“Wow, I finally feel like a human again”. For the last three years of my degree, this is precisely how I have felt around this time of the year. University―and more specifically, the final exam period―can make me feel like a robot. For me, the last weeks of the semester consist of spending countless hours with my head glued to a screen or buried in a book. This heightened state of stress can result in an increase of anxiety and restlessness. Many times after that last exam, my mind still feels foggy, disorganized and anxious. However, there is one specific tool that has helped me slow my mind down, and has allowed me to fully relax throughout my break: meditation.
The first time I was introduced to meditation was when I was in high school. After struggling with concentrating in class, my mom suggested that I try meditating in order to increase my focus and slow my brain down. She told me the best way to meditate was to sit quietly for ten minutes, and to focus on your breath. Upon taking her advice, I found the quietest spot in the house, sat down cross-legged, and decided to go into a state of zen. However, after concentrating on my breath for a good 20 seconds, my mind started wandering, and before I knew it, I was checking my phone. Needless to say, I stopped meditating after that first encounter, and didn’t pick it back up until about three years later when I started university.
During the first year of university, I was introduced to meditation through one of my classmates, who had told me about the app called Headspace. The app had a two-week long free trial of guided meditations, and even though I wasn’t really keen on meditation after my first encounter, I decided to give it a try. So upon taking his suggestion, I was once again cozied up in the quietest corner of the house, cross legged, trying to find my state of zen. This time, however, it actually worked! The app explained meditation to me in a way that actually made sense, and allowed me to feel more relaxed and present.
Since then I have tried to make it a habit to meditate for at least five to ten minutes a day. Throughout that time I have found that meditation has helped me in two main ways: increasing my self awareness and reducing stress.
- Increasing Self Awareness
Meditation has increased my self-awareness by allowing me to view my thoughts from a different perspective. For example, when I am in a stressful situation and an emotion arises, I am better able to observe it, attribute it appropriately, and regulate it. Over the winter break, I have found this especially beneficial when dealing with family. I have been living by myself for a few years now, and as much as I love my family, being around them again 24/7, can be stressful. That’s where I find meditation truly helps, not just in slowing my brain down, but also in letting me see my emotions and thoughts in a different light. By increasing my self-awareness, I am better able to regulate my emotions, without letting my emotions get the better of me.
2. Reducing Stress
Without a doubt, the biggest effects I have felt from meditation have been throughout the school year. During the semester, students are bombarded with massive amounts of information. This overload of information, in conjunction with the pressures of exams, can be incredibly stressful. Meditation has allowed me reduce this stress by slowing my mind down. When meditating, the goal isn’t to stop your thoughts, instead it’s to observe your thoughts appearing and disappearing, without attaching yourself to them. One analogy the app headspace used is that of a busy highway, where the thoughts are the cars, and you are on the outside observing them. As you observe the traffic, you slowly watch it going from a busy highway to a quiet one. After using this method for ten minutes, you can relax your mind and body, and in turn decrease stress.
However this method is just one style of meditation. Another style of meditation that I have used is a mantra style, which in fact is taught by the mediation club at Uvic. The club is facilitated by Henri Lock, at the Interfaith Chapel, where he leads a mantra (prayer word) meditation, free of charge on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I would suggest both the headpsace app, or the meditation club to anyone who’s interested in trying meditation.
Thanks for reading,