Many of us feel busier than ever before – workloads and smartphones pressure us to feel contactable 24/7 (the average British adult checks their smartphone once every 12 waking minutes). Never-ending notifications and near-infinite information at our fingertips, on top of hectic offices, commutes, family and social responsibilities, make it easy to regularly feel stressed and overwhelmed. It’s not just an issue for individuals, but for employers and the economy too. A recent “Mental Health at Work” report by the Financial Times states that “stress, depression or anxiety” accounts for 57% of all UK working days lost due to ill health.
In addition to setting boundaries with technology (for example, with smartphone usage-tracker apps, “no tech” times of day, and silencing all-but-essential notifications), a regular meditation habit can increase our ability to stay calm and present. Like “exercise”, the word “meditation” is an umbrella term for many different practices; but it can generally be defined as deliberately changing our normal waking state of consciousness by focusing inwardly for an intentional period of time.
Often, when we believe our minds or lives are just too busy to meditate is when we could actually benefit most from regularly taking a few calm, quiet minutes to ourselves. Studies suggest that regularly meditating can have positive impacts on our physical and mental health such as our quality of sleep; feelings of stress and anxiety; and levels of focus and emotional well-being.
A few years ago, a friend taught me how to meditate during a particularly stressful time and, after experiencing the calming effects, I was hooked! Just a few minutes a day of a simple practice, like sitting quietly and focusing on our breath, can make a big difference to our everyday stress levels and how we respond to whatever life throws at us.
Here are 8 tips for starting and sticking with a meditation habit that works for you:
1. Find a calm, quiet time and place
Put your phone on silent, and let anyone who could disturb you know you’re taking some quiet time. Using earphones can help block out any noise distractions.
2. Choose a spot you enjoy going back to
Help yourself want to meditate regularly and make your spot inviting with a cosy blanket, houseplant or candle. Knowing where you’ll meditate in advance also reduces the number of decisions you have to make each time, which can help when building a new habit.
3. Keep your posture relaxed and aware
Sit upright (with back support if you need it) on a comfortable cushion or chair or lie down, with your head, neck and back in a straight line. Rest your hands on your lap or knees. Keep your legs, shoulders and face relaxed, and gently close your eyes.
4. Find a type you enjoy
There are thousands of guided meditations available in apps, books, courses and videos. Anytime you have a few minutes (including your commute), you can also consciously focus on your breath either as it is, or by slowing it down. Find what works for you and try new methods to keep things interesting.
5. Get clear on your motivation
Why do you want to meditate? How could sleeping better; responding more calmly to stress or boosting your focus improve your life? Get clear about what you'd like most – even if it’s just taking some quiet time and discovering the benefits for yourself.
6. Know it’s normal for thoughts to come up
Your level of mind chatter will vary depending on what’s going on in your life (but often decreases the longer you meditate). You can gently acknowledge thoughts coming up by silently saying “thank you, I will look at this later”, or treat them like clouds gently going past in the sky. Once you’ve noticed you’re lost in thought, you can bring your focus back to meditating.
7. Dealing with distractions
If you feel physically uncomfortable, change your posture; if you fall asleep when you meditate try not to use back support (and check you’re getting enough sleep!). Calmly notice unexpected background noises, and keep bringing your attention back - this is great practice for reacting more calmly to everyday life.
8. Track your progress
Start with a few minutes a day at a regular time, or “attached” to an existing habit (like brushing your teeth) to get into a routine you can build on. Use a notebook, calendar, habit tracker or meditation app to tick off your meditations. Find an accountability buddy!
Most of all, try not to worry about “doing it right” - just like with exercise, different methods suit different people. Get going with a few minutes at a regular time that works for your schedule, and know that what happens during your practice is most likely what you needed. As you start noticing positive changes, you might even begin looking forward to your meditation sessions as useful, reflective minutes to yourself during a hectic day!
Jessica Warren, co-founder of Mind:Unlocked