As a 20-year-old living in 2017 with technology, social media, and a packed schedule, I always seem to be stressed out. I run from task to task without processing what is going on around, or within myself. I have deadlines to meet, degrees to earn, and bosses to please. I was taught from a young age that if I wish to go somewhere in life then I must work hard; so, I maximize my schedule to maximize my potential without any regard to the extra stress it might add. I squeeze in one more meeting, one more internship, one more hour of writing just to get ahead. Then, I do not know how to handle the pressures I have subjected myself to, and either fail to complete the tasks I’ve set out to accomplish and hate myself for it, or complete them while simultaneously destroying myself in the process. Sound familiar?
But what if there was a way that we could master our days by simply mastering our minds? Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the smallest details and blessings of life that are often overlooked, in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It is simply taking the time to actually realize what you’re doing in the exact moment you are in, what is around you, and how you really feel.
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I was introduced to the practice during my freshman year of college. I struggled managing school, sports, work, and volunteering. Eventually, my packed schedule broke me, and I began to suffer from anxiety attacks. I became so nervous that I would hyperventilate during workouts, worry about minuscule assignments, and cry for hours at night because I was scared of failing. I lost sleep and even developed painful rashes.
My aunt saw how much I was struggling and invited me to a meditation class. For 45 minutes, I had to sit with myself and just breathe. At first I found the instructor’s words a little silly. She said things like “the only moment that matters is right now” and “thank yourself for taking the time to listen to your breath.” I wanted to stand up and explain to her that many future moments mattered, and if I didn’t get my act together and finish my assignments, apply to internships, and hit a little better, I would never get to where I wanted to be in life; so, I did not have time for this present moment.
Recognizing that my aunt was taking the time to help me, I tried to stifle my complaints and make the most of our time in class. I breathed in and breathed out. About halfway through, I actually felt a little more relaxed. Because I was so concentrated on the patterns of my breath, I couldn’t really focus on my anxieties. The instructor’s voice soon became more soothing than annoying, as she told me to feel the sensations of each part of my body, and of course, continue breathing. Instead of questioning, I did as she said, falling deeper into a sense of calm.
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I became aware of the texture of the floor I was laying on, and how my T-shirt felt on my skin. I was in-tune with the rhythm of my breaths throughout my body, and I noticed the smell of candles burning.
As the class came to a close, I felt invigorated. Although I was still a little worried about tasks I needed to complete, I figured that if I made a conscious effort to focus on one thing at a time, then my list of responsibilities may seem slightly more manageable. I vowed to focus on my breathing every time I felt stress rising. By doing so, it would remind me of the concentration in my mediation, triggering the calmness I felt in those moments.
I began meditating independently every day for ten minutes. I used an app called “The Mindfulness App: Meditation for Everyone,” to guide me through the same breathing techniques and instructions I learned in class. Having a routine gave me a time of relaxation to look forward to and a promise of a clear head to sort out the busyness of my schedule. After two weeks, my anxiety lessened, my sleep improved, and my skin rash decreased. The tasks still existed, but in a way that no longer overwhelmed me.
Mediation helps you to appreciate and actually realize the minute details of the world around you. It carries with it both mental and physical benefits. Because of its ability to focus the mind, studies have found it decreases depression and anxiety and relieves stress. Physical ailments are affected as well — blood pressure decreases and skin diseases caused by stress clear up. The best part is, you can practice this healing phenomenon wherever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. The hardest part is getting started. I began my journey in a class, but even if you don’t have an abundance of time or money, there are plenty of options for beginning your own meditation practice.
When you feel stressed, take deep breaths
Taking three deep, conscious breaths at different times throughout the day helps to focus our minds on whatever we are doing in at the moment. Begin by breathing in. Hold the in-breath for three seconds. Then, breath out, holding the out-breath for three seconds as well. Repeat this sequence three times. This will allow you to calm yourself down, and focus your mind on the task at hand. It is a modified form of meditation, great for pressure situations, or just whenever you feel like life is overwhelming you.
Mindfulness apps are easy to use. Many offer guided meditations in which an instructor teaches you how to control your breathing, zone-in on your senses, and harness the power of your mind. You can choose the length and type of your meditation, depending on what works for you. Some of my favorites include “Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness,” “Mindfulness App,” and “Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds, White Noises and Fan.”
Books can also be a great resource for background on why meditation stimulates your mind, and how to use it effectively. John Kabat-Zinn, one of the fathers of mindfulness, has several books that will deepen your mindfulness journey. Try “Full Catastrophe Living,” which provides an eight-week course that promises to reduce stress, or “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” which is perfect for beginners.
If you do have time to take a class, there are numerous places to turn to. One-on-one instruction helps to maximize your experience and understand the practice to its capacity. Some mindfulness centers include M N D F L, and the Center for Mind, Body, and Nutrition, but you can find mindfulness centers across the world. So check out one close to you!