Building Up Your Mental Muscle Through Meditation

Woman meditates at the park in the grass.

As 2020 comes to an end, the days get darker faster, and we’re still stuck inside during this pandemic, it’s important for us to be mindful of how we are feeling and find ways to support our mental health.

We have all heard people talking about self-care, especially in this year. Self-care, for some people, can feel selfish or inappropriate at times (“How can I possibly take a bubble bath when all of THIS is happening in the world?!”). However, one important thing we need to remember is that if you’re completely drained, not giving your body, mind and soul what it needs to continue moving forward, then how can you possibly give to anyone else?

One option for self-care is working on your mindfulness (“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”- Oxford Dictionary) through meditation. I’m sure you’ve heard of this before somewhere, but what people often think is that they need to sit in a lotus position (or “criss-cross-applesauce” as I might say to my kiddo clients), in the wilderness until you become “one with the universe”. This is obviously not feasible, and this would be the equivalent of never or rarely working out and assuming you will be able to participate in the Boston Marathon. No way is that going to work- you’ll be flat on the ground just a mile or so in.

Instead, we think of meditation and mindfulness as slowly turning up the dial, like you would in training for a race. You start by setting a schedule for yourself, determine how long you need to run (15 minutes first day on a Monday, then 20 minutes on Tuesday, followed by a stretching break on Wednesday, Thursday maybe you try for 30 minutes or then you start to focus on distance (doing 1 mile, then 2 and so on). Meditation works the same way that you need to build up the skill through time and effort in order to do it in the moment, without any help.

Mindful meditation can be a huge help in achieving more awareness of yourself: how you’re feeling, what emotions are coming up, how others or life might be triggering you, and ways you can respond differently. I always try to reiterate to my clients: We can only truly change how we respond to others and to life, as we are not able to control everyone else or how life goes on around us (even though we really might want to).

Meditation can help you gain more mindfulness in your day to day, feel more at peace and a common side effect is reduction in anxiety, especially if you practice meditation on a regular basis. I recommend clients just starting out do one short meditation at about the same time each day to get into the habit, and as you get more familiar you can reduce the frequency as you engage mindfully without the app.

One way to do this, is through an app I use personally and I highly recommend to a lot of clients is  Headspace. This app has so many features from introduction videos into how meditation works, to an area dedicated to focusing on sleep (since sleep is such an important piece of health and self care).

*I’ve also recommended  Insight Timer  (free app) and  Calm  (paid app) as other options for clients.*

The sleep section and the “Sleepcasts” section is my absolute favorite as it takes you through a quick mindful meditation or “wind down” and then goes into a soothing story. I find it super helpful on those nights where my mind is racing, because the story offers my mind something else to focus on to slow down and helps put me to sleep. You can try a free sleep meditation   from the Headspace website.

I highly encourage you or anyone else to check it out. They do offer a free 7 day trial, and then there is a paid subscription, but it is well worth the cost.

If, however, you do need more help in dealing with depression, anxiety or other symptoms related to winter blues, this pandemic, or life- we at Holistic Couple and Family Therapy offer free 15 minute phone consultations to discuss options for therapy, and we accept BCBS PPO, BCBS Choice, United Healthcare, Cigna. You can contact us at 773-980-9499 or by emailing our intake email at [email protected]

Keep building those skills for yourself, and always keep growing.