How I Eased Anxiety Through Meditation
**This is my personal story, and results may vary. But the benefits of meditation and the science behind it can be found all over the internet. I leave it to you Google these things, because there are literally too many to count/list. :) **
Choosing a vegan lifestyle was just the beginning of my journey to health. Food changed me from the outside, but I still felt the need to do some inside work.
Meditation was a practice that I'd heard about praised in articles, podcasts, and personal anecdotes pretty frequently, but I never took it seriously.
Then...I got accepted into nurse anesthesia school.
Only those who perform anesthesia (or are married to someone who does) can truly understand the stress involved with the job. But let me just paint the picture:
According to an article called Stress: Perceptions, Manifestations, and Coping Mechanisms of Student Registered Nurse Anesthetists published by the AANA Journal in 2012:
47.5% of SRNAs experience depression
21.7% experience suicidal ideations
6.3% of students personally knew of someone who had committed suicide while in school
And, the prospects aren't that great for those who make it out of school. According to this article also published by the AANA called The Prevalence and Patterns of Substance Abuse Among Nurse Anesthesia Students:
after graduation, 9.8% of working nurse anesthetists admitted to participating in controlled substance misuse.
To put this in perspective: my graduating class had 15 people. That means that statistically, at least seven of us experienced depression, at least three of us likely had suicidal ideations, and one of us might have tried to kill ourselves.
Needless to say, I experienced more stress during the 3 years of my matriculation than I had during my entire life. Which, to be honest, is a good thing. If the hardest obstacle I have to overcome in my life is anesthesia school, I'll consider myself extremely lucky.
The task is doable, but the spiritual cost is high. And since the field typically attracts high-achieving, Type-A personalities, it's no wonder that stress and anxiety have lead to high rates of depression and suicide amongst its pupils.
As someone who has coped with anxiety for years, finding and practicing meditation on a consistent basis proved to have a better return on investment than any other intervention I've tried.
This is my personal story. And while I know you're reading this with skepticism and possible an eye-roll, I hope it persuades you to give it a try, but even more: that it gives you at least one moment out of every day in your crazy life that just belongs to you, in your own head, in peace.
I fully acknowledge that without my neurotic need for clean spaces and occasional [read: incredibly frequent] bouts of self-loathing, I wouldn't be where or who I am today. The nervous behaviors and perfectionist patterns that populate my head only feed into my ambitious nature like kindling to a flame. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve myself, tweak my imperfections, and sculpt my life into a never-ending series of goals with one that's always slightly out of reach.
Anxiety has helped me get what I want in life.
Further illustrating my point, I actually just re-read the above paragraph and cringed that I even admitted this in writing.
I've hated my anxiety far more than I've ever learned to love it. And why? Because while I've used perfectionism, low self-esteem, and introversion to push myself into what I know others will view as "success", I have had to deal with thoughts like these every moment of every day of my entire life:
"You aren't good enough"
"You aren't smart enough"
"You are inexperienced and naive"
"You are ugly"
"You can't do this"
"They don't like you"
What if there were a way to catch yourself thinking these thoughts prior to riding the downward spiral to depression?
That's what meditation did for me.
It's not about stopping the negative thoughts, or even trying to intervene in any way.
It about mindfulness.
How aware can you possibly be of your own mental highlight reel?
Andy Puddicombe talks about meditation in this Ted Talk video here.
He has an amazing back-story of his own path to finding meditation. He used to be a normal guy in Britain, before packing up all his crap, selling most of it, and heading to the Far East to study mindfulness with Budhhist monks. He actually even became one.
This podcast episode by Rich Roll here goes long-form with Andy, talking about all of his pitfalls along the way.
What he emphasizes is the practicality of using meditation for people living in the Western world.
It doesn't have to be about smoke, incense, chanting, and/or folding your legs uncomfortably on a fluffy pillow.
For me, I began the practice by putting Andy's Headspace App on my iphone, sitting in my driver's seat before clinicals, and taking 15 minutes out of my day in empty parking garages to center my thoughts.
Sometimes I fell asleep.
Sometimes I had trouble staying "focused".
But after just 10 days of the introductory period, I began to crave that sense of calm.
Preceptors at clinicals and my peers in class commented on how calm I seemed in difficult situations.
I was still always anxious and stressed, but instead of being reactive, I became proactive. I would see a negative anxious thought, acknowledge that it was happening, and accept it. I breathed into it.
Meditation has helped me through the most difficult part of my life, and one would think that something with such great benefits would be easy to keep doing.
But anything couldn't be further from the truth.
After graduation, I stopped meditating. My husband and I took a 3-week long vacation to Scandinavia.
I came back home and studied for my board exams.
And before I knew it, I was back to my old, anxious ways.
Something about meditation makes it extremely difficult to pick back up again. I liken the activity to performing a truly difficult workout.
You feel SO GREAT after your workout, and after a few days of waking up early and getting after it, you begin to even crave the sweating and endorphin rush at the end.
But skip one day, and your body resorts back to reluctance.
One thing I know for sure is that right now, I need meditation more than I ever have.
My husband and I barely see each other during the evenings. On weekends, we spend the two days catching up on chores, cooking, running errands with the rest of the crowds, and trying to find some semblance of relaxation.
I'm running a new online business, training for a 50-mile ultra-marathon, learning how to become a new nurse anesthetist, budgeting to the max, paying off loans, applying for small business loans, and coordinating the timing of building our custom Airstream.
It goes without saying that I'm extremely stressed.
So, I wrote this blog post with a challenge in mind: I'm going to meditate again, because I believe in (and have experienced) it's true power.
I'm going to write about it, get back to it, and share in the experience with you all.
Who's with me?
For anyone willing to follow along, here is a link to the app I use. And just so you know, it's an affiliate link. I get a small 7% commission off of any purchase you make inside the app, and it's a great free way for you to support the blog and my future tiny company's growth.
Let me know what you think, how you feel, and what you experience using the first 10-day trial free in the App Store. I don't get anything out of it, and it's a great way to test out the app. It's called Take 10. And it's amazing.