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Let's improve your mental health with meditation and mindfulness

If you are finding life very challenging right now you are not alone. We know that many of you will be experiencing a range of emotions including stress, anxiety, grief, loneliness, and uncertainty. So how can we help and what can you do to support yourself during this time?

Our friends at Harvard University have helped to develop a series of guided meditations that you might find helpful to work through. They have been recorded by Mark Miller, PsyD, MPH. Mark is a clinical psychologist in private practice in the Los Angeles area, meditation teacher at insightLA, and Coordinator at Mindful USC at University of Southern California.

There are a range of meditations for you to try including ones focusing on checking in with your breathing, your body and the different emotions you are feeling. If you’re unsure which of these guided meditations to start with, it may be helpful to listen to some of the shorter ones first and then progress from there.

To get started, find a sitting, lying or standing position that is comfortable and supports your body. Try and find a space where you won’t be disturbed and begin listening!

There is no right or wrong way to do meditation. Just find out what works best for you. If you haven’t tried meditation before it might feel a little strange to begin with, stick with it a few times and don’t worry if you feel that you aren’t getting it or doing it right, just focus on giving yourself a few moments in the day to sit quietly and calmly with minimal distractions.

What are mindfulness and meditation?

When we are feeling stressed, anxious or sad, we are often worrying about what will happen in the future or thinking about something that happened (or didn’t happen) in the past. These worry and thought patterns can take us away from what is happening right now – and can even making the “right now” feel worse.

When we feel like this, really engaging with the present moment through mindfulness can be helpful. A quick way we can be mindful and break the worry and rumination cycle is by grounding the in the ‘here and now’ – take a moment to press your back into the chair and ground your feet on the floor, or pick up your phone and notice what the experience is really like – how heavy is the phone? What does the screen feel like to touch? When we non-judgmentally notice where we are, what we are doing, and what we are feeling and thinking – we are being mindful!

This first meditation is a short exercise in becoming mindful. It’s a great place to start your meditation journey.

Meditation put simply is when you spend time noticing your thoughts and most of the rest is down to you. Rather than get caught up in them you just notice where your mind is going, what it is doing and each time you feel yourself getting caught up in thinking you gently bring your mind back to simply observing. Having someone to guide you through this can be helpful and support you to stay in the moment, especially if you are new to mediation.

Focusing on your breathing

Breathing is one of the most natural things we do, it’s funny then how more often than not we don’t notice our breathing at all! When we are stressed, overwhelmed and anxious our breathing can become short, shallow and sometimes it can feel hard to catch a breath. Focusing on mindfully breathing and controlling your breath can help you to stay in the here and now and can help you to feel calmer and more in control.

Each of these three meditations all focus on breathing. Start with the shorter ones and work your way up. Notice how you feel before and after you practice these sessions. Could they help you throughout the day if you start to struggle? Building in some meditation into each day might help you to manage some of the difficult emotions you may be experiencing right now as well as providing a healthy routine to your day.

Step out of your head and into your body

When we are battling with our mental health we often have a tendency to get caught up in our thoughts. Our minds race and we can’t stop thinking. We can get stuck in the same thought patterns and these can cause anxieties to grow and spiral out of control. When this happens we start to become quite detached from our bodies; our heads take over and we can even start to panic. Meditation can help this, especially if you build it into your routine as it can help us to learn ways of breaking our thought patterns when they become unhelpful.

Spending some time checking in and noticing your body can help to calm us down, and help put the breaks on those racing minds. It can also reconnect you with your body, a really good method for feeling more grounded and aware of the world around us. Equally, for those of us who often feel a bit numb checking in with your body can again be a really useful exercise to practice.

Varying how you meditate

Meditation is very personal and what works you someone else might not work for you. There are lots of different styles to meditation and some people like to sit or lie still, other times you might find it helpful to walk or move during your meditation. Here are a group of meditations for you to try that focus on sitting and walking. See what works for you. Perhaps you might like to try a combination of styles. Walking meditations can be great to try outside in nature if you are able to get outside.

Meditations for your mood

This final category of meditations focus on the moods, feelings and emotions that you might have at the moment and might want to specifically target with your meditation practice. These including a meditation that looks at loving kindness. In challenging situations throughout your life being able to treat yourself with loving kindness is so important. Life is undoubtedly challenging right now and we as humans can be very hard on ourselves. We often set ourselves high standards and beat ourselves up if we don’t meet them. So practice treating yourself with love and kindness right now, nurture yourself. However you are feeling right now, it is okay. Take things day by day and give yourself lots of breathing space and time.

Meditation can be a really helpful tool to have in your box of coping strategies. It can help you if you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, however it is also a great activity to try and build into your daily routine. However meditation is one of many tools that can support you so if it isn’t for you don’t worry, there are lots of other coping strategies that you can draw on for support.


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