How to Start Meditating to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
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I am one of those people who really lets my stress get to me, whether it’s related to work, my relationships, chores, my goals in life, whatever. I get so worked up about everything that I have going on that sometimes I forget that I’m the one in control and that I have the power to set those things aside for a beat to take care of myself.
Meditation is something that I’ve leaned to on and off over the years and am slowly getting better about utilizing in my times of stress. Whether my anxiety is acting up and I’m having a crazy out-of-the-blue panic attack or I’m stressed about yet another thing on my to-do list, meditation helps me to “find my center” or bring me back into a state of control where I can better focus on the task at hand or just on feeling better in general.
What is meditation and how can you get started?
Meditation is a technique that is generally used to help an individual achieve a state of awareness or calmness. It often engages in deep breathing exercises and focusing on a positive thought or sentiment.
When most people think meditation, they might picture a monk or religious being cross-legged on a mat in a mountain sanctuary reciting mantras–but meditation can be as simple as taking a beat to take a few deep breaths and refocus. It doesn’t have to be religious or in a specific place, and you don’t have to make a sound. All you need to meditate is yourself.
Even just taking a few moments in your car after dropping the kids off at school or at your desk between tasks at work or standing in line at the grocery store can give you the time you need to re-center and feel better about moving ahead with your day.
Practice, practice, practice
If you’ve never meditated before, it’s likely not something you even think to try in times of stress. When we feel overwhelmed, it’s often too difficult to focus on anything, let alone remember to meditate or breathe for a second.
That’s where practice comes in. Even if you just start a meditation practice for five minutes each day, you’ll start to notice that you are more aware of your feelings and can come to recognize when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. As that awareness comes into place, it will be easier to remember to meditate in times of need.
Think about meditation like any other skill you want to learn. I’ll use playing an instrument as an example. You have to learn the basic steps and hand positions of playing an instrument to be able to play beautiful songs. And the more you practice, the more the notes and the songs you learn become muscle memory to where you can play them without engaging in very much effort at all to recall the notes.
Meditation is very much like that. The more you meditate, the more it becomes second nature. So when you become overwhelmed or stressed to the point that it’s difficult to focus, you’ll remember to breathe and even recall a favorite meditation technique to calm your body and mind and keep moving forward with your day.
Health benefits of meditation
Are you aware that stress plays a big role in many chronic health conditions? Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, mental health disorders, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal problems, and so many others.
If we can learn how to properly manage our stress, then we can alleviate the effects of and even prevent these diseases.
Just the simple act of deep breathing exercises allows you to take in more oxygen and lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and it sends signals to the brain that everything is okay when it’s in the midst of stressing out.
Meditation is a great skill to learn to reduce stress and live a healthier life in general. Beyond helping to significantly reduce stress, meditation can benefit your life in many other ways too:
- Increasing self-awareness. This contributes to the stress factor but it can also contribute to your overall happiness. The more you meditate, particularly with helpful guided meditations, the more aware you become of your true desires, hopes, and dreams. It can help you feel more empowered to go after the things you want in life.
- Focusing on the present. Our anxieties and fears often come from a place in the past, something that has already happened that we agonize over. Meditation helps you focus on the present and leave those thoughts where they belong–behind us.
- Increased creativity and imagination. Meditation helps us to open our minds up to new ideas and helps us to imagine a better view of the world and ourselves. Having a more centered state of mind can help you better come up with solutions to problems or ideas for projects that you might not have in a more stressed state.
- Lengthens attention span. By training your mind to focus on your breathing and relax, you gain the ability to better focus on tasks. This can lead to increased productivity, better performance on tests and skills, and more attentiveness to conversations with loved ones.
- Generates kindness. When we are more aware of our state of mind, it is easier to be kind and put more effort towards helping others.
- Can help fight addiction. Whether you have a drug or alcohol addiction, food addiction, coffee addiction, etc., meditation is a tool that helps you gain better self-control, redirect your attention to better things, and lower the stress that causes you to lean toward your addiction.
- Improved sleep. The deep breathing and mindful clarity that meditation allows can help you get better sleep.
There are so many more great benefits of meditation, that it’s a wonder we aren’t taught this in schools from a young age. Everyone should have meditation as a helpful tool to engage in whenever they need it.
Is there a proper way to meditate?
Good news here–there is no right or wrong way to meditate. You just need to figure out what works best for you. For some people, it’s easiest just to start taking a few minutes out of each day to practice deep-breathing exercises and ponder on positive thoughts. Others may prefer a more guided approach with a pre-recorded meditation instructor on an app or device.
Even saying a prayer or finding time to think about the things you are grateful for can be a good meditation routine.
The biggest thing that I want to emphasize as far as “proper” meditation technique goes is to make it a daily or regular occurrence. If it’s not something that you do regularly, it’s difficult to remind yourself that meditation really does help in a time of high stress or anxiety.
Meditation techniques for beginners
If you are like me and prefer a little more structure in your meditation, here are some meditation techniques for beginners that you can utilize as you get started.
As the name declares, concentration meditation is a technique where you concentrate on a single point throughout the duration of your meditation. This could be following your breath, repeating a positive thought or mantra in your mind or aloud, or listening to a repetitive gong.
Find something that you can focus on for 2-3 minutes at a time at first. If you find that it’s difficult to concentrate and that your mind is filled with thoughts, that’s okay. When you recognize that your thoughts have drifted off, just bring your attention back to that point of focus. The more your practice, the easier it will become to stay focused and meditate for longer periods of time (if needed or desired).
Mindfulness meditation, in my opinion, is a little more difficult. It doesn’t involve focusing on a single thought or point, but rather allowing your mind to do it’s thing as you observe the thoughts that go through it.
You can sit or lay somewhere comfortably for a few minutes in silence, breathing in a relaxed state, and allow your thoughts to take form. You don’t get involved or judge the thoughts that you have, but acknowledge them as they arise and let them go.
Concentration and mindfulness meditation are often combined techniques in the various guided meditations you may come across.
Simple meditation that you can do anywhere
You can meditate anywhere. Maybe you’re about to give a big presentation at school or work or you’re agonizing over which kind of yogurt to pick at the grocery store (it can happen, ok?) Wherever you are when you need a moment to re-focus, just follow these basic steps to calm your body and mind.
- Find a quiet place to sit or stand.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in deeply for 4 counts.
- Hold for 4 counts.
- Exhale for 4 counts.
- Repeat as many times as you need.
What about guided meditation?
Guided meditation is a great technique for anyone who wants to meditate, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been meditating and training your mind for decades. A guided meditation will walk you through a timed meditation and help you focus on your breathing and direct your thoughts toward positive outcomes.
There are literally thousands of different guided meditations out there for all kinds of situations and topics, from addiction and mental health to gratitude and morning routines. Find the topics that you need to meditate on in your life and use those to help you re-focus, relax, and restore your happiness.
Best apps for guided meditation
I love using mobile apps for guided meditation. That way, no matter where you are, you have an easy meditation that you can pull up on your phone in a time of need.
If you want a free app with over 100,000 guided meditations, then this one is perfect. A friend recommended it to me and I don’t think I’ll use any other meditation app. It encourages you to do daily check-ins based on how you’re feeling, and then will even recommend specific meditations for you based on your mood.
You can also search for certain types of meditations on your own: sleep, morning, stress and anxiety, gratitude, timed, beginners, music. There are so many different meditations that you can find ones that are perfect for your personality and the way you’re feeling in any particular moment.
What I love most is that the meditations are totally free. It’s not a free trial, there are no ads. There are in-app purchases, but those aren’t forced upon you. They are just there if you’d like to purchase a course to dive deeper into on a given topic of meditation.
YouTube is a great place to find guided meditations. The only downside is that you might get ads on your videos if you don’t have YouTube Premium. But you can still find tons of great meditation videos that will help guide you into a state of calm and control. And if you find a particular instructor that you like, you can always subscribe to their channel for more of their videos.
Calm is another great guided meditation app, but a lot of the really good content is locked in their Premium mode, meaning you have to pay to access it. The cost (as of January 2022) is $69.99/year.
You can get a few good meditations, including a 7-day intro to meditation, for free. But unless you’re willing to pay for the premium access, you’re better off with Insight Timer.
Calm also provides a way for you to do daily check-ins, gives you stats on your meditation practice within the app (how many days, minutes, your longest streak, etc.) and you can search meditations by topic.
Headspace is an awesome meditation and mindfulness app and company. They have a show on Netflix with guided meditations as well as a daily podcast that you can access on Spotify and their website.
The app is very much subscription-based though and doesn’t have much in the way of free access. So if you’re interested in Headspace, I’d recommend watching their Netflix show or listening to their podcast first and if you like their style, then give the app a try. It’s $12.99/month or $69.99/year.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for taking the time to read my article! Stay tuned for future articles that will have useful app recommendations for the health and wellness sphere.
And if you'd like a way to keep yourself accountable to build a daily habit of meditation, here's a free Meditation Tracker PDF that you can download and print.