Meditation: Taking Care of our Mental Health in Difficult Times

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This is a copy of an email I sent to my staff last week. I thought this might benefit everyone. If you do, please distribute it amongst your own staff, family, and friends.

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One of my resolutions for 2020 was to meditate more.

There are well-known benefits to meditation:

  • It reduces stress and anxiety.
  • It improves our general mood.
  • There are (preliminary) evidence of reducing symptoms of depression.

And many more.

The NHS (UK’s healthcare system) recognises mindfulness as a healthy practice. In my last two visits with a GP, I have been recommended to relax and meditate.

So, in January 2020, I started making an effort to meditate more.

I have long thought about sending an email [to my staff] about it, encouraging you to take some time for yourselves and meditate. Ironically, things got a bit crazy and I… didn’t take the time.

In light of everything that’s going on, we could all benefit even more from this practice. Our mental health during trying times is fragile (even if you don’t necessarily feel it), making it even more important to take time to do this.

So, here are some things I would encourage you to do.

Please note I’m nowhere near a meditation expert. The good thing about it, though, is that meditation is literally about being present, so there’s no need to be an expert.

General mindfulness and mental care

I appreciate meditation may not be for everyone. I also appreciate knowing where to start might be tricky. Here are my general tips.

1. A few seconds

If you feel this might not be your ‘thing’, I’d recommend at the very least to take a few seconds to sit quietly and breathe. Try to do this regularly, ideally two or three times a day.

This should literally take a few seconds, so no excuses. Do it whilst sitting on the toilet if you must.

2. Guided is better

There are opposing schools of thoughts on this. Naval, legendary investor, entrepreneur, and thinker, believes guided meditations defeat the purpose of meditation (to sit quietly and let your mind wander).

Naval on Twitter

@evanserickson @joerogan 1/ No apps, no noise, no guidance. Sit in a comfortable position first thing in the morning, back upright, but ok to use cushions etc.. One hour at a time, no less. Just surrender to and accept whatever happens. No energy for and no energy against. Resist and reject nothing.

Personally, I believe going through a few guided meditations (read: a hundred) helps a lot. I take it as a stepping stone towards doing it on my own later on. For now, I need assistance, and a guided mediation is the best tool for that. It also helps with making it a habit, which we’ll touch on in a minute.

3. Where to start

If you can/want to afford it, grab the Headspace app. It’s about £50/year, which might feel steep, but it is fantastic and full of guided meditations.

What I particularly like about Headspace is their catalogue of purpose-built meditations. They package them into topics such as productivity, anxiety, waking up, turning off, etc.

headspace meditation catalogue

If you don’t want to/can’t afford Headspace, there’s obviously a tonne of great resources available for free on YouTube.

4. Make it a habit

Whether you go for the few seconds breathing exercise (see below) or the full on 20-min, try to make it a habit.

I started by ‘meditating’ 10secs before bed every night. Because it’s only 10sec, it’s really easy to turn it into a habit. Because it’s 10sec, it’s also impossible to come up with excuses like ‘I don’t have time’.

Start low and increase over time.

Read ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg.

Two impactful meditation exercises

Now that you are hopefully convinced to give this a try, I’d like to share my two go-to meditations.

1. Body scans: guided meditation to relax

How to:

  1. Find a quiet place. If you have other people in your house, make sure you let them know not to disturb you.
  2. Find a comfortable spot & position.
  3. Find a guided meditation
    • On Headspace: ‘Sleep’ (10min)
    • On Headspace: ‘Switching off’ (5min)
    • On Headspace: ‘Feeling overwhelmed’ (3min)
    • On YouTube: search for ‘body scan meditation’, there are literally hundreds
  4. Let the meditation guide you through relaxing your body, one part at the time, usually starting from your toes.
  5. Follow the instructions. Don’t worry about thinking/not thinking. Try to focus on the voice and the areas mentioned.

I found a 10-minute body scan to be most effective. Longer body scans (some are 20 or 30min long) get too slow/repetitive, causing me too much distraction.

It’s incredible how 100% of the time I think I’m pretty relaxed and realised my shoulders are actually super tense, I’m frowning, clenching my jaws, etc.

Headspace’s ‘Feeling overwhelmed’ 3min body scan is fantastic for well, when you feel overwhelmed. It’s really short and allows to take some time for yourself. Whether you are working from home or in an office/on the road, this should be achievable.

I find longer versions to be better used right before sleep, to properly relax and dose off.

2. Noting: structured breathing to increase productivity

Distractions ruin me.

We live in a world of constant distractions. Work, phones, calls, tweets, emails, articles, nudges from colleagues IRL — everything is distracting.

I often find that the more stressed I am, the easier I get distracted. I’ll start something here, get bored in 0.007 when I get stuck, start something else, and so on.

To mitigate this, I’ve started this super short and effective meditation exercise.

  1. Find a quiet place. If you have other people in your house, make sure you let them know not to disturb you.
  2. Find a comfortable spot and position.
  3. Relax your eyes. Don’t force yourself to close or open them. Just relax them.
  4. Focus on your breathing and count to six. Breathe in (1), breathe out (2), breathe in (3), etc. Literally count in your head.
  5. If your mind wanders, note the distraction, accept it, and get back to where you were in your count (this is called ‘noting’).
  6. Don’t beat yourself up about getting distracted. This is why you’re doing this exercise. Relax, accept it, and put your focus back.

This exercise teaches you to focus on one thing at a time, and re-focus when your mind wanders off. It’s a great aligner when you get overwhelmed and feel like you’re working on loads of things at once.

Read ‘Mindful Tech’ by David Levy.

If you find yourself opening 17 tabs, having 4 conversations at once, and dunking loads of coffee; do this short exercise. I love practicing it in the morning before my team’s daily standup. It takes literally 3mins and sets my head right for the day ahead.

The more you practice this, the more you will find opportunities to use it throughout your life.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see these difficult times as an opportunity to put your head down and try to be more productive.

It’s also easy to see these difficult times as overwhelming and feel discouraged to achieve anything at all.

Both feelings are valid. Fluctuating between the two is as well. On either ends of the spectrum, take some time to sit back, breathe, and focus on yourself. You’re worth it.

If you need someone to talk to, my inbox is always open.

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ALEX DEBECKER

Digital marketer. Company grower. Bearded internet warrior. I grow projects into profitable businesses.

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