Home Personal Stories How Mindfulness Meditation made my anxiety both better and worse
How Mindfulness Meditation made my anxiety both better and worse

How Mindfulness Meditation made my anxiety both better and worse

by Si

I first read the word “mindfulness” while commuting on the 9:10 to Birmingham. I’d hit a peak in my mental illness where no amount of sick days could get me out of my rut and, since I’m a millennial, my natural course of action was to Google “quick anxiety relief”.

Six unsuccessful months of Propranolol had cemented the fact that I needed to seek additional treatment. For me, medication was like putting a band-aid over an infected wound. It might look a bit prettier from the outside, but it still hurts like hell.

I also admit that I’d been avoiding counselling because that would involve being vulnerable to a stranger… *shudder*.

Work that day was standard – sweating at the first sign of self-doubt, blushing during every conversation, and my negative mental chatter playlist on repeat in the back of my mind.

While waiting for the 17:10 back home, I decided to download the Headspace app. After reading the reviews on the app store, I had high expectations for mindfulness meditation.

I started immediately!

After perching myself in a corner amongst the hoards of passengers on that sweltering fart coffin of a train, I decided to try and escape my mental, and now physical, discomfort with a 3-minute breathing exercise.

I took a deep breath in and back out. Closed my eyes and used my senses to take in my environment. Focused on my body’s movement as it filled with air and softened as the air left. Then I opened my eyes.

Despite the intense atmosphere on the train, I did feel a bit better.

I continued to do 3-minute meditations twice a day, once before leaving for work and once after arriving back home, for about a month.

Am I meditating correctly?

After a month of guided meditations, I experienced moments of mental calmness and clarity. These breaks offered me an opportunity to shift focus away from my busy mind and onto something calm and consistent – my breathing.

But something became apparent – the results didn’t last long. Rushing anxious thoughts came flooding straight back in almost immediately after I finished.

“Why the hell isn’t meditation working for me?” I’d always ask myself. “Am I doing it wrong?”

Frustrated and discouraged, I quit meditation shortly afterwards. What’s the point in doing something that doesn’t work?

Two long years later, after many fickle attempts to stick to regular meditation, I finally admitted that maybe the problem wasn’t the meditation itself, but my motivation for doing it.

Mindfulness was making my anxiety and depression worse

You might feel differently, but I like to see quick results when I spend time doing something. 

I started putting pressure on myself to have a “good meditation”, and the more I tried, the more disappointed I became.

Until one fateful day, during a meditation session, I was presented with an interesting idea. Andy (Headspace’s co-founder) said that Mindfulness meditation isn’t about FEELING better; it’s about GETTING better.

At first, I thought “Well, duh!” – then it hit me… I’d been trying to use mindfulness meditation to free myself from my racing thoughts temporarily.

Andy Puddicombe of Headspace talks about how easy mindfulness really is.

I needed to explore this idea more. I needed to develop a better understanding of what mindfulness means. So like the diligent millennial I am, I took to the internet again to find out more about this elusive activity.

mindfulness is a way of being in any moment — aware of each thought, each emotion and each action as it arises, thereby bringing a further degree of intentionality and equanimity.” –

Project Happiness

After some online research, I picked up some books that kept appearing in different articles:

I also took a Udemy course (Mindfulness Certificate Course) by Kain Ramsay and learned the ins and outs of mindfulness (I genuinely recommend this course if you’re looking for a thorough understanding of mindfulness).

Before I knew it, I was discovering the roots of a 2,000-year-old practice. A new-found appreciation for mindfulness set in as I began to understand its deep roots, its modern-day application in psychology, and certainly not least of all, its proven capacity to profoundly change people’s lives.

Making mindfulness meditation part of my life

Once I understood what mindfulness was, I was determined to make it a core part of my life. More importantly, I wanted to do this without any set expectations.

I started by committing fully to mindfulness and meditation, making it one of my main focuses each day. I wrote down the following daily goals in my diary:

  • meditate first thing in the morning, for at least 20 minutes, no matter what
  • focus attention on breathing when I notice I have lost focus (using breathing as a vehicle to return to the present moment)
  • don’t be judgemental of thoughts or feelings – just be aware
  • be kind to myself if I fail at any of the above (mindfulness is tough!!)

By treating mindfulness as a part of my daily life, I soon saw it as a part of my toolkit to help with anxiety and depression.

The present moment offered me a new realm to focus my attention, lifting the weight of the past from my shoulders. Before I knew it, my depression had fallen to a level where my energy returned, and I was able to take proper care of myself again (depression is a horrible bastard when it comes to self-care).

On the other hand, my anxiety seemed to get even worse. Before practising mindfulness, I would distract myself from my anxious thoughts… now I had to accept these thoughts and feelings without judgement?!

Using mindfulness to help with anxiety

After a couple of months of using Mindfulness every day, I learned a lot about myself. I gained a new perspective on the contents of my mind – which frankly ended up scaring me more than helping me.

Here’s an overview of the key things I found out about my anxiety:

  • I spend most of my day worrying about the future
  • I am incredibly self-critical
  • I care a lot about what others think of me
  • I have a hard time trusting people

Ultimately I discovered that my brain spends a lot of time and energy trying to protect itself from perceived threats.

Scary as it was to focus in on these parts of my mind, it also empowered me. Once you know what’s causing a problem, it’s a lot easier to start fixing it!

Based on my findings, I came up with another list. This list contained practical things I could do to start reversing the years of conditioning my past had put my brain through.

Here’s the action-plan I wrote for myself to try and lighten the load of my anxiety:

  1. start each day with a 3-point gratitude journal
  2. journal as often as I feel the need to help alleviate thought loops
  3. make use of the Wise Mind method to ground my thoughts
  4. spend at least a few hours a week thinking about my future – I mean sitting down, with zero distractions, and thinking about my goals, values, aspirations, etc.
  5. be more open about my thoughts and feelings

My copy of The Power of Now by Eckhard Tolle
My well-travelled copy of The Power of Now by Eckhard Tolle

As I write this, reliving those early days of mindfulness and meditation, I find myself feeling a deep sense of achievement. I’ve come a long way and have learned so much along the way.

However, meditation isn’t something I can walk away from after a few years. It will need to remain part of my daily routine for the rest of my life – which is fine by me!

And while I’m in a much better place today, I still have a lot of work to do to maintain a “normal” amount of anxiety… by normal I mean a level that doesn’t negatively impact my well-being.

Meditation helps me configure my brain first thing in the morning, and mindfulness helps me maintain that focus throughout the day.

Just in case you were wondering, I did finally start counselling. It took me a while, but I realised that I not only wanted professional help, I needed it! The thought of disclosing my mental illness to someone was scary, but the idea of not doing everything in my power to overcome it was even more frightening.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, here are some great resources to get you started:

Related Posts

We use cookies to collect information about how you use this website and give you the best online experience. You can change your cookie preferences at any time. Accept Read more