Everyone is stressed nowadays. In fact, as a society, we’ve started glamorizing stress. Think that’s weird? Well, if someone was telling you that they had to somehow figure out how to run to 5 different stores, get their kids to three different sports (all on different ends of town), go to their own high-intensity spin class, and still work full time – what would you think? Odds are, most people think “Wow, they really have their life together! I am so not measuring up.” But, if you really stop and think about how that must feel, they probably feel like a frayed rope trying to hold up an elephant.
These levels of stress are severely unhealthy, and we’re doing them to ourselves. Society has put such a premium on “busier is better” that we don’t take time to relax or unwind.
High levels of stress have been scientifically proven to shorten our telomeres. Telomeres are essentially caps on the ends of our chromosomes that are responsible for protecting our DNA. While they naturally shrink as we age, long-term stress accelerates this shortening process. When the telomeres are no longer there, our chromosomes begin to get damaged, which causes aging and decreased cellular health. Yikes!
(In summary: Being excessively stressed ages you prematurely and causes cell damage.)
The good news? You can help to counteract some of this stress by actively practicing relaxation techniques. One of the fastest and easiest relaxation techniques is meditation. When I say meditation, you very likely thought “I need to sit in a weird position for an hour out in nature and make my mind go blank.” While you’re more than welcome to do that if you really want to, that is not necessary in the slightest!
Meditation is the act of being fully present in the moment, and observing your own mind. It can take less than five minutes if you need it to, or it can last for several hours if you want it to. You can do it in any comfortable position, in any location, and at any time of day. Your mind will not be blank, as brains just do not do that, but with consistent practice, your mind will start to slow down significantly while you meditate.
Some proven health benefits of meditation:
- lessen stress and anxiety
- ease physical health conditions that are worsened by stress
- give new perspectives in unpleasant situations
- help with depression (lessen the severity and/or impact is has on your life)
- improve sleep
I have personally been meditating daily for almost 3 years now. In that time, I haven’t missed a single day. I meditate right before bed, lying down, and will fall asleep before the end of the session (which is the point of the meditations I am using). If I’m having really bad anxiety or difficult emotions, I will meditate for a few minutes during the day as well. My personal goal, however, is to increase my meditation practice to twice a day – once in the morning to set the tone for my day, and once at night to unwind and fall asleep.
Over the past three years, I have notice some subtle, but remarkable, changes. I no longer view the world through a pessimistic lens, I don’t panic (at least not as badly) over situations I have no control over, many things that used to make me extremely angry now just irritate me for a few moments, and my insomnia has improved dramatically.
If you’re frustrated by meditation, don’t worry! You really cannot do it “wrong.” There are a lot of guided meditations available online, and several that will help explain some of the misconceptions that may be frustrating you. To find out what I do, please see this post; you can also contact me here.
For this month, I challenge you to try meditating every day. Pick a time of day you know you can stay consistent with (right when you wake up is usually a pretty good one), and try meditating for just five minutes every day at that time.
Use your free Health Storylines account (and app) to track your progress. I recommend using the “My Journal” tool to track how you feel after the sessions (use it at least weekly to check in with any progress you’ve noticed throughout the week), and use the “Routine Builder” tool to remind you to meditate every day.
Don’t forget to share your challenge progress on social media! Use the hashtag #FLSSselfcare so we can all cheer each other on!