By Regina Molaro
Military families continually face stressful situations–from frequent moves and overseas deployments to budgeting challenges and beyond. Within recent months, we’ve faced even more uncertainty with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
As we journey through life, we will undoubtedly face illness, death, and other adverse situations, but it’s encouraging to learn that there are ways to effectively manage anxiety and foster a sense of calm.
One of the ways we can do this is through meditation—a method of reducing stress and anxiety, relieving depression, and lowering blood pressure. This ancient practice dates back to India around 5,000 to 3,500 BCE.
When practicing meditation, we employ a technique called mindfulness. This involves intentionally focusing on the present while remaining free from distractions or judgments. One of the ways to achieve this is by focusing on our continuous flow of inhales and exhales. Unlike when we’re nodding off, during meditation we’re aware of our thoughts and feelings, but we intentionally refrain from getting entangled in them.
Meditation guides recommend that when beginners recognize that they’re thinking, they simply label that act with the word “thinking” and then return to the present moment and a focus on the breath.
Through continual meditation, the amygdala (the emotional/fear center of the brain) shrinks. This creates more emotional control. Meditation also thickens the hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Meditation also reduces brain chatter, enhances self-awareness, and promotes emotional health.
Some experts believe that guided meditations are ideal for beginners. Get started by downloading videos on YouTube, Googling “10-minute meditation” or simply asking your Alexa smart home device to play you a guided meditation. It’s important to note that this free yet challenging experience does get easier with practice.
Meditation is part of the wellness trend that has swept the globe. Miami, FL-based Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” It distinguishes wellness not as a “static state of being” (being happy, in good health, or in a state of wellbeing), but rather the “active process of being aware and making choices that lead toward an outcome of optimal holistic health and wellbeing.” Other calming tactics include listening to wellness music and “forest bathing”—the concept of “taking in the forest atmosphere” on a leisurely stroll through the woods.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and author of Hardwiring Happiness, offers some wisdom. He refers to the “Let Be/Let Go/Let In” concept. We simply need to be with our own suffering, which includes accepting it. Then we can release pain by venting feelings and challenging thoughts that aren’t helpful. At this stage, we should also disengage from negative desires. Finally, we can cultivate gratitude and compassion. Simply put: Be with the garden, pull weeds, and plant flowers. For more guidance, visit rickhanson.net.