Social media is full of beautiful, successful, popular people who seem to be, for want of a better phrase, 'winning at life' right now. Meanwhile, you're sitting at home in your pants, on your phone, eating Doritos and feeling bad about your life, wondering why some people have got everything locked down while your biggest achievement to date remains putting together an IKEA Billy bookcase on your own. Does this sound familiar? Social media has a nasty habit of drawing out the worst in us which, consequently, also makes us feel crap. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing oneself to others, leaving us feeling more pressured to perform – be it in our studies, at work or in our relationships – than ever. Plus, as we discussed last week, our generation feels more pressed than others to be the best; so much so that many of us are running on empty.
Now is a better time than ever, then, to practice a little self-love (not that kind, but, hey, whatever helps). "When you practice self-compassion, you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which takes away the state of stress," says Deborah Serani, an author and psychology professor. "The more you stay with positive thoughts, the more dopamine surges, which floods your body with feel-good hormones."
Meditation is an increasingly popular method for taking a break from life's shittery and being kinder to yourself. If you're feeling frazzled, then you might find meditation and mindfulness techniques an invaluable safe haven to turn to when everything feels like it's going wrong. Before you dismiss it as a load of hippy claptrap (disclosure: I used to think this), realise that there's nothing wrong with getting in touch with your emotional, mushy side – and you don't have to wear a drug rug to do it.
What you'll need
There are various ways to meditate but, as a beginner, you're gonna want to opt for guided meditation options, which will help you to get into the right state of mind; it generally will take you a while to get there.
Choose from one of the below:
- An app. Headspace is particularly excellent, and you can trial it for free so you can get a feel for how it works.
- A soundtrack. Whether it's on
- Guided meditation videos on YouTube. These are the same thing as the CD/MP3 soundtracks, but they're free. This is handy if you're on a tight budget, but it also means that what you find can be a bit hit-and-miss. The best way to sift through the crap is through Googling for recommendations, rather than using YouTube's search tool. Lots of respectable mindfulness blogs create round-up posts of meditation vids on YT, such as these.
You'll also need:
- A quiet space
- A chair
- At least 10 spare minutes in your day
Firstly, get yourself into a quiet space
Although meditation, once you've nailed it, can help to take your mind away to different places – it could be a beach or it could be a library, it just depends on what your jam is – it's best done from somewhere you feel reasonably 'zen' in the first place. Your own home is a good place to start (as long as being at home doesn't totally stress you out!). You don't need to be in a dark room to meditate, though you might want to close the curtains if you're doing it in the daytime and the sun's shining through the windows, as this can be distracting even if your eyes are closed.
Once you have mastered the art of meditating, you'll be able to do it from pretty much anywhere because, after all, it's all in the mind. However, the best way to start is sitting upright in a chair, rather than lying down on your bed. If it's more comfortable, you could also sit cross-legged on the floor (not on the bed!). Pop your hands on your lap and, if you choose to sit on a chair rather than on the floor, make sure both feet are touching the floor and you're not crossing your legs.
Start with a few minutes of deep breathing in silence
Before you open up your Headspace app, stick on your guided meditation CD/MP3/podcast, or hit up YouTube, start out by just taking some deep breaths – this is a key part of meditation, as you'll quickly discover, but the more quickly you learn to let go through your breathing, the more quickly you'll become used to the process. If you type 'Deep breathing' into Google, the search results will automatically bring up Google's own 1-minute deep breathing exercise. Repeat this a couple of times – or until you're calm enough – before progressing to the next stage.
Start off with 10 minutes of meditation – or less, if you're particularly anxious
You can gradually work your way up, but ten minutes is all you need to begin with. If you're using Headspace, its sessions only last 10 minutes so you don't need to do anything. If you're listening to a podcast, YouTube or an audio file, you might need to pause it. Remember to focus on your breathing. Another point to note is that, if you're feeling particularly anxious, 10 minutes might feel like a lifetime – in this case, just stick it out for 5 – and don't worry if you feel like you can't focus at first. It is 100% normal for your mind to be cluttered with thoughts, especially when you're new to meditation and you're not yet totally in 'the zone.' If any thoughts come, acknowledge them – don't fight them – and then just let them go, as you focus on your breathing. As ever, perseverance is key.
Quick tips for meditation newbies
- A Headspace subscription usually costs £60 a year, but you can get a year-long subscription for free if you buy a years' membership at Anxiety UK for £30. There's also an ongoing bundle deal offering Headspace and Spotify Premium for £9.99 for the first 3 months, and £14.99 a month thereafter
- Be patient! If you don't feel super-chilled after your first few meditation attempts, this is totally normal! It's a lengthy process, but well worth it if you can stick it out.
- As well as being patient, to get the best results you want to be meditating every day, or every other day if you're really stretched for time
- Breathing is key! If you feel you haven't yet mastered your breathing technique, search for breathing-focused exercises on YouTube to help
- Close your eyes. Otherwise you'll probably find that your surroundings are distracting you.