Tuning inward to conquer stress and enjoy life

“My thoughts got the better of me.”

“I can’t switch off.”

“I’m so snowed under.”

How often have YOU said these words, or even noticed this happening?

Our lives are more stressful than ever before.  Our mind is constantly busy telling us what to do next, remembering the past and planning the future.  Many of us work late on the job, spending our down time checking texts and social media.  When do we focus on ourselves?

There is a practical way to relax your mind and let go of stress.  This practice is meditation.

It wasn’t so long ago that meditation was a new age ‘buzz word’, an airy-fairy practice upheld by yogis and mystics.  But the great thing is, you don’t need to be a Buddist monk or buy into any form of ‘dogma’ to access it or realise it’s benefits.  Modern-day stress continues to be a huge contributor to depression and illness, and meditation is now widely cited as an effective self-help tool.

Meditation helps us to take a step back from our thoughts, to observe them rather than be caught up in them.  I call it ‘deliberate relaxation’. At the ethos of meditation is slowing down.  Slowing the breath down and tuning inward helps put a stop to all the frantic hurriedness.  Through meditation, we can take control of our thoughts and can scrutinise and update them at will, ditching those that no longer support us.

Benefits of meditation

For me, they can be whittled down to 3 ‘C’s:

  • Calmness
  • Concentration
  • Compassion

Meditation can help us feel more calm and peaceful through having a positive impact on two areas of our brain – the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The pre-frontal cortex area helps us regulate emotions, while the amygdala’s job is one of survival and the fight or flight response.  Regular meditation enables these two pathways to have wider access to each other, resulting in improved problem solving and putting things into perspective.    What a great anecdote for stress!

Neuroscientists have said that meditation helps us to focus on tasks for longer.  Many of the thoughts we carry around with us actually divert us away from what we’re doing at the present time.  Reigning in the constant chatter of the mind can help us to concentrate or simply be in the present moment.

For example, when I’m with my young son, his and my idea of fun can be poles apart.  He wants me to play with his trucks and pretend to be a sea monster on the trampoline! Rather than wish I could be doing other things, check my watch or bury myself in endless housework, meditation helps me to enjoy this fleeting time.  Having given myself some concentrated attention, I can focus on my son and enjoy it.  By filling my tank, I can fill his.

Finally, compassion for yourself and others is a quality that can be enhanced with meditation.  Creating space in our minds and lives to be present, to ourselves and others and realising that in some way, we are all interconnected.

How do we meditate?

Sitting down, turning off our mind and relaxing should be easy, but the reality is, it isn’t!  The mind is generally a very undisciplined character: tell it not to think about something and it won’t listen! The important thing is just to start.  Here are a few quick tips.

  • Commit to a daily time. Be committed to keeping this date with yourself
  • Set a goal, for example, five minutes
  • Find and dedicate a place to meditate. Perhaps it’s a special chair or cushions on the floor.  You may like to include a token of relaxation – a candle, flowers or even a photograph.

Now that the practical side is taken care of, the technique is also simple.  There is no ‘right’ way to meditate.  Your goal is to still the mind, using the breath as the anchor point.   Take a moment to get comfortable, eyes can be open with a soft focus, or closed.  Draw the breath in through the nose, pause, then exhale out of your mouth, releasing tension, negativity and stressful thoughts.

Accept that your mind will wander.  Frequently.  Each time it does, acknowledge the thoughts that come up and re-direct your attention back to your breathing.  Stick with it!

Watch yourself change…gradually!

At first, nothing much will happen and you’ll wonder if the time you’re spending is productive.  Meditation is a little like having a garden.    Tend to it regularly, ideally a little bit every day.  Watching it grow is simply too long to wait, but one day very soon, you’ll look up and notice how much it has flourished.

Maybe you’ll notice that you didn’t snap during the usual rush hour commotion, or that when someone asks you something, you stop and look at them, giving them your full attention.  Perhaps you’ll feel more productive without so many worries circling overhead, or simply more confident that things will turn out for the best.

Meditation can help you to feel calm, increase your focus and exhibit greater compassion.  Time for you is important, but is so often elusive.  Start by prioritising yourself for just five minutes each day, give meditation a try and notice the difference.  Living more in the present moment, you can lead a richer, fuller life and with stress kept at bay, an ever longer one.

Want to know more about meditation? Please refer to comments below for useful links.