Meditation + Anxiety

By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

Meditation can be quite challenging for people with anxiety difficulties.  In addition to the usual difficulty with concentration, they can be overly sensitive to physical sensations, jittery, and prone to rumination.  As a result, seated breath meditation--the typical starting point for newbies--often becomes too frustrating or overly provocative.  Indeed, many just give-up and resolve never to meditate again.  [Of course, a breath focus might be a useful exposure exercise, but it is not one that is initially relaxing.]

Fortunately, there are many kinds of meditation available.  And, there are a few that are particularly helpful in cultivating relaxation for people with anxiety:

Sound Meditation:  Listen to sounds in the environment.  While sound ultimately is perceived internally through listening, the apparent focus is external to the body and thus less anxiety-provoking.

Walking Meditation:  Pay attention to the physical sensations of walking by noting shifting body weight, tensing muscles in the legs, and the “lift, move, place” of each foot.  It is a more active meditation because you’re physically moving and the object of meditation keeps changing.  

Word Focus:  Repeat an anchor word or phrase in one’s mind.  Based on Herbert Benson’s work on the relaxation response, this style of meditation provides a verbal object of focus, which occupies the thinking mind.  I advise people to pick two simple words and synchronize their repetition with each breath in and out.  For example, you might inhale while thinking the word “one” and exhale while thinking the word “peace.”  I also like Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion:  “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.  Breathing out, I smile.”  

Last month, I started recording professional, guided meditations, available on our website and Insight Timer.  My inaugural meditation, Sound Meditation, is 9 minutes long and can be found here:  Resources.  Give it a try and let me know what you think--or hear.  :-)


Meeting People

By Jessica MacDonald, Ph.D.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social phobia or social anxiety affects about 7% of adults (Kessler et al., 2005). Many of my clients report experiencing social anxiety, and reveal some feelings and behaviors that reinforce social anxiety and keep my client from experiencing social success.  Below are some tips for overcoming these behaviors and meeting new people:


  • Be open to others. The first step in showing that you are receptive to talking to someone is to make eye contact. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of cell phones, making eye contact is more difficult. If you are at an event, party, coffee shop, etc. and don’t know anyone, don’t reach for your phone. Look at people. Some people will be looking down at their phones but some won’t. Make eye contact and smile. You may find that they smile back, or even come up to you (or you may go up to them) and start a conversation.


  • Embrace your fear of rejection. This is the core difficulty in meeting someone new. Fear of rejection is a universal experience, and a difficult emotion to feel. However, this experience gets easier with practice. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, had a fear of meeting women. By applying the theories underlying fear extinction in behavioral psychology, Ellis made himself approach one hundred and thirty women and talk to them for one minute. While it was a very uncomfortable experience at first, Ellis learned that he did not die from doing something fear-inducing and that his fear of rejection subsided over time. He even got a date! With repeated exposure to your fear, you will actually reduce your feelings of fear.


  • Avoid avoidance. Frequently, when I ask clients if they went to that acquaintance’s party or that class that none of their friends wanted to go to, they say no, stating that it was too anxiety-producing. While not going to the party or class can temporarily feel good and relieve anxiety, unfortunately this avoidance behavior can actually reinforce and strengthen anxiety and lead to avoidance of future opportunities to meet new people. In session we discuss ways toexperience and manage anxiety while embracing social experiences.


Overcoming these fears and avoidance behaviors is not easy, but is absolutely achievable. If you are interested in learning more about techniques to overcome social anxiety, please contact us.