Meditation feels like wellbeing’s answer to every modern malady; feeling stressed at work? Meditate. Finding your partner increasingly irritating? Try a quick guided meditation. Got creative block? Start your morning off in silence. And in fact, the research does show that meditation can support our wellbeing in a myriad of ways; from improving our cognitive fitness (particularly our attention spans) to helping us to better manage stressful situations. Despite these well-documented benefits, meditating clearly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
So, what do we do if we want to live our lives with intention, but don’t feel comfortable meditating? The good news is there are plenty of ways to feel more present in our day-to-day and be more mindful of the words coming out of our mouths, without the need for Tibetan sound bowls, incense diffusers, or sitting cross-legged in the lotus position.
What do we mean when we talk about mindfulness?
For all the buzz about it, mindfulness is actually a pretty simple concept. Being mindful means having a focused awareness of what’s going on both within and outside of ourselves, presently. It makes sense then, that increasing our awareness of the present can also help us to be more in the moment too.
How does meditation help us be more mindful?
Meditation can help us become more mindful by making us aware of the flow of our thoughts. Meditating is the practice of observing our thoughts as they come and go rather than attaching ourselves to them. So, instead of passing judgements in our thinking;
‘I don’t know what to get my partner for their birthday. I’m worried that I’ll get the wrong thing. Am I a bad partner?’
We attune ourselves to simply observing the thoughts as they pass through;
‘It seems like I’m anxious about what to get my partner for their birthday. That’s ok. I am feeling worried right now. It will pass’.
This process enables our minds to focus on present feelings and emotions, free from judgement, rather than worry about the future, or ruminate over the past.
Meditation’s popularity has soared over the past decade, thanks (in part) to prominent serious figures like Jeff Weiner and Richard Gere endorsing the practice. Meditation’s wildfire popularity as a highly effective mindfulness tool, that’s accessible to pretty much everyone, is sustained by extensive research. Studies have shown that regular meditation can have a hugely positive effect on our wellbeing; it can help improve our concentration levels, enhance our empathy and certain studies  have even shown that its effects rival those of antidepressant medication.
What can we do if meditation doesn’t work for us?
The science doesn’t lie; meditation can be a powerful practice for those who do it regularly, but like most things (save air and water) it’s not to everyone’s liking. When it comes to our wellbeing, doing things because we think we should is likely to be counterproductive to actually improving our wellbeing (yes, even meditation). The good news is that we can develop mindfulness without actually having to carve out time to meditate. Here’s our quick guide to get you started:
1. Spend time in nature
Even the briefest of encounters with green spaces can do wonders for boosting our mood and enhancing feelings of connectedness with our natural environment. Being awe-struck by nature, whether that’s just the simple ponds in the local woods or an imposing mountainscape, is believed to help us become more attentive to our environment . As with meditation, this increased awareness facilitates feeling calm and at ease.
2. Try active listening
Sometimes when listening, we can be so preoccupied with what we should say in response, that we forget to really listen. Active listening is a way of preventing this, by fully focusing on what someone is communicating. We can do this by repeating back things our conversational partner has said, asking for clarification of things we don’t understand and summarising our understanding of what has been communicated. Similarly, as to when we meditate, active listening encourages us to direct our focus away from our internal chatter or ‘monkey brain’ and encourages us to accept what is, rather than judge or anticipate what could be.
3. Cuddle a furry creature
It has been well-established that spending time with pets can help alleviate stress . Giving your pet lots of strokes and attention is a way of simply being in the moment; the very practice that meditation helps us to realise. What’s more is that our furry friends are masters of mindfulness themselves; they can spend hours simply being; purring away or chasing their tail- look to them for inspiration the next time you find your thoughts spiralling.
4. Look into the eyes of someone you love
Not only does the practice of staring into the eyes of your friend or lover increase feelings of intimacy, but it can also foster a state known as 'self-other merging' - meaning a greater sense of ‘oneness’ or connectedness with things beyond ourselves . Similarly, when we meditate we decrease activity in our default mode network (also known as the ‘me centre’), this is what stops our minds from wandering and feeling a greater connection to our environments; both internal and external.
5. Go phone-free for a day
Nothing quite steals our attention more than our beloved phone babies. Whether we’re being pinged by work messages from our boss or called to comment on Instagram reels by our bestie, we’re in a cycle of perpetual over-stimulation when it comes to phone time. Research shows that higher phone use is associated with overall lower rates of wellbeing . So by switching off our phones, as with meditation- we create the space needed to focus our attention on one thing at a time. Can’t you feel your brain making a sigh of relief just at the thought of switching off?
There’s no denying meditation’s myriad of wellbeing benefits, but... if it’s not to your liking, you don’t have to miss out on the mindful perks just because you’re something of a fidget bottom. Carve out time for a walk in the woods, or swap gazing into the distance for gazing into the eyes of your loved ones and feel your mind get calmer with each passing moment.
#copingwell #meditation #mindfulness #toptips #nataliecollins
Meditation for psychological stress and well-being (2014). JAMA.
Mindfulness and Nature (2018). Springer.
Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin (2012). Frontiers in Psychology.
Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging (2011). Southern Journal of Philosophy.
Unhappy and addicted to your phone? – Higher mobile phone use is associated with lower well-being (2018). Science Direct.