Stress and anxiety are problems that most of us face in some capacity throughout our lives. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to avoid entirely, and sometimes it can be a good thing. However, it’s no longer a good thing when it begins to affect our health. Being a ruminator, I’m no stranger to this anxiety of the health-affecting type. My tendency to think about past and future problems on loop has been the cause of issues I’ve had with my gut, hormones, skin, and more. For a while I thought that this was just a part of who I was.Thanks to mediation, I was finally able to get my ruminating tendencies under control. That translates to lower stress and anxiety levels, which has empowered me to take charge of my health.
Given that it’s 2017 and you’re reading this on the internet, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve heard about how mediation can reduce stress. It’s been a practice for humans since the second half of the first millienium BC, which is pretty incredible. However, for the western world, it’s been considered a “woo” activity. I confess, I was definitely one of the skeptical people. I refused to believe that it could have any sort of benefit to mental health or otherwise. However, these days even the loudest skeptics have trouble finding reasons to criticize it. There are studies upon studies that show the benefits of daily meditation on anxiety and stress levels.
What does meditation look like?
There are so many different forms of meditation that it may seem a bit overwhelming. If you’re just starting out and want a guided approach, there are apps and other online resources that can help you. I tend to like to keep things as simple as possible, so I went for the simplest approach for meditation as well. I spent about 5-10 minutes in a quiet room sitting with my eyes closed, while I focus on my breath. During that time, my mind wanders, which is totally fine. In fact, it’s part of the process. When I notice my mind wandering, I just focus again on my breath. No biggie.
So how does that translate into less anxiety?
Firstly, it forces you to take your mind off of whatever is it wants to fixate on, which is great for ruminators. But there is a deeper effect that happens once you commit to practicing once a day. Meditating helps me recognize when I’m about to get into one of those anxious cycles where I think about some future or past problem. That’s huge, because then I’m actually able to stop the cycle before I start spiraling. This was such a game changer for me, that I tell anyone I talk to who struggles with anxiety to try meditating ASAP.
How often do I have to do this to see results?
Unfortunately, you can’t meditate a couple of times a month and hope to get a handle on your stress. It needs to become a habit, because in effect you’re training new pathways in your brain to overwrite the loops that you usually enter when you start ruminating. Make it a point to practice every day, or at least 5 days out of each week. Before you know it, it’ll be a habit. Because of all the great benefits I’ve seen, I actually look forward to meditation each night now!
I personally meditate once a day, usually just before I go to bed, for 10 minutes. That may not seem possible right away, and when I first started it seemed like an eternity. To get up to ten minutes, I started at just 1 minute, and then moved up to 10 over time.
Gaining the ability to manage my stress and anxiety has been another huge part of my approach to living a healthy life. It’s a skill that everyone needs, and the best part is that it only takes a handful of minutes from your day.
Like reading and want to learn more about meditation?
If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, I highly recommend Michael Taft’s The Mindful Geek: Secular Meditation for Smart Skeptics. It’s the book I read when I first started learning about mediation and it really sold me on starting to practice.
Do you struggle with anxiety or have in the past? Has meditation helped you move past it? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your experience!