“Hard work good and hard fine hard, but first take care of head.”Sublime
An overload of stress from work, life, and family had me pondering how I can do better. I was tired of being tired; anxiety had been keeping me up all night and lasted throughout the day. It was like a steady hum, the white noise of my daily life. I pictured a furnace churning away in my chest. Never quite reaching crises status during the day, but ever present.
I’m the kind of gal who doesn’t jump out of the burning vehicle until it explodes. I wait until the status reaches threat level midnight to act. My strength was waning, and the proverbial car exploded. I had to get my mental health back on track. I scoured the internet for quick fixes, but alas there was none. I was going to have to put in the work. In my anxious state, I knew I wouldn’t comply with anything that I couldn’t immediately access or that required a commute. I decided the most comfortable thing I could start with was meditation.
I stumbled upon a blog that mentioned headspace as a part of her writing ritual. I thought, well heck, I’m a writer living with anxiety, maybe this is a sign. So I tried it out, here’s what happened.
I learned what meditation is really about
The first thing anyone tells you when you ask about meditation is that they could never do it. Their mind is too busy, and their thoughts are racing the whole time. This idea comes from a common misconception that meditation is there to clear your mind and that to take part in meditation, a clear mind is key. Channeling my best Dwight Shrute- False. Meditation allows for a wandering mind. Fact- A busy, wandering mind is natural.
Instead, consider it as a tool to redirect your mind back to your focus of choice. When using the app, the guide asks you to focus on your breathing. By doing so, you are gently acknowledging that the mind has wandered, and then you ask it once again to follow your lead.
Meditation has been helpful in my writing, my work, and especially my sleep. I have a better handle on those moments when my thinking has boarded the crazy train. Whenever I notice that my thoughts are distracting, I acknowledge them and then count my breaths.
I learned about a gentle and sustained focus.
I have lived my whole life operating with intense, tunnel-vision like focus. When I’m in that mode, I’m undisturbable. If you’re talking to me, I won’t hear you (sorry!). Once, I was reading a book and realized that the fire alarm was going off (for God knows how long), and that my apartment had filled with smoke. That’s the kind of focus I’m talking about. It’s not sustainable. Headspace has taught me to use my attention like a “marathon,” not a “sprint.” A marathon meters out your energy so that you can finish the long haul. Whereas when you’re sprinting, you’re using a quick burst of energy for a short time. Using soft-focus has made me feel less spread thin, and that my productivity sustains over more extended periods.
Meditation for preparedness.
I recently had to do a presentation in front of a crowd of one hundred people. Usually, those moments would see me flustered. Despite my inner protestations, my breath would get stuck in my throat, my voice would strain from the irregular breathing, and my face would turn bright red. The moments leading up to those days wouldn’t be much better. Nights and days were spent ruminating over the upcoming event — not this time. I felt focused and at ease. Any time my thoughts would start to unravel, I used my breathing techniques and brought the focus back to the present. Controlling my breath was also useful during the actual presentation. I filled my belly with air and let it out slowly as I was speaking (differing from the open mouth gasping the panic had me doing). The presentation was a success. It felt natural, and I received many compliments with the same assertion. I felt better prepared to tackle a situation that I knew would prod my anxiety, and as an indirect result, mediation also improved my public speaking.
Being mindful connects you with the present and creates a feeling of ease. It helps your brain prepare for those moments when life hits you with a curveball.
The sleep, oh yes, the sleep!
Sleep, at last, sleep at last. Headspace has themed meditations for various moments in your life and daily living, including ones that can help you fall asleep. My anxiety would always reach a crescendo just as I lay my head on the pillow. Racing thoughts kept me away from sleep and caused me to foster lousy sleep habits. To avoid the mind race, I would opt instead to lay on the couch and watch mindless t.v. as a distraction, until I knocked out from sheer exhaustion. I won’t quote the many articles on how bad falling asleep on the couch is for your health. Suffice it to say it’s definitely not good sleep hygiene.
By redirecting my focus back onto my breath, I have been able to edge away those intrusive and racing thoughts, and I haven’t been avoiding bedtime like a petulant toddler.
Overall, I will continue to use meditation and see how it can improve my life.
I recognize that meditation is not a one size fits all to life problems, and certainly not a cure-all for anxiety- but it helps. I’m not a doctor, and can only speak anecdotally on what meditation has done for me. I remind myself that the point of meditation is not to create a life that’s free of bumps, mumps, and hiccups. That’s an impossible feat, and one not worth undertaking. Instead, meditation can give you the tools needed to wade through life’s muddy waters and survive its storms.