If you’re feeling high levels of stress and anxiety during the Coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. In a recent study, Chapman University surveyed more than 4,000 people across the U.S. They found:
- 61% of respondents are feeling more stressed
- 66% are feeling more anxious, nervous or on edge
- 47% are feeling trapped at home
This pandemic is fiscally, physically and emotionally draining for many of us. To stave off stress and anxiety and preserve your mental health, you need a solid strategy.
That’s where meditation comes in.
How Does Meditation Reduce Stress and Anxiety?
Meditation has long been used to increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness and enhance overall well-being and health, notes the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And for good reason; studies show meditation can increase our resilience to stress, improve our self-control, reduce anxiety, maintain brain health and more, Medical News Today reports.
No wonder meditation—known for its spiritual and devotional roots—is being discovered as a straightforward practice many turn to for mental health care and general well-being. Stress reduction and management of anxiety disorders are some of the most common reasons people try meditation, Healthline says. That makes meditation an especially good practice to embrace when these stressful times get the better of us.
While there are many different forms of meditation and various meditation techniques, the basics of the practice are surprisingly simple. Here’s how you can get started:
How to Meditate to Relive Anxiety and Stress: 3 Simple Steps
Prepare Your Mind
Preparation is used to reduce the distractions in your mind and body and start to eliminate anxious thoughts. It’s a practice that trains you to move from being active on the outside to being active on the inside. By turning your mind inward, your senses progressively withdraw from external stimuli such as your phone, your email, the background noises in your environment and come alive in the inner environment of your mind.
The metaphor of the “cup” is frequently used to explain why it’s necessary to prepare for meditation: if you want to fill a cup, it has to be empty first. If your mind is full, there’s no room for anything else. Preparation before you meditate lets you make space for something new to come in. It’s a meditation practice that trains your mind to move inward and prepares you for deeper sensory experiences. This movement is what makes meditation possible.
To prepare your mind, it helps to do the following:
- Intentionally decide that it’s time to meditate. Decide how long you have for the practice, and find a quiet spot. Be aware of being in the present moment.
- Consciously focus on your breathing. Begin to lengthen your breathing. Make it deep, even, and focused. As you shift your attention to the flow of your breath, observe how it comes and goes. Lengthen your breath naturally, following it with your awareness. Studies show breathing exercising can calm anxiety and fear and promote mental clarity and focus.
- Prepare your body to meditate by deliberately moving or stretching your body, focusing on the rhythm and depth of your breath at the same time. Give your mind permission to let go, easing out of the day’s busyness. Keep following the flow of your breath.
Focus Your Attention
Now that you’ve “emptied the cup” you’re ready to fill yourself up with something new. This idea of emptying and filling the cup is the foundation for all meditation practices and is a metaphor for mental and physical renewal. To begin this renewal process:
- Decide what you want to focus on in your meditation practice. It can be anything: the tip of your nose, your navel, your heart, your breath, a sound, an object or an idea. The object or idea simply becomes a support for your attention. Whatever happens between you and the object is the beginning of meditation.
- Attempt to hold your mind and focus it on that object or idea. Use all of your attention to keep your mind focused in one place. This is how you bind your attention to a single point.
- Encourage your mind to go toward one object only and place your attention there—without letting it wander or multi-task. The stronger that connection becomes, all objects or distractions fall away. This is simple to do, but not so easy to sustain.
- Focusing encourages you to pay attention to what you are doing. This practice has powerful benefits, from developing discernment and self-direction to strengthening the ability to see clearly amid chaos or stress.
Sustain Your Attention
In true meditation, you focus on one place, object or thought and prolong that focus for a certain length of time. As you practice meditation, your mind becomes absorbed in the object and you become completely integrated with it. As you sustain your attention, you direct your mind away from what you feel is undesirable and link to what is desirable. This makes you experience the process as well as the goal—it’s when you and the cup become one.
Now Practice, Explore, Enjoy and Grow
Keeping your mind on your breath is one practice of meditation. Reflecting on an idea or form, or quietly observing an emotion, is another. Meditation is simply a practice — and one that you can come back to again and again. It’s not a strict discipline of the mind. Nor is it done in the same way every day. It can be a walk in the woods, a mindful sense of your emotions, a ritual, a sacred time, or simply a process of observation. Any of these calming practices can help you achieve a more calm, less agitated mental and physical state.
By investing in and utilizing your mind’s power of attention, you will perfect yourself on a regular basis and develop the invaluable qualities from which wisdom, creativity and inspiration truly arise.
Read more about the various practices of meditation in my book, Emotional Yoga: How the Body Can Heal the Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2002)
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