I used to be anxious, worried, and afraid. Then I found mindfulness and meditation, and my life changed for the better in so many positive ways. Mindfulness and meditation have helped me so much in my personal development – and they can help you, too!
The calm before the storm
I remember very distinctly the first time I decided I wanted to try meditating. I had just graduated from college in 2014 and was overwhelmed with all the huge changes ahead – most of my close friends moving away, leaving the routine and security of school that I had known all my life, and beginning my first full-time job as a high school teacher with Teach for America. While I had heard many amazing things about TFA, I had also heard how stressful it could be – with long hours, a demanding workload, and a lot of pressure to perform well quickly.
As all of those circumstances came together to create the perfect storm, I wanted to be proactive because I knew it was going to be a lot to cope with at once (and I’ve admittedly never been the best with change). So, right before I graduated (literally days before), I remember asking my mom to teach me to meditate. I’m lucky I had such an accessible teacher – my mom has been meditating twice a day since I was a kid, so I grew up knowing what it was but not every really understanding or believing in its importance.
I’m not sure at what point I really grasped what meditation even was, but I honestly never had an interest in it even though my mom practiced it everyday and spoke so highly about it. The bigger truth was that I didn’t believe it really did anything beneficial. But as I got older, I started reading more and more research on the benefits of meditation, and of its closely-connected counterpart, mindfulness. I knew meditation and mindfulness were proven to help with stress and anxiety, so I decided I’d try anything to help me face the changes I was about to go through.
How I learned to meditate
So, I learned to meditate. I took what my mom taught me about the way she meditates and made it my own. Meditation really helped me through that first summer after graduation during TFA training, during which time I would get up at 5am and work until around 11pm to midnight each night with only small breaks in between. I would make myself meditate for ten minutes every single day of that training, and I think that was the only reason I got through that summer.
Since then, meditation has been a steady constant in my life. I read books on mindfulness (I highly recommend Mindsight by Dan Siegel – it’s a great introduction to mindfulness) and tried to meditate regularly. It took a while, but with steady practice, I started to really notice a change in my thoughts and my responses to challenges or discomforts in my life.
I’m a very automatic responder, someone who speaks without thinking, makes very quick decisions, and tends to regret it later. Mindfulness has helped me SO MUCH with slowing down, not reacting automatically, and putting space between myself and my emotions so I can calm down before I respond. Mindfulness has helped me stop myself from becoming overwhelmed or catastrophizing, having full-on meltdowns like I used to, or from starting huge blow-out fights with loved ones unnecessarily. It has truly helped me re-shape my brain and therefore, change my behavior.
I’m not perfect. There are still days where I snap at my loved ones (it just happened the other day and while it’s happening less and less, it still sucks when it does because now I KNOW I could have prevented it), where I don’t meditate for days at a time (I try to every day but some days it just doesn’t happen), or where I think the worst of a situation that will probably work out fine. But overall, I am much more easily able to roll with the punches and let go of my grip on life a little, and you know what? Things really do tend to work out the way they need to WITHOUT me worrying or stressing over them – crazy, right?
My favorite meditation apps
So, if you want to learn more about mindfulness or try meditation but don’t know where to start, here are a few apps I’d recommend:
- Calm – I love this app! There are tons of guided meditations but there are also longer challenges (i.e. 21 days of loving kindness) as well as peaceful nature scenes if you just want to listen to or look at something calming. They have a great “emergency calm” meditation that I’ve used a lot when I really need to calm down fast.
- Insight Timer – This is a great app that my friend showed me recently and that I’ve been using ever since. I don’t often use guided meditations so I don’t tend to use apps, but this app has a timer for non-guided meditation and plays a sound (such as a bell) at various intervals during your meditation (I have one in the beginning, middle, and end). This app is super helpful in motivating me to meditate every day because it keeps track of your progress. There’s also a reminder feature where you can set a banner notification to pop up at the same time each day and remind you to meditate!
- Headspace – I don’t use this one but my fiance does and he loves it! Headspace is what really helped him get into meditation for the first time, and he’s now hooked! Headspace also keeps track of the days you’ve meditated and gives you “badges” as you reach larger amounts of consecutive days.
Are you a fan of mindfulness and meditation? Do you use an app to help you meditate? Let me know in the comments!