Reduce your stress levels with these simple yet effective practices

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a hectic and stressful year. From a global pandemic upending our lives, to social and political unrest taking centre stage around the globe, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. 

If you’ve found yourself doom-scrolling social media lately (especially since lockdown first began), you’re not alone. According to Healthline, daily social media usage for Twitter and Facebook has jumped more than 23 percent since the pandemic started.

While it’s OK to stay informed and educated about important issues, getting caught in a cycle of absorbing scary headlines is doing great harm to your well being. 

So how do we handle the constant flurry of emotions during these strange times, as we carry on with our lives and face so much uncertainty? 

One extremely popular mindfulness tool that can work wonders for mental health is meditationand not the type most people are familiar with. 

Kim McMullen is the founder of Girl in the Wild, a non-profit offering free confidence-boosting adventure camps for young girls. Since the pandemic brought group events to a halt, McMullen has shifted her focus to virtual courses catering to women of all ages. 

MeditatePexels/cottonbroTheir latest is an introductory course exclusively on meditation, led by certified meditation coach Tess Sloane.

According to Sloane, meditation isn’t about sitting for a long time and making your mind go blank, but about being present and aware. “Remember... the aim of meditation is not to remove all of your thoughts,” she says, “but to become aware of them so they don’t control or overwhelm you.” 

Sloane adds that meditation is primarily about deep breathing, as it’s a powerful method for grounding the mind and giving it something to focus on, besides what’s currently stressing you out.  

“Here’s a news flash,” says Sloane, “Our thoughts are just little messages to us that are purely there for our survival. Meditation teaches us that we can choose which thoughts we focus on!” 

In essence, our thoughts are like our fight or flight response to “danger”, whether that’s a looming deadline at work, or a barrage of negative headlines around a contagious disease.  

“Meditation won’t erase what’s happening in the world,” says McMullen, “But it will give us space to sit with it all, acknowledge it, and breathe through it so we can take on the day.” 

For those new to meditation and looking to start, it’s much easier than you think. Start small, and you’ll still see great results. “Set your timer for two minutes and simply sit and breathe,” says Sloane, “Bring your attention to the sensation of your breath coming in through your nose, then focus on extending the length of your exhalation. That’s it!”

A common question people have about meditation is, how do I create the perfect ambience for the practice? Sloane says to think beyond the visual of a monk sitting peacefully on the edge of a cliff, and instead understand that there is no such thing as a perfect condition for meditation. You can meditate anywhere, anytime.

“Real meditation happens in the middle of our busy day, while we’re building our careers, parenting, and managing anxiety.” she says. 

Even if conditions aren’t ideal, try to meditate anyway. Make the decision to wake up a bit earlier, or set aside some time right before bed. Even taking short moments in between errands to stop and focus on deep breathing is powerful and effective.

Here are a few simple ways to incorporate meditation into your day, no matter your schedule...

  • Set aside five minutes at the start and end of each day for deep breathing
  • Take three deep diaphragmatic breaths in between Zoom calls and meetings
  • Go for a 20-minute walk in nature, or around your neighborhood, with no headphones. Take deep breaths and focus on what your senses absorb, from the sounds around you to the smell of the air