The holidays are here! Most of us simultaneously look forward to and dread the holidays because, though they symbolize a multitude of wonderful things such as time off with family and friends or reasons to be reflective and thankful for all that we have, the holidays are downright stressful. There are meals to plan, shop for, and cook; traveling translates to additional scheduling; packing or having family visit means cleaning, organizing, and entertaining. On top of that, there is always that one relative you love dearly but with whom you always seem to butt heads. All these little stresses add up, so it’s no wonder people are pulling their hair out this time of year.
I happen to have the perfect solution to calm your holiday madness. It is so perfect that you are even able to use this solution year-round: Meditation. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss the chanting cross-legged weirdo you are picturing in your head right now, just read on.
I’m not talking about any religious or spiritual type of meditation; I’m talking about turning off all the electronics and distractions, sitting down, closing your eyes, and essentially forcing your mind to be still for 5-20 minutes a day. That’s all. It doesn’t sound like much; it might even sound like a waste of time to some of you. However, studies have shown doing this improves emotional stability, helps us respond to stress, and leads to beneficial changes in brain function. Who doesn’t want better brain function? But that’s not all: meditating also decreases your respiratory rate while increasing blood flow, slowing the heart rate and bringing your blood pressure to a normal level. Due to the fact that you begin reaching a deeper level of relaxation after a few minutes, your muscles naturally release the pent-up tension that typically leads to cramps and headaches. Serotonin levels (responsible for mood) increase, resulting in a lower chance of depression, anxiety, obesity, and insomnia. The combination these fabulous benefits leads to additional benefits such as a stronger immune system, diminished allergies and arthritic pain, and better mental focus and self-confidence.
Need I go on? I know, I know – it is hard to find a few minutes every day to simply sit. I have tried, but my foot starts shaking, and my mind begins racing through my “to do” list, thinking of the multitude of things I could be accomplishing with this time. But, if you challenge yourself to try it every day for at least three weeks I guarantee you WILL relax, and nothing will be able to pry you away from your new found serenity. Here’s what you need to know:
Get Started: Take the 3 Week Challenge
- Select a specific time each day so that it will easily become part of your routine. Start with 5-10 minutes and work your way up to 15-20 minutes.
- Turn everything off except a timer. If you prefer music, pick something without words like classical, jazz, or meditation soundtracks. Sit in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable position.
- Focus your mind on the present moment, not on what happened yesterday or what needs to happen today; those are the random thoughts that cause stress and overload. This might prove difficult at first. Some folks choose to count as they breathe in and out or repeat a word or sound; this helps thoughts to center on the numbers or the sound in that moment.
- The goal is to turn your thoughts from the external world around you to the internal awareness of your body and your existence in this moment.
For adults 50 years and older, meditation can improve brain function and stave off dementia. Caregivers, who give so much of themselves to help others, can meditate to reduce stress and take back a little piece of themselves each day. Who knows what might happen after three weeks of meditating? You might find yourself actually finishing the crossword puzzle without peeking at any of the answers. You might find yourself experiencing a deep, profound sleep similar to when you were a teenager. You might find yourself smiling more and NOT honking at the Mini Cooper that just zipped in and cut you off in traffic. You might see flu season pass you by without even catching a cold! Who knows…pick up a basketball and you might pull off a slam dunk!
Research & Community Education