April is National Stress Awareness month, when the U.S Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) urges Americans to refresh and recharge their bodies and minds for a healthier lifestyle. The HHS website suggests a number of simple activities like taking a walk, doing yoga, having a cup of tea, or practicing meditation as methods for combating stress and adds, "While you can't avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it."
Several studies have shown that while we cannot prevent stressful situations from happening, we do have the power to control our reactions to these occurrences, ultimately dictating our own stress levels. Practices such as meditation have been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. By purposefully reducing cortisol through mindfulness we can actually help train our bodies to become more stress-resilient, avoid headaches, and prevent depression.
For many people, the thought of taking time away from a busy day to meditate may feel like a colossal waste of time. In my personal experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. Beyond the medically-proven benefits of meditation, I've personally experienced how mindfulness has reduced stress and helped me be an effective leader, wife and mother. I'm such a believer that I came out of retirement to found Grokker, a wellness video start-up that makes yoga, meditation, and fitness accessible to everyone.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
1. Make a Plan: Our lives are constantly in motion, plus with work and family there are inevitably more than a few distractions. That said, I believe there is available time in your busy schedule, you just have to find it, and make a plan to save it.
At the start of each week, identify when you will meditate and book it as an appointment in your calendar. Having your meditation time already allocated into your calendar makes it harder to skip it and also relieves you of the need to make a decision about "what to do" during that time.
Be sure to think through where you will go to meditate (living room, bedroom, park or empty conference room at the office) and what you may need (pillow, headphones, or blanket) so you can get prepared the day before.
2. Start Small: At the start, you'll find it easier to meditate for just a few minutes at a time versus trying to tackle a 30-minute session right out of the gate. Consistently meditating for just five minutes once or twice a week is enough to help you feel success early on. This will keep you motivated to continue practicing and eventually increase both the time spent and the number of days per week you meditate. Soon enough you'll begin to make this a habitual practice and perhaps, eventually, a lifelong habit.
3. Begin with Guided Meditation: A common obstacle preventing people from beginning a meditation practice is they don't know how to do it and fear they will "do it wrong." This is why a guided meditation can be a great way to start because you just hit play and follow along as an expert like davidji or Andrew Johnson guides you through relaxing your muscles, clearing your mind, and concentrating on your breathing.
Stress is inevitable, but we have the power to take control of how we respond to life's stressors and manage them through meditation and mindfulness. You can form a meditation ritual in just five minutes per day and the benefits will make a world of difference to your overall wellbeing. So come on, it's time to learn how to relax!