Learn to Meditate, Reduce Stress

Meditation is an ancient form of contemplative practice that was developed as a crucial component of the world’s great spiritual traditions. From mindfulness meditation to creative visualization, the different forms of meditation that have developed throughout the world all have the goal of developing and enhancing serenity, compassion, and wisdom. Only recently has modern science begun to recognize the positive impacts of meditation on the brain, including increased emotion regulation, decreased psychological distress, improved attention, and improved immune system functioning. As a result, people who are not necessarily connected to a spiritual tradition have begun to benefit from this ancient practice as a way of improving quality of life. The following is a brief introduction to a specific form of meditation called mindfulness. 

The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to bring your mind fully into the present moment, without being distracted by unrelated thoughts, or unhelpful judgments. We are usually caught up in our thoughts, not realizing we are totally disconnected from what we are doing. This can have many negative consequences, the most important being we miss out on fully engaging in our lives, with our brain on autopilot. New research has shown that when we are caught up in our thoughts, our mood takes a significant dip. Conversely, when our find is focused on the present moment, our mood is usually improved, even when we may be doing something unpleasant. 

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Below are some instructions for developing a simple daily meditation practice of being mindful of the breath. 

Find a quiet place free of distractions. Your mind will offer enough distractions of its own, so a place where there is noise or a lot of activity will make sustained attention significantly more difficult. 

Have a seat and close your eyes. There is no right way to sit. You can sit cross legged, full lotus, or upright in a chair. The most important thing is that your sitting position is comfortable, and not distracting itself.

Bring your mind to the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nose. Just notice the tingling as cool air enters and warm air exits. This is a simple task in that there are not a lot of steps or complex visualizations to keep track of. However, you will find it is a difficult task. You will notice your mind wandering to all sorts of things: physical sensations, planning, daydreaming, rehashing past events. That is to be expected. In fact, the better you become at mindfulness, the more you notice how distracted you become when trying to focus your mind. 
All you have to do when you notice your mind leaving your breath, is gently bring it back. Again and again. If your mind wanders 100 times in one minute, bring it back 100 times in one minute. Sometimes people become discouraged because their minds continually wander. In reality, you should congratulate yourself for noticing your mind drifting. This is a significant improvement over never noticing at all. 

Watch your breathing for about 5 minutes. Continually aware of when your mind leaves. Continually bringing it back. Afterward, you may notice an increased sense of calm that you can use to set the tone for the rest of the day.

As you become more acquainted with the practice, you can increase the time sitting to 10, 15, 20 minutes. The most important point of developing a daily meditation practice is consistency, so 3 minutes every day is better than an hour once a week. 

Try this simple practice for yourself, and see what you notice. You may just find that taking a few minutes to be present is rewarding enough, that you look for other opportunities throughout the day to be present. Just as this practice is focused on the breath, you mindfully focus on driving, eating, drinking your morning cup of coffee, chatting with a co-worker… There are endless opportunities to connect to the present moment. 

Cognitive Distortions Definition of Catastrophizing

The cognitive distortion of catastrophizing is pretty much what you might think it is: making something into a catastrophe when it's not. When we catastrophize, we tell our selves that something is so awful, so terrible, that we won't be able to handle it. That we would fall apart, or die. The more we tell ourselves the problem we are facing is a catastrophe, the more hopeless and helpless we will feel to effectively cope with it. Catastrophizing can result in increased anxiety and depression, and can make difficult situations feel even worse than they already are. There are several ways of rethinking catastrophic thinking to help you better handle adversity.

When you recognize catastrophizing, first ask yourself what about this situation is so terrible? Have you dealt with similar situations in the past? If so, did you survive? If you did survive, (and presumably you did) how?  What did you do to weather the difficulty?

How do you think you will feel about this situation a month from now? Do you imagine your feelings will be just as strong? What do you think you will probably do to move on? How about a year from now, how do you think you will think and feel about the situation? Would your feelings be as intense? And two years from now? Challenges often lose their emotional intensity and perceived importance over time. Think back to what you were most worried about five years ago and how it turned out. Do you even remember what you were concerned about then?

Are you the only one in the world to go through this? How many other people would you guess go through something similar?How many people do do you think are facing something even worse? How do you think they manage to move beyond the negative event and go on to do positive things in their lives? What does that tell you about how you may be able to handle this situation?

Consider what you have going for you in your life. What positive experiences are you able to have? What steps can you take to improve your life? Consider the aspects of your life that you take for granted and are not catastrophes, and cultivate gratitude.  

Think of someone you know who seems to handle adversity pretty well. If this catastrophe befell them, how do you imagine they would cope? What do you think they would tell themselves to be able to pick themselves up and get back on the proverbial horse?

Do you think everybody would think this situation is as bad as you do? If not, why not? How would they be making sense of this to not see it as a catastrophe?

If ten years from now you were to realize that this "catastrophe," although clearly not part of your plan, was actually the best thing for you at the time, how might this be the case? What positive things might come from this? What opportunities might this situation present, that you might not otherwise have access to?

Recognizing catastrophizing and considering other perspectives can reduce your belief that the situation is terrible or hopeless. By feeling better and more confident, you can effectively manage the situation. You are more likely to respond to the challenge skillfully, and with less emotional pain. The next time you hear yourself catastrophizing, try considering some of these other lines of reasoning, and see what happens.