And I don’t say “changed my life” lightly. Meditating, every single day, for an entire year truly changed my life.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I hope that reading this will inspire you also to adopt meditation. While I did go into a bit of the background when I did a post about hitting the 100-day mark, I want to get into it again so it’ll all be under the same roof here.
At different points in my life, meditation had been recommended. For the longest time, despite hearing only positive things, I didn’t want to get on board. It seemed a little too ~woo woo~ for me. And because I didn’t want to, I would always go into meditation with a bad attitude. Of course, that’s not going to do me any good in the long run. Not only did I not want to get on board, I also didn’t “get” meditation. I only know that now that I have been practicing.
Despite not getting into it for my first couple of attempts, I apparently wasn’t so put out that I wasn’t willing to try again. In fact, I think it was because I was so desperate (whether or not I realized it) for some kind of change in my life that I was willing to try anything, even if it meant revisiting something that hadn’t worked in the past.
I downloaded Headspace at the suggestion of my boyfriend after a particularly overwhelming night. Even after downloading the app, I still didn’t dive right in. Eventually, I did a few sleep meditations and I fell asleep before the track even ended. I couldn’t believe it; every morning I’d wake up in awe that I hadn’t heard the end of it the meditation because I fell asleep that quickly. I figured there had to be something to the app, if not meditation alone. So I decided to try the 10-Day Basics pack. Then I moved onto the Basics 2… and then Basics 3. Literally, 30 days, right there and I was beginning to get what meditation was all about.
For a Type A person, I don’t really like the idea of going into something without a clearly defined set of rules and guidelines. I especially don’t like feeling like I’m doing something wrong. When I first attempted, I wanted to be able to turn off my thoughts right away. That is not how it works though, so I was setting myself up for failure. In the Basics packs, I was learning the techniques and tools that would be beneficial for meditation (and that would ultimately spill over into my time spent not meditating, which is a large chunk of the day!).
I can’t recommend Headspace enough, especially if you’re just starting out. I found the little videos and guided meditations to be so helpful. Instead of feeling lost and confused, and then frustrated, I felt like I was being led down this eye-opening path by a wise friend.
Headspace will give you a good sense of what to do and how to do it, but two visuals, in particular, helped me tremendously at the beginning. The first was the idea of thoughts being like clouds in the sky. The clouds are there, but they move along the sky. Like those clouds, it’s okay to have thoughts go through your mind while you’re meditating! (This was the biggest relief for me because I instantly realized that I wasn’t “messing up.”) The key is to remember that the thoughts will pass, just as clouds will pass through the sky. The second is a strategy called “noting.” Again, Headspace goes into details about it, but the basic idea is that instead of fixating on an emotion (and then spiraling deeper into it), you simply note what you’re feeling. The feather on the glass visual is something I use daily– it’s helped me get some space between my emotions and myself.
(While I linked to those Headspace videos, can we just talk about Andy’s voice? I love it… so calming!)
When I started meditating, I was looking for short-term relief for some of my issues and I certainly found that in addition to discovering a long-term solution and strategy. Beyond just having general anxiety, I experience near constant intrusive thoughts from OCD (that I termed “bad tapes”). It’s something I’ve dealt with for as long as I can remember. It’s frustrating at best, debilitating at worse. It ebbs and flows a little bit, but it’s almost always something I struggle with. I’ve tried everything over the years, with some strategies working more than others.
Meditation seems to be the one thing that helps the most overall and most consistently, while still allowing me to feel like myself. I feel so much more in control of my thoughts instead of feeling like my thoughts control me… or by trying to do something that feels like a quick fix instead of a strategy I can implement whenever and wherever I need it. It’s hard for me to explain how I feel on a daily basis, which is one reason why I’ve largely not addressed it before. The best way I’ve come up with is to liken it to being trapped in a room with a person. Sometimes the person is annoying (like being seated next to someone on an airplane smacking gum). Sometimes the person is distracting (like trying to concentrate on a class lecture while another student behind you carries on a conversation with someone on her phone). And sometimes it’s downright scary (like someone screaming at you). My thoughts can range from being scary, distracting, and/or annoying. With meditation, it’s not like the thoughts disappear entirely, but I have some space from them… like that annoying/distracting/scary person being in a closet with a closed door or even in another room altogether.
Meditation is NOT a cure for me, but it’s a highly effective management tool. I wish it were something that I had implemented a lot sooner in my life. I know I could have benefitted from meditating as early as elementary school. I used to have panic attacks at least once a week (where my day could/would be completely interrupted) and, in the past year, I’ve only had about four. FOUR IN A YEAR. This is a massive quality of life improvement for me. I know this is going to sound dramatic, and again, I don’t say this lightly, but there have been points in my life where the intrusive thoughts and panic attacks have felt like a weight that would never leave me. It contributed to a feeling of despair like life could never and would never get better. That is no way to live!
While it has helped me with anxiety and OCD in particular, meditation is something everyone should be doing, even if someone doesn’t have a diagnosed problem. It’s just good for mental health and overall well-being.
I will say though, as simple as meditation is (you’re basically just focusing on your breath), it is NOT easy. I think people confuse simplicity with ease. Meditation can be hard, and that’s okay. In fact, I think the difficulty of it is ultimately what makes it so amazing. A trainer said this during a workout I did and I thought about how amazing it is: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Know that you’re going to come out better on the other side of a challenge!
Since I have started meditating and sharing my practice on social media, I tend to get a LOT of the same questions over and over again. I’m going to address some of the FAQ the best that I can. I will say though, there are way better resources out there, so if what I’m saying (from my personal experience) isn’t doing it for you, definitely conduct your own research. Headspace’s website, for example, has a wealth of information to serve as a good foundation for learning.
How do you remember to do it?
The Headspace app tracks your “streak” for meditation. This was super helpful for me because it made me hold myself accountable. It was two-fold in that, the more days I did it, the more I was encouraged to continue. And the more days I had under my belt, the easier it became to remember. I wanted to do it every day because I felt so much better when I did. Over time, it became a true habit for me. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend committing to doing it every day for a month. I promise you that if you stick with it, you will create a wonderful daily habit.
When do I do it?
Figuring out when to meditate is going to be different for everyone. My schedule is so all over the place that I don’t have one set time, although I wish I did. Because I have the dogs to walk and take care of in the morning, doing it first thing doesn’t exactly work for me. I’m often too tired at night to meditate without falling asleep, so I have found that using meditation as a mid-day break works best for me. That’s not always the case, but it’s what I fall back on more often than not. If I have some “dead” time, it works even better… I meditate on the train going into the city, if I have awkward time between two phone calls, etc.
And even though I meditate every day with the Headspace app, I have been finding myself mediating throughout the day without it. When I get frustrated with something or if I’m bored in line, I’ll meditate, focusing in on my breaths and turning inward instead of focusing on what’s going on around me. Meditation can happen anywhere and that’s a) why I love it and b) why it’s been so beneficial for my anxiety.
Meditating at night is also great, but I’d do it in addition to your daily meditation. I love the “Falling Asleep” guided meditation and the quick “unwind” singles on Headspace right before I get into bed.