For years, I thought of meditation as something that other people do, until the day it came to my rescue.
In my teens, I developed a severe fear of flying. I stopped going on family holidays and made my excuses to stunned friends as I passed up once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities.
I started flying again in my mid-20s, determined not to let the fear rule my life. However, forcing myself on planes just seemed to make things worse. On one particularly bad flight, I remember listening to Buddhist monk chants while playing "Angry Birds" for three hours straight, trying desperately to keep myself distracted. When I landed, shaky and exhausted, I knew I needed to do something drastic.
I deleted my "Angry Birds" app and signed up to a pricey course that promised to help me conquer my phobia. Once there, I learned techniques that will be familiar to anyone who's experimented with meditation. They taught me to control my anxiety by regulating my breathing, keeping my runaway mind in check, and observing my feelings without judgment. To this day I use these techniques if I'm ever feeling anxious.
Meditation is tricky to define. At its most basic, it involves concentrating on quieting and focusing the mind. It's an ancient practice and, for many, it remains a deeply spiritual experience. However, in the Western world, meditation is often taught without religious connotation.
Meditation can come in many forms, like mindfulness or even yoga. I was one of the legions flocking to YouTube yoga earlier this year as the pandemic ripped apart any semblance of normality. I found it the perfect way to get some exercise in my apartment while simultaneously quelling the anxiety surrounding a new life under lockdown.
Our latest Mind Tools Minutes video offers two simple meditation techniques for the time-poor and stress-rich – to quiet the mind and lower anxiety.
First of all, regulate your breathing. It may sound simple, but the easiest way to reduce anxiety is to concentrate on your breathing. On your first in-breath, try to expand your belly and count "one," before exhaling slowly and consciously. Repeat this process, counting up to 10 and then back down to zero.
Second, take things to the next level by doing a "body scan." As you breathe, focus your attention on each part of your body, starting with your little toe and finishing at the crown of your head. When our minds are racing, it can be hard to keep them empty of stressful thoughts. This technique can help to keep your mind present and still.
Our new video series, Mind Tools Minutes, offers quick tips, techniques and suggestions in under a minute. The first series of six videos is on the theme of stress and well-being. Be sure to keep an eye out for future episodes every Wednesday. In the meantime, head over to our YouTube channel to see the first three videos.
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"Mental health issues are often based on the tension between what one has achieved and what one has the potential to become." - Clive Lewis
"Running into that thing makes our anxiety spike – and we start telling stories in our head about what an inadequate person we are."