2020 has been anxiety-inducing, to say the least. There have been so many overwhelming events in the short space of a little over six months that it’s not surprising many of us feel snowed under, or particularly anxious.
But we don’t have to struggle under the stress. For tips to quieten anxiety and regain a sense of calm, we asked meditation expert Luke McLeod.
“Whilst I am a meditation teacher, surprisingly it is not the first thing I would recommend to do when you’re feeling quite stressed and anxious,” says Luke. “Meditation works best when physical tension has been removed from the body. Once this tension has been physically exerted the mind is able to concentrate better and move into a meditative state.”
Instead, Luke recommends taking the following steps before trying meditation to ease stress or anxiety.
Step 1: Take three deep, long breaths
“When we’re feeling stressed and anxious, our body goes into a state of defence and protection,” says Luke. “This can make you feel tense – your throat and chest may tighten up, you may experience shortness of breath and you may hold some tension in certain areas of your body (your shoulders, for example). These physical changes have a flow on effect to your mental state.”
The first and most important thing to do when you feel stressed and anxious is to stop and get some air flow back into your lungs, Luke says.
Take three long and deliberate breaths, counting eight seconds in, holding for eight seconds and breathing out for eight seconds. Keep doing that until your nerves start to settle and come back into balance, taking as long as you need.
Step 2: Stretch or exercise for 10 minutes
Once you’ve opened your lungs back up, take some time to stretch out the rest of your body. This will help release any further tension that is stored in your muscles and will also circulate oxygen throughout the body.
“If you still feel kind of fidgety after your stretch, it might be a good idea to put the body through some more strenuous exercise, like a 10 minute run or workout of some type,” says Luke. “This will lower your cortisol levels even further and put your body into a more relaxed state.”
Step 3: Thinking of something you’re grateful for
“When you’re cooling down from step two, it’s a perfect time to think of a few things that you’re grateful for,” says Luke. “The more simple and basic, the better – your caring family, your health, the convenience of your iPhone. These are all blessings and a reminder to yourself that there is always something to be grateful for.
“Deliberately asking yourself what you are grateful for pulls your brain out of worry and anxiety mode, and directs it to think instead of something that you’re happy or thankful for in the present moment, right here, right now.”
Step 4: Meditate
“Yes, we finally got there!” says Luke. “Meditation is more of a stress prevention exercise than a stress relief exercise which is why I recommend you do it after you have done the above steps.”
When you’re ready to meditate, Luke suggests a few tips to get you started:
- Get comfortable. No, you don’t have to sit with your legs tucked up like a pretzel – I suggest sitting on a chair with a back on it. Strengthen your core, sit with a straight back. This is an exercise for the mind, not time to sleep. You can always lie down, but again engage your core and stay alert or you will fall asleep.
- Find a type of mediation suits your schedule, your lifestyle and one that you like. My live stream Soul Alive classes blend in a variety of different methods into one flow so that it resonates with all different types of people. We all process information differently, and some of us are more prone to learn and process things visually rather than auditory.
- Your mind is going to wander throughout and that’s completely natural. When you catch yourself wandering off, that’s you becoming more self-aware – this is something to be celebrated, certainly not criticised.
- Progression with meditation will come with the repetition of the practice, not through trying new ‘advanced’ methods. Repetition will allow you to get comfortable with it and go deeper with it, so try to stick with one type of meditation for a few weeks and if you like it, stay there. You are unlikely to get the same benefit if you keep chopping and changing practices and techniques.