During highly stressful times it is easy for the mind to wander to dark places and exaggerate possible outcomes of a given situation. When times are difficult it is easy to become anxious about the future.
It is natural for our minds to think negatively about the possible outcomes. This type of thinking causes us stress and increases cortisol levels in our body. Cortisol is a stress hormone in the brain. If not managed, chronic stress can lead to serious physical and cognitive health problems, such as:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
However, there are ways to actively manage stress and avoid long-term activation of our stress-response system. Besides eating healthy, exercising, and staying in touch with loved ones, you can manage the thoughts in your mind, effectively lowering your cortisol levels and reducing stress. One of the most effective ways to do this is through meditation. And, contrary to what many believe, meditation does not need to be done in a Zen like place. You can do it anywhere you can find a quiet space to sit, focus and relax.
Try the following and don’t worry if you get frustrated because your thoughts wonder and you do not feel like you are good at it. It takes practice and it is really about quieting the mind and gaining control over your thoughts.
- Sit straight and comfortably on a cushion or a chair.
- Put on music, if that helps to calm your mind before beginning to meditate. Turn it off once you begin.
- Set a timer. Try starting with five minutes and work your way up to twenty minutes over time, which may take weeks
- Take a couple deep breathes, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Close your eyes and breathe normally through your nose, with your mouth closed.
- Focus your mind on the breath moving in and out of your nostrils, or on the rise and fall of your belly.
- When your mind drifts off, and this will happen often, gently bring it back and refocus on your breaths or the rise and fall of your belly.
- When time is up, open your eyes and listen to the world around you for a moment before getting up.
Find a consistent time to do this daily. Make it before you reward yourself with coffee, after you get dressed for work or whenever you find is a good time for you. Just be consistent and create a routine. Over time you will find that you are calmer, less anxious and better able to control the thoughts in your head.