I’m no Oprah, and I don’t know much, but I do know one thing for sure: Life is stressful. As I sit here typing this, I have a running list of “to dos” zipping through my brain, my shoulders are at my ears, and I haven’t taken a deep breath in two days. And I’m not even someone with a high-stress job or life; I don’t have to commute, I live in a big apartment that I love with a husband who I adore, and my freelance career allows me major flexibility when it comes to my schedule and finances. I can’t even imagine the tension that regularly flows through doctors, lawyers, or pretty much any people with “high-stress” professions. Just thinking about it makes my jaw clench.
“Some stress can be good for you, but too much is harmful to your mental and physical health,” says Kelly Blaser, a marriage and family therapist in California and the founder of DharmaBridge, a spiritual coaching program. And she’s not exaggerating — stress can cause headaches and muscle pain, sleep and stomach problems, weakened immunity, and anxiety or depression. Over time, it can even lead to high blood pressure, inflammation, and heart disease.
Are you screaming? I’m screaming! But it’s OK. There’s help! And even better, it doesn’t cost a billion dollars or take all day. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to de-stress: Bubble baths, lavender candles, and deep-tissue massage are all great, but nothing has quite changed my life like regular meditation. Not only is it free; it takes hardly any time (5 to 20 minutes a day, on average) and it’s been shown to help with anxiety, insomnia, and more. Of course, it’s not a replacement for regular medical or mental health care, therapy, or medication, but it really can help you conquer everyday stress. I’ve tried it before big-time job interviews, nerve-wracking tests, and spending an entire day with my mom. It can help calm you down before these things, and best of all, it works.
When you meditate, you focus your mind on a particular object, thought or activity, which helps you clear your mind and calm down. Practicing helps you sleep better, improves concentration, helps you manage anxiety and stress, and generally just makes you feel good. I’ll admit, being alone with your thoughts can feel scary and overwhelming. But Blaser says the benefits far outweigh the (admittedly, sometimes intense!) look into your own brain.
“When you meditate, you get moments when your mind chatter gets suspended, and you get a glimpse of clarity,” Blaser shared. “Even just get one flash of that can change your self-perception… and your life.”
Um, that sounds pretty awesome. And starting to meditate is easier than you think. Just try one of these three methods.
1) Four-Five-Eight Breathing
Find a comfortable position to sit in and set a timer for one minute. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, and breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds. It’s shocking how much that one minute trick can calm everything down.
When you’re looking for something a little more, try doing the same thing for two, three, four, or five minutes.
2) Empty Your Mind
Again, you’ll want to get into a comfortable position and set a timer for a minute (you can work up to five minutes at a time). Then, just clear your mind. If a thought enters, acknowledge it, tell it you’ll deal with it later, and let it leave. Don’t worry, lots of thoughts will try to creep in, but just try to keep your brain as quiet as possible. Do it first thing in the morning, right when you get home from work, or just before bed.
3) Try a Meditation App
There are tons of great apps that will lead you through a guided meditation, which is when an instructor leads you through visualizations and other exercises to help you deeply relax. My favorites are Calm, which focuses on sleep aid and stress reduction, and Insight Timer, which has the most active meditation community on the planet. Both of them have free meditations with the option to buy more in-app. You can also find guided meditations on YouTube. I like The Honest Guys — most of their meditations are about 13 minutes, which seems long, but carving out the time to take a journey at your desk midday will often provide the boost you need to make it through busy afternoons.
Essentially, the secret is to start small, and increase the time you spend meditating once the habit is cemented. And be kind to yourself — meditation shouldn’t stress you out, so fit it into your life when it’s convenient. And remember, Rome didn’t become a much less stressful place in a day; you have time. Now go get it, you meditating maniac! (J/K about the maniac part — you are a zen goddess of peaceful perfection!)