Healthy LivingMental Health

How + Why to Successfully Meditate, For Real This Time

posted on August 22, 2019 | by Molly Bender

How + Why to Successfully Meditate, For Real This Time

I thought I had tried everything to cure my anxiety. At one point, during an especially sleepless night, I even ordered an oil diffuser and lavender essential oil from Amazon (and paid for the extra one-day shipping).

And apparently I’m not alone. According to the ADAA, approximately 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. Since that number is so high and having experienced it myself, I knew I wanted to talk about something that’s really helped me. Good news – it’s accessible, free and it doesn’t have any side effects (like so many medications out there). Meditation!

How I started meditating

A couple of years ago, I was going for a leisurely walk because I had heard getting outside can help with anxiety. I tried so many things before I tried meditation: the aforementioned lavender essential oil, magnesium supplements, going for walks, jogging, earthing, cutting caffeine and alcohol, etc. All ended up being external treatments for an internal problem.

I was listening to an episode of the podcast Science Vs about meditation while sweating profusely (an SNRI side effect). They started with how it can increase focus and reported on the Silicon Valley dudes that were using it to seemingly make more money. Then, they transitioned to its mental health benefits. As it turns out, there are scientific studies showing that it is as effective as antidepressants at treating anxiety and depression. “You mean to tell me I can manage my anxiety with meditation and not have to sweat profusely all day every day?!”

I downloaded a meditation app (this one is great) and did the first meditation when I got home from my walk. (I should note I also had guidance from a therapist and psychiatrist at this time. Anxiety often has many contributing factors and a varied treatment plan is usually recommended.)

Can you meditate badly?

For the past two years since then, I’ve meditated with varying levels of consistency and success but recently I heard something that completely changed my perspective on “having a bad mediation.” There are definitely days when, after meditating, I think “eh, my mind was kind of all over the place, I’ll do better tomorrow.” But the goal actually isn’t a completely clear mind. The goal is practicing having awareness of your thoughts. So as long as I held that awareness, I was succeeding!

What is meditation actually about?

Want to know something cool? Meditation is really just a fancy word for awareness. Once you are aware of your thoughts and can observe them without judgment or emotion, you can create a distance between thoughts and reactions. That distance has been a lifesaver for me. It has allowed me to prevent thoughts from triggering anxiety (most of the time).

A good place to start is to focus on your breath. Naturally, a thought will interrupt. Notice the thought, and then let it go and turn the focus back to your breath. As with anything, it’s a practice.

Now, when I spend too much time practicing shifting my focus every couple of seconds while on Instagram or when my mind is racing when I’m trying to go to sleep, I think maybe I should spend 10 minutes practicing meditation instead.

How to make it a habit

An important key to making a habit stick is self-compassion. When you miss a day, be aware of the story you are telling yourself. Are you being harsh and critical? Or are you allowing yourself to be human and thus imperfect? A missed day here and there is to be expected and shouldn’t be confused as a character flaw. You are human and you’ll try again tomorrow.

So, start small and be kind to yourself. Start with three minutes a day. There are many different apps and the ones I’ve tried all have a free series to teach you the basics. Lastly, do it however makes you most likely to do it. Sometimes getting up to fetch my headphones is enough of an excuse for me not to do it. In those cases, I forgo any guided meditation and just set a 10-minute timer on my phone. Sometimes I do it in the morning for a couple of minutes before getting out of bed to have a calm start to the day. All of it counts. All of it helps.

Have you tried meditation? If so, what are your favorite tips? If not, what’s stopping you?

For more healthy habits for the mind and body, check out this post!