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5 Reasons Why Meditation Doesn't Work for Everyone

For some, hiking, swimming, or coloring can work just as well.

Key points

  • If you suffer from chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder, meditation may worsen your symptoms.
  • Traditional meditation, such as sitting silently and relaxing your mind, is very challenging when your inner world is in chaos.
  • Consider nontraditional forms of meditation involving tactile or stimulating sensory experiences such as hiking, gardening, or painting.
 Nagara Oyodo/Unsplash
Source: Nagara Oyodo/Unsplash

Meditation is a beautiful tool for fostering self-reflection and peace of mind. But does it work for everyone?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of why meditation fails some people, let me begin with full disclosure: I’ve had a meditation practice for 33 years. I start each day with one hour and set aside time to study teachings related to my mindfulness practice.

Daily meditation is my secret source of strength: It clears mental fog, soothes jittery nerves and anxiety, and helps me find meaning in life’s unavoidable obstacles. It’s a “spiritual gym” that never fails to strengthen my life force.

Does that mean mediation is for you? That depends on several factors.

Meditation comes in many forms; any activity that fosters calm, self-reflection, and mindfulness could be considered a form of meditation. For this post, we’ll focus on traditional meditation—sitting silently, focusing on breathing, and relaxing your body and mind.

It sounds pretty chill, right? So what’s the problem?

Who May Struggle With Meditation

If you suffer from the following chronic conditions, meditation may not be your best option.

  1. Intense anxiety: Anxiety can turn your inner world into chaos filled with intrusive thoughts, obsessive thinking, rumination, or paranoia. Turning your attention inward could spike an increase in dread and discomfort.
  2. Ongoing depression: People struggling with depression tend to isolate themselves, withdraw from the world, and spend too much time alone. Meditation could fuel further reclusiveness
  3. Trauma: Trauma can cause disassociation and panic attacks. When trauma is triggered, the mind tends to fragment, and trying to quiet your thoughts can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
  4. Psychotic episodes: Psychosis is generally defined as a break in reality testing; this leads to an unstable and fragile sense of self. Meditation could further this break and magnify distortions
  5. Active addiction: If someone is in the throes of active addiction, it’s difficult for any form of meditation or therapy to be effective. Meditation could increase cravings and thoughts of using drugs or alcohol.

As you can see, traditional forms of meditation direct you to turn your thoughts inward. If your inner world is in turmoil, it may initiate a battle of the mind that makes your symptoms worse.

Nontraditional Meditation Practices to Consider

If you find meditation unbearable, consider forms of meditation that draw your focus outside of yourself by giving you a task or activity to focus on. Meditation involving tactile or stimulating sensory experiences will pull you out of yourself and give you a break from internal distress.

For example, I worked with a young man who was traumatized by a life-threatening car accident. He was overwhelmed with anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. No matter how he tried to meditate, he couldn’t quiet his mind. In fact, he felt worse with each attempt, like he was a failure at meditation.

Then one day, while organizing his garage, he found a small piece of fresh-cut pine. He took out his pocket knife, sat on a crate, and quietly whittled away at it. The more he focused on the wood, the calmer he felt.

Whittling and wood carving soon became his meditation. At first, he carved simple household objects, such as forks or spoons, which became gifts to friends and family. Later, he experimented with larger projects and took an art class.

Developing his natural talent for whittling opened the door to the calm he needed in his life. It slowed his heart rate and metabolism, cleared his mind, and gave him something to focus on other than his pain. The objects he created also became symbols of healing.

Finding Your Form of Meditation

Think of quiet tasks you enjoy that replenish your energy and focus your mind, then explore how you feel after engaging in them. You're on the right path if you feel calmer and more grounded.

Some nontraditional forms include walking, hiking, fishing, swimming, surfing, painting, cooking, chanting, exercising, writing, stretching, coloring, crafting, biking, reading, or gardening.

It will take time and experimentation to find your form of meditation. Enjoy the adventure and remember, a meditation practice isn’t just calming; it has the power to improve all areas of your life.

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