I Meditated Every Day for a Month and Only Sobbed Once
I faced my anxiety in ways I never expected.
Every few months, I see ads for Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra's big, 30-day meditation events. They promise to "manifest your destiny in 30 days" or "make your life more prosperous." I always sign up, feeling ready to commit to big life changes-and then make every excuse under the sun as to why I don't have 20 minutes in my day to close my eyes and sit still.
But this September, something changed. I turned 40 and decided to use that milestone to wipe the slate clean, erase old hang-ups, and reboot my life. I wanted to be more present as a mother and wife, be more selective and critical in my career moves, and overall, be more centered so I could enjoy my life without choruses of "what if" or "why me" weighing me down. So, I finally decided to cast aside the excuses and do what Oprah and Deepak have been challenging for years: meditate for 30 days straight.
Finding What Worked for Me
I knew that in order for me to start a new routine, I needed to set the bar low with realistic goals-especially if I wanted to transform it into a habit. I downloaded a meditation app called Calm and committed to meditating for 30 days. Before I started, however, I made sure not to set a limit on how little or long I would meditate for each day. I just knew in the back of my mind that I'd like to build myself up to 20 minutes.
The First Step
On day one, I went really small and decided to try the "breathe bubble" feature on the Calm app. It involved looking at a circle and drawing my breath in as it expanded and exhaling as it became smaller. After about 10 breaths I called it quits, feeling satisfied with my progress. (Want to start meditating? Check out this beginner's guide.)
Unfortunately, it didn't do anything to calm me or improve my day. I was still snapping at my husband and feeling frustrated with my toddler, and I felt my heart pound when my literary agent told me that my book proposal received yet another rejection.
On day two, I decided to take things up a notch and gave an anti-anxiety meditation a try. I closed my eyes and let the soothing voice of the virtual meditation instructor guide me into a comfortable position. As luck would have it, it was close to bedtime so I got under the covers, snuggled into my pillow, and promptly fell asleep. I woke up the next day wondering if this meditation thing really was for me.
The Turning Point
Still, I was determined to stick to my 30-day plan. And I'm glad I did because it wasn't until around day 10 that something clicked.
I tend to assume the worst in most situations-and that's neither healthy nor productive. It's exhausting being in a constant battle with your brain, and I knew I wanted peace. So, I closed my eyes and forced my mind not to wander or lull me to sleep. (Related: Seven Stress-Less Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety on the Job)
By now, I'd learned my lesson that meditating in bed was basically the equivalent of taking an Ambien. So I'd taken to using the Calm app while sitting on the floor, back straight and hands in prayer position at my heart. For the first few minutes, I couldn't get settled. My brain taunted me with distractions: Did I leave the oven on? Are my keys still in the front door? I should get up and check, right? And then it all went quiet.
A shift happened and my brain forced me to stay focused as tough questions started flying at me furiously-Are you happy? What would make you happy? Are you appreciative? Why not? Are you where you're supposed to be? How can you get there? How can you stop worrying-what are you so worried about? I had no choice but to silently start answering them.
Before I knew it, it was like a dam busted wide open and I started sobbing uncontrollably. Is this what was supposed to happen? I thought meditation was calm and peaceful-but this was an eruption, a violent volcano disrupting everything. But I decided to push through and get to the other side. The meditation ended and I was shocked to see that 30 minutes had passed. I was sure only five, maybe 10 minutes had gone by. But time flies when you decide to really get to know and listen to yourself.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I started to crave that time to myself. Getting quiet and spending quality time with my ego and emotions brought me immense peace and understanding. It became my time to think about why I snapped at my toddler-was it really because she wouldn't finish her dinner, or was it because I was taking out my anxiety over missing a work deadline on her? Was my husband really annoying me or was I annoyed with myself for not working out, not getting enough sleep, and not making QT for us a priority that week? It was amazing how giving myself a moment to reflect, as well as ask and answer tough questions, quieted my mind and took my anxiety down a notch.
Now, I try to meditate every day-but how I do it looks different. Sometimes it's a few minutes on the couch while my daughter watches Nick Jr. Sometimes it's a few minutes after I wake up while I am still in bed. Other days it's outside on my deck for a solid 20, or it's whatever I can squeeze in at my desk to get my creative juices flowing. The amazing this is, the more you try it and make it fit into your life, the less it feels like a chore.
That being said, I'm not perfect. I still snap at my husband and I still lose sleep wondering if my daughter will be scarred for life because I put her in time-out. I still assume the worst when an assignment falls apart or an editor ghosts me. I'm human. But the subtle changes-the fact that my brain has quieted (most of) the "what if" and "why me" chatter and that my heart doesn't immediately start thumping out of my chest when things go wrong-has made an enormous difference in my demeanor and ability to ride the waves of change, disappointment and, well, life!