By Neil Hodge
Just for hippies? “MEDITATION? – IT’LL NEVER WORK FOR ME!” If you’re anything like me, when someone first suggested meditating to help me deal with my anxiety and depression I laughed. But I soon found out that meditation isn’t just for hippies!
At the time my mental image of meditation was of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor, arms outstretched, middle fingers touching their thumbs and chanting “ohhhmm”. Nothing like stereotyping eh?
Of course, I was wrong. I know it won’t work for everyone and not all meditations work for me either. Everyone has different strategies to deal with their own mental health. Meditation is only one of the tools in my box too, but meditation isn’t just for hippies, as I found out.
When I first tried meditation it didn’t work
When I first tried meditation it didn’t work at all. I could have given up, but I persevered. Even now, longer meditations are something I struggle with, but some of the shorter ones work for me. The hardest thing for me to start off with was the inability to empty my mind of thoughts (see previous blog – Do you think too much?). I didn’t know how to switch off my mind.
Even now sometimes when I try to do it, thoughts will pop in and out of my head. That’s OK though. The meditation helps me control them now and as the quote above says, they don’t control me.
The two mindfulness type meditations that work best for me are short. Only a few minutes. One is mindful breathing and the other is about relaxing my body. It depends on the situation which one I may or may not fall back on. What I don’t do is specifically schedule “meditation times”. I just know they are there if I need them.
Mindful breathing meditation
I can get panic attacks which, if unchecked, are totally debilitating. Mindful breathing meditation is one strategy for this. The first important thing is to understand your triggers and symptoms. If you know your triggers, then you can aim to avoid these situations. It took me a while to identify my triggers, that takes a bit of work. If you haven’t identified a trigger, then you may be able to identify your symptoms.
From a personal perspective, these symptoms could be numerous, and some on their own are perfectly natural. For example, having butterflies & sweaty palms before making a presentation. If I didn’t get these, I’d be worried, as to me it would suggest I didn’t care about how the presentation went. A certain level of stress anxiety is normal.
Meditation helps with anxiety
When it becomes a problem is when these symptoms become greater than normal and have a physical impact on your ability to do anything. So, the butterflies turn into major churning and sometimes even physical sickness. The sweaty palms to total bodily perspiration. Add to that, inability to check or slow your breathing, headaches, blurry vision, the feeling that you have almost left your own body….by that time it is often too late to do anything to stop it.
So, when I become aware of these symptoms at an early stage, I can use mindful breathing meditations to regain control. Again, this depends on you be able to recognise your “normal” level of stress/anxiety as this can sometimes actually be helpful and when it goes to the next level.
I won’t always use meditation either. It depends on the situation/environment I’m in. Sometimes it may be enough to stand up and walk away from the situation. Other times listening to a certain song, band or album can make a difference (see Music is my Escape)
Meditation for relaxing
The other one that works for me is for when I feel really tense. I feel it in my whole body, tightening of muscles, headaches and the like. There is a mindfulness meditation that involves focusing on your whole body, tensing and releasing all your muscles and relaxing your body.
Meditating isn’t easy and takes practice. If you can master it, it becomes your friend. I have not in any way fully mastered it and sometimes despite trying, it doesn’t work. But I persist.
I want to try to master mindful eating. I always eat too quickly and don’t think about it and whether or not I’m actually hungry! In times when I feel on edge or stressed, I can almost inhale food without noticing.
There are loads of websites and free apps out there that you can download with different meditations to try. This is a useful free resource that I started with. As I said, not all of these are for me, but I tried and tested different ones before I found something that worked.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies, and my advice would be, and remember I’m not a professional, don’t discount anything when looking for ways of dealing with mental health issues. Every one of us is unique, so we will all discover our own coping strategies through time and experience.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted here