Over the past couple of months, I’ve transitioned from working for a newspaper as a full-time reporter to working for myself as a freelance writer.
This led to two immediate changes:
- My schedule has a little more time and a lot more flexibility. I’m still working full-time, but for almost a year before making the switch I was working 40 to 50 hours per week at my job, then coming home and working around 20 hours per week as a freelancer to build up my clients and savings before I took the plunge. And working for myself, I can work any time of the day that I want to, so long as I make my clients’ deadlines.
- My Covered California application was processed incorrectly, thanks to it being submitted at the same time as open enrollment, so I was without coverage for six weeks — and without therapy.
A year ago, I would have panicked at that second one. But for a few months, I’ve been in a pretty good place. Even my most recent, flu- and irresponsibility-fueled dip into depression wasn’t nearly as bad as things have been in the past.
So I tried to look on the bright side. This was the perfect opportunity to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: Mindfulness meditation.
What is mindfulness meditation?
The goal of mindfulness meditation is to stay focused on the current moment — what you’re feeling and experiencing at that exact time. When your thoughts wander to the past or future, you’re supposed gently re-focus on what you’re doing: sitting quietly and just being.
As Janet Singer wrote here at PsychCentral, it’s basically the opposite of OCD and other anxiety disorders.
While mindfulness stems from Buddhist meditation and other contemplative traditions, you don’t need to follow or not follow any specific religious tradition to give it a try.
Traditionally, mindfulness meditation is seated, but if you’re like me and motion helps keep you focused, you can do it while walking or performing some other exercise like tai chi. For my little experiment, I did both seated guided meditation and tai chi. (If you don’t have experience with tai chi, a lot of community and senior centers offer classes that are open to people of all ages. I highly recommend it.)
The other day, one of my friends said she was sick of hearing about mindfulness all the time. It does seem to be everywhere, especially as pubs from Buzzfeed to the New York Times jump on the meditation bandwagon.
I can’t say I disagree with her. Mindfulness always seemed a bit like a sanitized rip-off of Buddhism for the upper middle class yoga, TED Talk crowd to me.
But my therapist suggested it to me way back in probably my second meeting with her, and even suggested a book, The Mindfulness Solution by Dr. Ronald D. Siegel. Though I was skeptical, I promptly went out, bought it, and even got a couple of chapters in before I had a rough few months due to my sertraline prescription. I’ve barely read anything since.
So I decided that, since I’ve been without therapy for about two months now and I have the time, I should pick that book back up. More importantly, I wanted to give mindfulness meditation a try on a daily basis, not just something I do once every few weeks.
How the experiment is going
I’m about two weeks in, and so far it’s going well.
I downloaded Stop, Breathe & Think, a free smartphone app, for the guided meditations. One is for mindful breathing and another is for mindful walking; there are also guided meditations for things like compassion, gratitude, etc. Some of the meditations are bundled into in-app purchases, but there are a bunch of very nice free ones.
The nice thing about this app is it also asks you to check in whenever you plan to meditate, with a little self-inventory where you offer details about your current mental and physical state. Then it suggests meditations, or you can choose your own.
I’ve been using this at least once per day; most of the guided meditations are 5 to 10 minutes long, so it’s easy to squeeze them in any time.
I’ve also been trying to fit in a longer tai chi session of 30 minutes every other day, both for the exercise and practice, and for a chance to practice moving mindfulness. I have not been as successful here (some days are just really busy), but I’m trying.
In this case, I don’t use the guided meditation, but I do play music on Relax Melodies, just to mask the noise from outside (I live in a somewhat busy area of town).
Those are two apps I’ve liked, but they may not be ideal for everyone. There are a bunch of others you can try, though I don’t know any others I can personally recommend. There are some good lists on Healthline, Lifehack, and Mindful, though, if you want to try something else.
The results so far
Honestly, only about two weeks in, I’m not sure I have any results to share yet. I feel like this is especially true because I was starting from a pretty decent mental place, rather than where I was as a prisoner to my OCD a year and a half ago.
I will say that meditating first thing in the morning has put me in a better mood than I have been early in the day, and meditating right before bed seems to be helping me sleep better. But that could simply be the shiny newness of doing this as a daily practice.
However, there’s a bunch of evidence-based research that mindfulness is effective as part of a successful treatment package for a number of mental and physical health issues. And for all that I rapped the TED Talk crowd earlier, I watched a few of the talks on mindfulness before I even started this exercise, and these are real doctors and mental health experts who have seen real results.
I’m still skeptical, but I’m also open-minded and hopeful that this will help me calm my mind.
Photo by darraghoconnor12