affordable option for improving your life. It’s simple, it’s effective, and anyone can learn to do it. It’s free, requires no special equipment, you can do it anywhere, and it has no negative side effects (in fact, in addition to helping me release my anxiety, another positive side affect is I now require less sleep!).
How to Get Started With Meditation
There are many different ways of learning to meditate – books, apps, online courses, in-person workshops, retreats – there’s even a series on Netflix by the creators of the popular meditation app Headspace.
Experiment with different tools and see what feels good to you. Everyone is different, and just because one way of learning doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience with a different tool or platform. There’s bound to be something out there that feels right to you!
Personally, I continued using the Calm app for years – I loved the main teacher (Tamara Levitt)’s soothing voice and approachable, calm vibe. She helped me realize that I couldn’t get it wrong, and that made it easier for me to stay committed.
Later I craved more variety, and I started using the Insight Timer app. There are thousands of teachers and guided meditations, visualizations, affirmations, and even mini-courses within the app. Topics range from releasing anxiety and healing grief – to cultivating self-love and manifesting your dream life.
Most recently, I discovered Emily Fletcher’s Ziva Meditation technique. Her book titled “Stress Less, Accomplish More” is written for high achievers, but anyone can benefit from her technique, regardless of whether they consider themselves “high-achieving” or not.
Emily explains meditation in one of the most straightforward, down-to-earth, digestible ways I have experienced – plus she cites scientific studies on why it works, and shares success stories of her students who have done everything from healing their anxiety and overcoming medical challenges, to building multi-million dollar businesses. I learned her technique via her book and have been using it for about 3 months now, and I highly recommend it to anyone. She also offers online and in-person courses (I have not taken them).
Meditation is an Investment for a Better Life
Just like putting money away into a savings account or starting a workout program, meditation takes a little bit of work and discipline. But in my experience, the benefits FAR outweigh the work.
Not only have I drastically reduced my anxiety, I’ve become happier and healthier. I’m more focused, more productive, more creative, and more connected to my intuition. I sleep through the night every night (except to pee, but I go right back to sleep – ha!). I handle stress with much more grace and calm than I used to. I’m more aware of my thoughts and it’s SO much easier to catch myself when I go down the rabbit hole of negativity. In short, I’m better at life.
Curious if meditation can work for you? Hit me up in the comments or shoot me a message with your questions, and feel free to share your own experience – good or bad (this is a judgment-free zone!).
I’d also love to hear your feedback on this post. And if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please share the link with them!