2021 UPDATE - Meditation: Stress in 2021 & 15 Ways Meditation Can Improve Our Lives

Updated: Apr 18



Although meditation and mindfulness have both been around for thousands of years, they’ve more recently become mainstream. The corporate world and individuals worldwide have begun to see the growing research on mindfulness’ benefits on our brains, personalities, and happiness, and are taking action to reap the benefits.


2020 was a difficult year. The decade started bleak, and we’re more stressed and tired than we’ve ever been. The American Psychological Association tells us that “nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them.”


Millions of people take anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, and many more self-medicate by drinking or smoking. They know these tools won’t impact their external lives, but they acknowledge the importance of just feeling a bit better. Sometimes we need a little extra help, especially when we’re down or stressed. Medicine can help change our mood and our perspective of our lives.


I’m a big believer in the belief that everyone could benefit from therapy, and that some people could use medication to live brighter, more resilient lives. Still, with rates of people taking antidepressant and ADHD medications continuing to rise, it makes sense to take a look at other options without mind-altering chemicals and risky side effects. It would seem miraculous if there was a way we could get the same result in a healthy, natural way.


Meditation helps us do this and so much more. It allows us to dive inside ourselves and live more contemplative lives. It helps us manage stress, focus on the bigger picture, and stop getting lost in our own negativity. It makes our relationships stronger, helps us find joy, and contributes to personal growth. In the midst of a stressful life, meditation provides peace.


Many of us are overworked and overtired, surrounded by others who are stressed and busy. It can be almost impossible to change your circumstances quickly, but meditation can make you do even more than that - it can help you change your attitude to the world around you.


Stress in the 2020s


“Stress from COVID-19 — along with stress related to health care, the economy, racism and the presidential election — is seriously threatening the mental health of our country, particularly our youngest generation” -APA, Stress in America Survey 2020

Millennials and Gen Z-ers are the most stressed out, anxious, and sleepless generation yet. Gen Z adults are the most likely to report feeling exhausted, apathetic, restless, lonely, miserable, unhappy, or depressed. These feelings and this stress can cause mental and physical exhaustion, making it difficult to be productive, healthy, or motivated.


People of all ages are overwhelmed, upset, and stressed about the economy and the state of the world. In these incredibly difficult times, the positive impact that meditation can have in our lives should put it on the top of everyone’s 2021 habit-change to-do list. Meditation has incredible physical, mental, and emotional benefits - it can increase pain tolerance, fight addition, lower blood pressure, and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.


A big part of what makes your mindset super is the fact that you're in control. Just like you feel more confident and capable if your body is in fit shape, a fit mind is just as (if not so much more) empowering. Luckily, you don't have to even know how to choose to respond positively to circumstances right now. Every small positive choice you make is another step along the journey, and the journey will get prettier almost every day. Wherever you're starting from, it's the small steps you can take toward becoming super that matter the most.


One of those small steps is through meditation. In meditation, we form a stronger relationship with our own minds. We develop our focus and concentration, and we eliminate distractions and learn to clear our heads. We gain compassion, love, and acceptance, and we let go of hate, judgment, criticism, and anger. We slow down enough to examine our thoughts, our motivations, our actions, and the way we see the world. This is incredible because it provides us insight into who we really are and can help answer a lot of questions.



Click below for a FREE SMART goal -setting worksheet and flowchart that will help you plan a SMART goal around meditation.



Meditation


Meditation rocks. It makes your life so much better in so many ways. It makes a huge difference mentally - it helps you focus and concentrate, it increases self-awareness and confidence, it decreases stress, and it can even increase love and kindness. It’s like a superhero of its own against anxiety and stress, helping you slow your thoughts down, focus on the positive over the negative, and remain calm. It also has great physical benefits - it can increase pain tolerance, fight addition, lower blood pressure, and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.


In one of my favorite boots on the subject, Hurry Up and Meditate, David Michie reminds us that “meditation is probably the best chance you’ve got to combat stress, cultivate happiness, enhance your performance, realise your goals and attain mastery of your mental, emotional and material destiny.”


Meditation has been around all over the world for thousands of years and is practiced by nearly every religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Others practice meditation independently of religion or spirituality. Meditation heightens our state of awareness and focused attention, and it can benefit everyone.



15 Benefits of Meditation


Physical

  • Improves immune function

  • Improves sleep quantity and quality

  • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate

  • Decreases our likelihood of being struck by a life-threatening illness like cancer or heart disease - and can help manage these illnesses

  • Helps to slow down aging

Mental

  • Effectively reduces stress without any side effects

  • Promotes mental health and supports against mood disorders

  • Prevents stress and anxiety from negatively impacting your day

  • Improves emotional and mental state

  • Promotes happiness and relaxation

Intellectual

  • Increases self-awareness

  • Improves memory and intelligence, making us more efficient thinkers

  • Heightens focus, concentration, and attention

  • Allows you to slow down your own thought stream

  • Helps change how you respond to the world around you

If we want to lead motivated, fulfilled, and happy lives, meditation can help us get there. It can help us turbo-charge our performance at work, school, etc., and even allow us to better see the richness and beauty of our everyday lives. Meditation helps us find inner peace and objectivity that we can feel while sitting on the meditation cushion and while we go about our day. This calm helps make our lives happier and less stress-free, which not only makes life a lot more pleasant, but also helps us work towards our goals more effectively.


The benefits of meditation and mindfulness allow us to truly live in the moment we’re in instead of always ruminating on the past or stressing about the future. They help us remain open to new ideas and love ourselves and others without judgement. Meditation strengthens our mental capacity, our intuition, and our ability to focus, and it reminds us to listen to our inner voice and trust our gut. Most importantly, for many of us, the more often we meditate the more we are able to stay positive and joyful and not get bogged down by day-to-day struggles. If you want a happier life, meditation is the place to start.


“It’s not our circumstances so much as our feelings, beliefs and attitudes about those circumstances that make us happy or otherwise.” -David Michie, Hurry Up and Meditate

How to Meditate


Meditation might seem complicated if you're new to the practice, but it’s really super easy and definitely worth doing every single day. When you first begin, it may be challenging to sit in silence and calm your mind. And, yeah, it is, but that’s the point. It’s like when you learned math - you had to challenge yourself, be frustrated, and persevere through to get those smarts. Mediation is a practice. Like any exercise or education, it takes time, and every single time you sit down and commit to practice and learning, you grow and become stronger and more confident and powerful.


BEGIN: Find a good place in your house to meditate in the morning and evening. Try not to be interrupted. Get super comfortable. It is important that your spine is up straight (I like to think of beautiful golden energy shooting into my head and down through my spine), but you can sit on the floor with legs crossed or out straight, or you can sit in a chair. You should be comfortable but still alert. Once you’re ready, find a 10-minute (or longer) song or video. I prefer to just listen to singing bowls or nature sounds to really be connected to my mind and nothing else, but many people find it much easier to start with guided meditations before trying music alone.


DURING: Once you're ready to go, just close your eyes and breathe. Bring your awareness to the present. Find a place to settle your mind. I typically focus on my breathing as it goes in and out or the feeling on the tip of my nose as it does so. Some other tactics I've used with success are focusing on that golden energy shooting through the crown of my head, filling my body with goodness and light and healing aches and pains, or a focus word - love, kindness, patience, compassion, etc. It’s not surprising if anxiety, judgment, or negative thoughts arise. It’s all good - it’s just what happens. And it can strengthen your ability to acknowledge those thoughts, adjust them, and then use them for good! Note your thoughts, say hello, let them pass on by, and return to your breath. Just keep returning your thoughts to your focal point, be patient and gentle, and accept what happens.



END: I like listening to meditative music with a set time or setting an alarm (5, 10, 15, 30 minutes) so that I know when my time’s up. I don’t want to be looking at the clock or wondering how long it’s been; I want to try to stay in meditation for the entire time. When the time is up, open your eyes. You may want to stretch a bit, reflect on the experience, write in a journal, or express gratitude immediately after.


THE MEDITATION RULE: Whether you commit to meditating for 5 minutes or an hour, that time is committed to meditation. You're not allowed to play on your phone, read, or do anything else. At first, you'll have many sessions where halfway through you don't think you're making any progress, you're distracted, and you just want to give up. You're not allowed to - if you want to just sit and not try to meditate, that's cool, but you cannot do anything else. Sometimes I am so distracted and I don't feel in the zone at all (or maybe I get there in the last minute), but that's cool. I'm making progress, and it's still a 1% win. Keep going.


Types of Meditation


Concentrative vs Mindfulness: Concentrative meditation is all about completely focusing your attention on one thing and truly experiencing it (breathing, spoken affirmations, mantras, etc.). Mindfulness meditation urges us to remain aware and present in the moment we are in. It can help to reduce stress and increase cognitive function. It involves the state of being aware of and involved in the present moment and making yourself open, aware, and accepting.


Guided vs. Unguided: For some, beginning a meditation practice with guided meditation can help them tiptoe into the field. Guided meditations are available on Youtube and in many phenomenal apps; in them, a teacher guides you through the basic steps of the practice, and you can see some great benefits fairly quickly. Guided meditations are also available for specific topics: meditation for confidence, de-stressing, joy, etc. In unguided meditation, you meditate alone. I often meditate this way and just put on a short soundtrack of nature sounds or singing bowls. Others choose to just sit quietly and pay attention to their body and thoughts.


Meditation for Happiness


People begin meditating for a variety of reasons - to reduce stress, sleep better, think more positively, etc. The primary reason people keep meditating, and return to the process after brief hiccups, is the fact that meditation promotes a greater feeling of happiness. It can offer meditators purpose, peace, and resilience. It can help increase concentration and improve the processing of the brain.


Meditation helps us find fulfillment; whatever path we may wish to achieve, meditation can help us find purpose and make choices that work toward the future we dream of. Luckily for us, it’s not our circumstances that bring us joy. We have the ability to positively impact our own beliefs and attitudes about our circumstances. Meditation helps us understand our own thoughts and mental habits, and allows us to replace negative mental patterns with positive thinking.


Remember that mindfulness is about consistency, not perfection. Including more small moments of mindfulness into your days can completely change your life, all you have to do is keep going. De-stress, find joy, and pursue your superhero potential.



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Do you meditate consistently? What benefits have you seen? If you don't meditate yet, how can you begin to include meditation in your daily life?