Hi friends, today I want to get kind of personal about mental health. It’s not a topic many like to discuss because it can get pretty dark and scary, but I think it’s important to have these conversations and normalize what we all go through in different times in our lives.
I, like so many others I know, have pretty bad anxiety. I’ve always had a little bit of anxiety here and there but it got really bad when I lived on my own in college. It takes a long time for me to make friends, so when I moved there I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t in my ‘comfort zone’ of living at home and being with my friends, so I took it pretty hard. Add in all the drinking and pressure to fit in and I was not handling it well. At the time, I thought everyone was quickly adjusting and they were making it look so easy, but reminiscing with friends after leaving college I’ve learned that everyone kind of went through this same thing. College is tough on mental health, what a concept!
Since leaving college, my anxiety has unfortunately not left me. Certain things trigger my anxiety, like large crowds or drinking, but throughout the day I can experience tiny bouts of anxiety, sometimes with no known cause. I could be having a great day until suddenly I feel panicked, searching for what’s wrong when in reality, nothing is wrong. On the other hand, my anxiety can last for days. The holidays are a tough time for not just me but many others; the pressure to show up and celebrate at multiple parties and be cheery for weeks really builds up takes a toll on me, and then you just feel guilty because you should be feeling grateful and have nothing to be so upset about. This last holiday season left me sobbing on the couch, asking Austin what the hell was wrong with me and if we can skip the holiday party we had that night and instead binge Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We did just that, me sniffling into tissues huddled underneath my gravity blanket while simultaneously chuckling at whatever dumb thing Jake just said.
During the holidays, I started to look into what I could do on a daily basis to help ease my anxiety. I heavily considered medication, but I just wasn’t ready to go down that route yet. Not to say that medication isn’t good for you, if it works for you then that’s great and please don’t take other’s criticism to heart, but for me personally I just felt like I could try a few more things on my end before going there. Trusty old Google taught me a thing or two about meditation and I loved that it was a natural and free treatment I could try right then and there. Meditation has been scientifically proven to decrease stress, anxiety and depression, improve concentration, and promote other healthy behaviors like doing yoga, eating healthier, getting more sleep, and even quitting smoking. There’s actually a study where forty of sixty patients with high blood pressure were able to stop taking their medication because of their meditation practice. Doesn’t that make you imagine a super stressed out CEO yelling into their phones at their assistants, on the verge of a heart attack and desperately in need of a few deep breaths?
I’ve heard about meditation of course and didn’t really understand how sitting in silence could actually benefit me at all, but I willed myself to give it a chance. I started with a free app called Insight Timer, where both guided and unguided meditations are provided. Let me tell you, as easy as you think sitting and not thinking sounds…it’s actually so difficult. I found my mind bouncing around, mentally forming a to-do list. After one minute I was restless, peeking open my eyes and fidgeting out of the position I believed I had to hold (you know the one, that classic meditation pose where your legs are crossed and your hands are on your knees facing up with your middle finger and thumb touching). But I needed to try for the sake of my mental health and told myself that I had to commit to meditating every day for at least ten minutes.
I understand now why it’s referred to as a practice. It took me a few weeks of reminding myself why I was doing this and why it was important until it finally became a habit. As a reward, I got the Calm app that I had been wanting after a trial period introduced me to its sleek design, sleep stories, and Daily Calm meditations. Each day, they offer a new ten-minute meditation focusing on a different theme of mindfulness, like acceptance, humility, holding space, and balance. It’s perfect for my daily meditation, but Calm also offers multiple series centered on different issues like anxiety, insomnia, personal growth, relationships, and even series made for kids. It can sometimes take me a while to fall asleep, meanwhile Austin is out like a light right next to me, so I use their sleep stories pretty regularly and heavily favor the kids stories, I am not embarrassed to admit (my absolute favorite is The Velveteen Rabbit…so cute).
My daily meditations have become an essential part of my morning routine. I wrote a full post detailing my morning rituals and why each one is so important to me which you can read here. Basically, I get up out of bed and open up the house so that I can let in that chilly morning breeze and then I settle in on the couch, with my back straight and legs flat out in front of me. I sit in this position because it’s the most comfortable on my knees and back. My priority in my position is just to keep a straight back in order to maintain wakefulness, but I also make sure that I’m comfortable enough to be able to sit still for ten minutes (this is why I can’t hold that classic pose, everything ends up aching after a few minutes). My cat Bailey always joins me in meditating; she’ll see me heading for the couch in the mornings and follow me, waiting for me to get settled so that she can curl up on my lap. I use my AirPods so that I can cancel out the noise around me and focus on my breathing and so that I can guarantee I won’t get distracted.
Since keeping up with my meditations, I’ve noticed that those daily anxieties don’t plague me anymore, and when I do find myself near a panic attack I just reach for my Calm app. If I’m out in public and can’t necessarily put in my AirPods I just take a few deep breaths, focusing on inhaling and exhaling, and counting each time (sometimes I have Breathin’ by Ariana Grande playing in my head while I do this, which honestly helps. Bless that woman). I know it doesn’t sound like meditating will help when you’re in the middle of a panic attack, but trust me and just give it a try. Honestly, what do you have to lose?