One of the first suggestions from each of the three therapists I’ve seen is to start meditating. They each waxed poetic about its benefits, especially for facing high anxiety. It was a tool that could help me a lot in my mental health journey, they told me.
All sounds great, right?
But if you’re like me, someone who had never meditated before and had even scoffed at the idea, you probably have no idea where even to start. So, I thought I would share a bit about my meditation journey and how I got started.
What is meditation?
This is where I first went wrong with meditation. I thought it was about stopping all thoughts and being in silence. To me, someone with a constant inner monologue, this seemed impossible. My brain has never been anywhere close to quiet, so how would I ever be successful at it? Why should I even bother to start meditating?
Well, my friends, it turns out I had it all wrong! I first began to realize this when I talked to a group of girlfriends about meditation. When I explained what my understanding of the practice was, they gently told me that I was totally wrong! They said that the purpose was to learn to be with your thoughts without letting them take over your mind. With their explanations in mind, I began to research meditation with a more open mind to the concept.
There are different kinds of meditation, but the one I practice is called mindfulness meditation. And what is that exactly? I’ll let experts from some of my favorite meditation resources explain the concept.
- Headspace: “It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment.”
- The New York Times: “Mindfulness meditation isn’t about letting your thoughts wander. But it isn’t about trying to empty your mind, either. Instead, the practice involves paying close attention to the present moment — especially our own thoughts, emotions and sensations — whatever it is that’s happening.”
- Gaiam: “Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.”
Essentially, meditation is about learning to be present in the moment and understanding your thoughts without letting them influence your emotions. It teaches you to live in the moment instead of worrying about what has been and could be. It can also show you what’s at the source of your anxious thoughts.
Why should I start meditating?
There are countless benefits to mindfulness meditation, but for me, the most rewarding benefit is that it helps me tackle my anxiety. To put it in the absolute simplest terms, my anxiety is all about worrying. What could be, what has happened, what I should have said/done, etc.
Since meditation helps you be more present in the current moment, it trains you to slow down those anxious thoughts and push them to the side. It gives me a chance to catch my breath and take back the control over my thoughts instead of letting them fall into an obsessive pattern.
Beyond that, meditation also helps you in other ways. It can help with sleep, especially if listened to as you fall asleep. The breathing techniques are great tools if you find yourself in a stressful situation. It can help you to focus better without distractions. I could go on and on!
How do I start meditating?
Luckily we live in a digital world, and there are SO many readily available meditation resources. When my therapist in college recommended meditation, she gave me a CD of different practices. No wonder I didn’t take to it then…I didn’t have a CD player in college! It was 2010, and I felt so sophisticated with my new iPhone.
Anyways, here are some great resources to get your meditation practice started:
- Calm: This is quite honestly one of my favorite apps! When I expressed interest in giving meditation a try, my therapist suggested looking at this and the next app. Both are great, but Calm just spoke to me. It has a large variety of meditation series for anything from anxiety to workplace conflict. But my favorite part? The sleep stories! These are simple stories read aloud by different narrators. They help me fall asleep and sleep peacefully. (I might have to write a separate post just about Calm since I love it so much!)
- Headspace: The other big name in the meditation app game. A lot of my friends use this one and are big fans. I’ve only used it once when I was deciding between it and Calm, so I’m not the best referral. If a subscription is in your budget, I’d suggest checking out the free trial for each and see which one suits your preferences better.
- Podcasts: My second therapist suggested a meditation podcast to me (sorry I can’t remember the name now!). There are more and more podcasts with meditation offerings. It just takes time to find a narrator or style that works for you.
- YouTube: This is a resource my friends use a lot! It can be overwhelming because there are so many options, but once you find one that works, you’re golden.
Note: Calm and Headspace require subscriptions. I personally think they’re totally worth it, but if that’s not in your budget, podcasts and YouTube are great free options.
Tip: see if your college or work has free or discounted subscriptions available! My friend is an MBA student and received a free Headspace subscription as part of her program. More schools and employers are becoming aware of the need for meditation, which is incredible!
It can take a while to find what works for you, so be persistent with it. Try not to go in with high expectations, but with the understanding that it can make a difference with continued practice. Just like with learning any new skill, it will take time before you start to notice the difference it makes.
Also, keep in mind that, as with all things, progress is not linear. You have good days and bad days. Just because you had a tough time being present one day doesn’t mean that the next day won’t be better. Keep working at it and try not to get discouraged when a tough day does come up.
I fell off the rails. How do I start meditating again?
You just start! When I’m out of practice, I notice that my mind drifts off quicker, so I usually will start again with a shorter exercise, like 3-5 minutes rather than 10+. This way I don’t get frustrated if my mind wanders too much, because if I’m annoyed with myself, I’m less likely to keep up the practice.
While meditation does seem to work best with consistent practice, I’ve found it can also be helpful when I feel my anxiety mounting. Now that I’ve identified the physical symptoms that precede an anxiety attack, I can use meditation as a way to slow or stop my anxious thoughts.
So what do you think – are you ready to give meditation a try? Let me know in the comments below!
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