How meditation can help you manage stress and anxiety when you’re living with HIV


By: Ann Avery, MD, Infectious Disease Physician at MetroHealth Medical Center

It’s bad enough that social media and news headlines pump hot-and-cold crazy into your world. But you also may have the natural instinct sometimes to panic over your HIV diagnosis and run screaming into the night.

Meditation can’t cure all of that, but it can calm your mind and prevent the stress, anxiety, fear, and worry from taking over your life.

Think about those tightrope walkers who perform in the circus 100 feet above the ground. They are just like the rest of us: Their brains create emotions like stress and anxiety to warn them about hazards. Their job is extremely dangerous, so they will experience some stress and fear. The trick is using training and practice to manage the fear.

Meditation works in the same way — when you learn to meditate, you develop skills to control the fear and anxiety.


What is meditation?

Meditation is a mental technique for coping with fear, worry, and anxiety. To succeed at meditation, you need to:

  • Find a quiet location with limited distractions.
  • Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.
  • Focus your attention on something. It can be your breathing, a nearby object, or a word or phrase.
  • Let distractions come and go naturally without judging them.

Some meditations methods will concentrate on your breathing while letting go of worries or distractions. Other techniques ask you to slowly and methodically relax parts of your body to release tension. Some people even meditate while practicing yoga.

There are so many ways to meditate that you might have to try out a bunch of them to figure out which technique works best for you. Embrace your inner Jedi and give it a try!


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How can meditation improve my health?

Experts say meditation does more than improve your mood and tamp down fears. According to Psychology Today, meditation can help:

  • Improve the functioning of your immune system
  • Decrease pain and inflammation
  • Manage stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Increase positive emotions and make you feel less lonely
  • Provide tools to control your emotions better
  • Improve your ability to focus, remember, and multitask

All these advantages can have a substantial impact on the success of your HIV treatment.


How do people learn to meditate?

Meditation starts with learning to breathe in a new way. Yes, everybody knows how to breathe, but meditation takes it to another level.

Teaching yourself to zero in on your breathing and allow the noise in your head to float away is tougher than it sounds. Fortunately, you can find tons of resources on the internet to help you figure it out.

Try going to YouTube and searching on the phrase “guided meditation.” You’ll soon find thousands of videos ready to walk you through a meditation session. Keep looking until you find a video creator who feels like a good fit.

You can also find smartphone apps that teach you to meditate. And many volunteer groups provide free classes on meditation. You can even stop by your local clinic and ask your social worker for help finding meditation resources.


Keep working at it

It takes time to figure out how to meditate. It might seem like it’s not working at first. But the more you focus on learning meditation, the more value you’ll start to get from it.

Meditation is not a cure-all. It can’t replace HIV treatments, mental health therapy, and support group meetings. But it can help you manage your stress and anxiety, putting you on the path to a healthier, happier life.

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