The Best Kept Secret to Alleviate Stress and Anxiety

Your college experience has been turned upside down. Overnight, you went from living on campus, hanging out with your friends and enjoying all the perks of being a college student. Now, you are adjusting to online classes, living at home with your parents and trying to figure out if it’s appropriate to wear the same pair of sweats for the third day in a row. It’s not ideal. And believe me, I get it. This whole “adjusting to the new norm” thing is difficult. It creates chaos and uncertainty, which might be causing you to feel stressed and anxious.

These feelings of stress and anxiety can suck. They’re emotions that, if given the power, can steal your joy, peace and energy. If you’ve been feeling these emotions a lot more than usual, I want you to know you’re not alone. As a brain health advocate and national speaker, I talk to college students across the country all the time, and everyone seems to have one factor in common: this time period of isolation and uncertainty is bringing out tough emotions.

The good news is that you can do something to improve your feelings of anxiety, stress and depression right now without even leaving the comfort of your bed. What is it, you ask? Start meditating for ten minutes a day as part of your morning routine. Now, before I lose you there, please hear me out, because I would’ve responded just like you.

Five years ago I accidently stumbled across an article that talked about meditation as a valuable practice. It explained that the highest-performing athletes and CEOs in the world had adopted meditation as a valuable practice to optimize their job performance. I thought, “If CEOs and athletes are doing it, why not give it a shot?”

The challenge was that I had never meditated before. I thought, “How do I even do this?” It seemed so intimidating. You might be having the same thoughts. I was curious though, so I started looking into it and ended up finding a little-known app at the time called Headspace. The beauty of this app was that a guy named Andy would do all the work for you. He would guide you through a ten-minute meditation, and all you had to do was show up, sit there and do what he said. This sounded like something I could do! So I downloaded the app and told myself that I would try out meditation first thing in the morning. That decision has changed my life forever in all the best ways.

The next morning I ended up meditating for my very first time. During the process, Andy guided me the entire way. He had me start with my eyes open, taking deep inhales through my nose and exhaling through my mouth, releasing as much air as I possibly could. Next, he prompted me to gently close my eyes and start by getting acquainted with my surroundings. I felt my body against the couch and attempted to listen to the sounds around me. He then asked that I do a body scan from the top of my head down to my toes. After I had completed the body scan, he asked that I turn my attention to my breath. For this part my job was “simple”—all I had to do was focus on my breath. Turns out it was not as simple as it sounded. I couldn’t focus on it for more than five seconds before my mind started to wander. Every thirty seconds or so he would gently guide me back to my breath. I struggled through this part until we finished the meditation session.

I only remember two takeaways from my first meditation session. The first, which is vivid, is that for ten minutes it felt like I was fighting my own mind to keep it focused on what Andy was asking me to do. When he asked me to focus on my breath, it felt like I could only string together one inhale and exhale before my mind started to wander into other thoughts. For the life of me, I couldn’t keep focused. I definitely didn’t move to a place absent of thought. However, the second thing I remember is what kept me coming back. Going into that first meditation, my heart was beating like a drum, my hands were shaking, my mind was racing and I felt “on edge,” like I couldn’t relax. After finishing that first meditation, I noticed a slight difference in my physiology and mood. My mind and body were more calm. I felt more focused. My pounding heart had subsided and my racing thoughts had simmered. I felt like I had more clarity. Most importantly, I felt relaxed.

I had no idea that this first experience with meditation would end up being the most important step I have ever taken to improve my life. As my curiosity for meditation grew, so did my unrelated symptoms of anxiety and depression. Since 2015, I have rarely gone a day without taking ten minutes to be guided through a meditation and have logged over 16,000 minutes of meditating. That’s because what I’ve learned is that meditation is actually exercise for your brain that offers a wide variety of helpful benefits.  It gives me the much-needed relief from my anxiety and helps take the edge off. I don’t just get peace for just ten minutes either; instead, I feel the benefits for sometimes up to a whole day.

You might be on the fence about starting to meditate because you don’t think it will work for you or you won’t be able to “do it right.” I understand; I once held tightly to those same beliefs. The reality is this: at the core of meditating lies the belief that there is no perfect or right way to do it. It’s more about showing up each day to connect with your breath and sit with your thoughts. You don’t need to shut your mind off or resist thinking. Instead, meditation teaches you to allow thoughts to come and go like clouds in the sky while you connect with your breath.

Give your stressed and anxious mind one of the best gifts and download Headspace right now. You can meditate from the comfort of your bed. Plus they are offering free resources during this time period, which is a great place for you to start. Meditation has improved my feelings of anxiety and stress, and I promise it can do the same for you.

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