Meditation — the ancient art of simply doing nothing. Sitting still, lying down, not working, not speaking, not moving — just being in the moment. With the practice dating back thousands and thousands of years, this time-honoured art is designed to help the mind rest, settle, process and become still through simple inactivity alone.
For the past two months, I’ve been experiencing anxiety. Bad anxiety. I’ve suffered three episodes of anxiety like this before in my life and this most recent one was one of the worst. I struggled to eat, to sleep, focus and socialise. My mind was constantly ruminating, my thoughts were running wild and I couldn’t seem to relax, even in my own home. I was burnt out, worried, falling behind and uncomfortable. I was desperate.
Having gone through an episode just like this two years prior, I had a rough idea of the sort of ‘hacks’ I could try to help me stay calm. Hot water bottles, magnesium, sleep masks and yoga all fell into my routine, alongside a chunky weighted blanket, oil diffuser and salt lamp. But, for some reason, it was only after a solid month of anxiety, that I remembered the power of meditation. Meditation had been a lifeline for me in my previous episodes and I’ll never forget the sense of relief I felt after my first-ever session. I felt calm for the first time. My restless legs stopped shaking, my breathing slowed, and my mind rested. It was like coming up for air again. I was still.
So when the anxiety hit again, I scrolled through my Youtube history to find my old meditation playlist, tucked myself in under my weighted blanket and just let the soothing voices wash over me once again. It was incredible. It felt like I’d set my anxiety down on the floor and put it aside, just for a little while. My brain was clear. I wasn’t worried. The gentle music was hypnotising and I clung to the waves and rhythms of the voice speaking to me from my phone. I followed every instruction to the letter and let any intrusive thoughts simply float on by, like leaves down a river.
From there, I vowed to meditate at least once a day for the next 30 days. It was my promise to myself to set aside the time to work on my brain, to rest my body and to take care of myself, despite all of my day-to-day anxieties. I stuck to it, and let myself judge from afar, exactly how it impacted my body from that very first day.
Here are the lessons I learnt:
Feeling calm IS possible.
When my anxiety is at its highest point, feeling calm seems like an impossible sensation to find. You feel like you’ll be anxious forever. You tell yourself that nothing can bring your heart rate down, and you’ll spend the rest of your life feeling hot, sweaty and desperately out of breath. Meditation allowed me to find serenity once again, after so many days of feeling bad. It helped me to reconnect with my baseline, the way my body feels on a normal day, without the shaky hands and clammy palms. It gave me hope, for the first time, that this awful feeling would pass. That it was possible to feel happy, calm and rested, despite my mind convincing me of the opposite. Meditation gave me the opportunity to clear the fog and find my inner stillness, and I’ll forever be grateful for that journey.
Meditation doesn’t always work
Sometimes you will have a meditation session that simply does not work. You’ll screw your eyes up tight, complete as many box breaths as you physically can and you’ll visualise every inch of a babbling brook — and you still won’t find your peace. Meditation isn’t a quick fix for every negative emotion in life. The giddy feeling of relief I felt on my first session didn’t last forever, no matter how much I tried to chase it. Sometimes meditation left me feeling frustrated, unsatisfied and confused. I hadn’t been able to ignore my thoughts, I’d drifted off from my guided visualisation and my muscles felt tense no matter how much I tried to relax them.
I would cycle through video after video, hunting for that serene feeling of stillness, but it just wouldn’t materialise. I would be distracted by a noise from outside, I wouldn’t be able to get comfortable, my phone would buzz at the wrong moment or I’d be too deep in my rumination cycle to resurface. I would open my eyes afterwards feeling cold, tense and unhappy that my magical practice hadn’t worked this time. But I also learnt when to give it up. When to accept that meditation isn’t what my body needs in that moment, and to find something else to distract my mind or calm my nerves.
Everyone’s meditation preferences will be different
Through a series of trial and error, I’ve been able to find the exact formula of meditation that really helps me to relax: A female voice, with calming music and gongs, that guides me through long body scans, progressive muscle relaxation and visualisations. The right voice can calm my body down straight away and let me sink easily into the world of mindfulness they’re trying to create.
The worst meditative practice for me, however, is a loud, abrasive or repetitive voice with no backing music or ambience. Straight speech with large gaps of silence is unsettling for my mind and leaves too many spaces for thoughts to come in. My subconscious needs to be soothed between the verbal instructions, without feeling like I have to prepare for the next sudden statement. My OCD brain also has to be considered, as some meditations like to introduce mantras to reduce anxiety or intrusive thoughts — this is considered extremely unhelpful for obsessive minds. We need to sit with our thoughts and anxiety, without creating rituals to resolve them.
Even my physical health needs to be considered. I struggle with chronic sinusitis, so breathwork meditations that encourage heavy nose breathing are always a challenge.
But that’s me. I also have friends who can only handle a short, sharp breath-heavy meditation once per day. Certain apps and certain voices will work better for some people than others and it’s a good idea to experiment with different practices to find the one that works for you.
Meditation is one of those practices that you will either love or hate, depending on the way your mind works. It’s ok if meditation doesn’t work for you every single time and it’s ok if you love meditation so much you can do visualisations in your sleep. Your self-care needs to work for you and your needs, and there’s nothing wrong with giving something new a try.
Let me know your thoughts on meditation — if you’ve tried it, if you love it or hate it, or if you can share any video recommendations in the comments!