I Tried Daily Meditation For My Mental Health & Realized That It Helped — A Lot
I'm great at a lot of things: baking, dancing, knowing every word to "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa. But I fully admit that I have zero chill. I have anxiety over everything, from my kids not eating enough vegetables, to fear over death. (And the upcoming presidential election certainty isn't helping matters.) Most nights when I go to bed it's hours before I can actually fall asleep and sometimes I find myself having panic attacks in the middle of the day. I already exercise and practice yoga (although it's a little hard to get my "Om" on when my kids are winding their way through my legs screaming, "BRIDGE!"), but there are still times when I feel overwhelmed by the stresses in my life. I've heard practicing daily meditation can be great for anxiety, and with my busy schedule, I was immediately drawn to the idea of something quick that I could do for myself that wouldn't take all day. So I decided to give it a try to see if daily meditation could help harness my inner easy-breeze self, and help keep my anxiety, insomnia, and occasional panic attacks at bay.
For one week, I tried to meditate for 10 minutes a day in hopes of improving my mental health and reducing my anxiety. Would adding meditation to my daily routine give me the space I needed to zen out and feel in control not just my feelings, but my life?
I was determined to find out.
Day 1: I Don't Have Time For This
I had high expectations for my week of mediation, and perhaps I set my sights a little too lofty for day one. After reading up on the basics, I decided to aim for a short session of just four-minutes worth of meditation without subscribing to any kind of program, video, or tutorial, but I wanted to set the mood, because I'll take any excuse I can to play dress up. I changed into some comfy yoga pants, laid out my thickest yoga mat, and lit a fancy organic lavender candle that I got as a gift and save for special occasions (I figured this qualified). But all of this took me 10 minutes — more than double the time allotted for the mediation period itself. And in the time it took me to get ready to relax, my twin sons got antsy and broke free from the game of Candyland they were playing with their dad while I meditated.
After just a couple minutes of trying to think of nothing, I started to think of everything. My brain quickly went into panic mode and I found myself choking back tears as I realized that one day everyone I love will eventually die.
By the time I settled down on my mat, they were wiggling their fingers under the door and pleading sweetly with me to "let them come in before the monster in the hallway got them." Maybe there's a reason why moms don't meditate.
Day 2: The Void Is Terrifying
I skipped the bells and whistles on day two and went straight for mediation, plopping right down on my comfy mat in my jeans in order to find my quiet reflection time. I was proud of myself for making the time to meditate, but after just a couple minutes of trying to think of nothing, I started to think of everything. My brain quickly went into panic mode and I found myself choking back tears as I realized that one day everyone I love will eventually die. Maybe I wasn't in the right headspace to begin with on day two, but this was a meditation fail, for sure.
My stress didn't go away on the mat — it just suffocated me.
Working from home on days when my kids don't have preschool usually leaves me feeling really stressed since I'm trying to split my attention in a million directions. But lately when I hear my email ping at the same time my boys are fighting over which one of them gets to pretend my hair is a waterfall for their toy boats to fall over next, I've managed to stay calm instead of giving into my usual freakout.
Day 3: Meditation, There's An App For That
Realizing this was 2016 not 1996, and I could use technology to help me with my mediation experiment, I grabbed my phone and downloaded Headspace. It's a guided meditation app that I picked because it was free (yay!) and had good ratings. I thought that if the mediation was guided and if I had a voice with me telling me what to think about, it'd help me to be less likely to freak out and have an anxiety attack mid-meditation while my brain spiraled off into the deep corners of my self-conscious.
The app recommends mediating first thing in the morning, but I actually decided to switch my session to right before bed since it was a time that I knew the kids wouldn't be after me for attention. Having someone tell me what to do helped me focus, and after my 10-minute session I felt more relaxed. I didn't have an easier time falling asleep, because I spent too much time before bed on political websites, but I slept more soundly than I usually do. I even left a leg outside of the blankets without fear that a monster would eat it. This, my friends, is progress.
Day 4: Learning To Pause
Maybe it was just a placebo effect, since I'd only been meditating for a few days, but I felt like meditating was already making a big difference in my life. Working from home on days when my kids don't have preschool usually leaves me feeling really stressed since I'm trying to split my attention in a million directions. But lately when I hear my email ping at the same time my boys are fighting over which one of them gets to pretend my hair is a waterfall for their toy boats to fall over next, I've managed to stay calm instead of giving into my usual freakout. I don't scream that I need "five more minutes!" and put the kids in front of the iPad so I can rush off and check my phone. Instead, I remember to breathe, just like I do in meditation. I tell myself that if my phone can wait 10 minutes while I meditate at night, it can wait 10 minutes now, and while my job is important, writing for the internet isn't that vital.
I still feel the stress same as before, but I'm more aware of the fact that I'm experiencing stress now, and therefore it's easier for me to calm myself down, to remind myself that everything will get done, and that I can always order pizza if there's no time to make dinner.
Telling myself this, that things can wait and nothing is that urgent, has become my own manta of sorts. It's working. And when I do look at my phone a few minutes later, it's to see a coupon from Michaels. Good news, yes, because I've been wanting to knit a new poncho, but knowing that it was nothing I had to drop what I was doing for has been gratifying.
Day 5: I'm In The Zone
Meditating at night is my jam. I realized that I was really good at getting into bed early, but would stay up for hours looking at random beauty blogger videos and pinning recipes I'll probably never try. Then by the time I tried to go to sleep, I was so wired from staring at the screen for so long that my mind would race and insomnia would kick in. But practicing my meditation before bed helped force me to set an actual bedtime for myself. I started my meditation promptly at 11 (fine, sometimes more like 11:15) and after it's finished, I don't let myself pick up the phone again. Having a strict no-phone zone and therefore getting more sleep may be part of the reason why I'm feeling more calm lately, but I'll take less stress any way I can get it.
Day 6: Being Mindful All Day Long
I know I joked that maybe it was just getting more sleep that was making me feel better but I really think meditation is having a big impact on my personality. It's only 10 minutes a day, but so much of our everyday life is spent in interaction, either with our phones or someone else. Focusing on myself, even for a short period of time, has been really powerful and has already helped me tune into my own anxiety clues to help understand the things causing me stress. Because I'm taking time to pause each day and get in tune with my breathing, I notice right away now when I start to breathe more rapidly. When something causes me to stress out, like thinking about all the items on my to-do list, I still feel the stress same as before, but I'm more aware of the fact that I'm experiencing stress now, and therefore it's easier for me to calm myself down, to remind myself that everything will get done, and that I can always order pizza if there's no time to make dinner.
I didn't expect that mediating would lead to me yelling at my kids less, but I find myself having more and more patience with them, too. When they do their typical toddler act of not listening as I ask them to put something away or put their jacket on so we can leave, I can say it 17 times before I yell instead of only seven or eight like I could before I started meditating. I'll still get to the point where my voice goes all witch lady — mediation hasn't made me a Stepford Wife — it's just that now it takes longer for me to get to my breaking point.
Day 7: Stop And Look Around
I'm not going to sell my possessions and go live in a tiny house or start drinking kombucha or doing anything else that would mark me as a hipster, but when it comes to mediation, I'm a convert. After only a week I feel more stable and less anxious all the time, which, as a mom, is a great feeling to have. I notice myself ignoring my phone more and looking around me to engage in the moment. The mindfulness of my meditation time seems to be bleeding over into the rest of my waking hours, and I'm cool with it, because I know I spend way to much time mindlessly scrolling through my phone.
Meditation Is Most Definitely For Me
I love how meditation is fast and easy and fits into my schedule. It's something that's quick and a small change to my day-to-day life, but it's having a big payoff for me in a really positive way. Of course, I know that it's not the solution for everyone, and I'm not trying to say it is. It's helping me, and I appreciate that. I'm a better mom and just a nicer person since I've started meditating and I can't imagine every wanting to stop doing it.