How many nights do you go to bed feeling relaxed and ready to fall right to sleep? Probably not as often as you’d like. Life can be stressful, and there are so many things that contribute to that stress: taking on extra responsibilities at work, worrying about family and relationships, and of course, having to pay the bills.
While stress isn’t always visible, its effects are very real and can be felt within your body.
How stress affects you
Suppose you’re hiking alone in the park and see a snake. Your body immediately jumps into fight-or-flight mode – its autonomic response when faced with threat. Your adrenaline, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure all rise, your pupils widen, and you feel exhausted. This is the same way your body reacts in stress mode. The reaction may not be as heightened, but it’s similar and it’s constant.
Chronic stress can lead to headaches, weight gain, anxiety, depression, sleep problems and even premature death. However, stress is often ignored because it’s so common. And stress doesn’t just stem from worries about work or family or bills. A blow to your confidence, low self esteem or disregarding the need for self care can also cause stress.
For the last week of Acne Awareness Month, we wanted to recognize the millions of people who struggle with confidence because of acne. Breakouts can cause low self esteem and even depression, especially during adolescence when puberty is driving our hormones all over the place. Throughout June, we’ve been sharing ways to improve your skin by boosting your physical, nutritional and emotional wellness. One more way to improve your emotional state is through meditation, which can help relieve stress and shift your perspective to things that are more important than acne.
RELATED READ: Acne Awareness Month
What is meditation?
If the thought of meditation conjures up images of people sitting with their eyes closed, legs crossed, palms open and faces up, you're not exactly wrong, but that’s not all that meditation is about.
Meditation is a spiritual practice that involves training your mind in attention and awareness. This awareness leads to an improved sense of calm and shifts the mind to a healthier perspective. Mindfulness is the ability to be present, in the now and engaged with what’s happening around you. This is the opposite from our mindset when we’re stressed. For example, even when we’re eating dinner after work, we are still thinking about work instead of the present company and situation.
In a 2018 study of participants with high levels of anxiety, scientists measured the heart rate, blood pressure, aortic blood pressure and arterial stiffness before and after a 60-minute guided introductory session of mindfulness meditation. They found that even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety.
People often avoid meditation because they feel they don’t have the time for a “relaxing activity” in their busy schedules. However, once they get into the habit of meditating, they quickly realize that everything feels a little bit better. Meditation helps people focus more easily, increase levels of compassion and empathy, and improve relationships.
All you need is a few minutes in a quiet space. You don’t have to sit or lie in a specific way, just choose any comfortable position. Hey, if you want to spread yourself wide on a yoga mat or a bed, go ahead! As long as you don’t feel tension anywhere, then you’re good to go. There are a variety of meditations forms involving sound, movement and thought.
5-minute breathing meditation:
In this mindfulness meditation, you can focus objectively on negative thoughts to gain a better perspective and achieve a state of calmness.
You’ll want to focus your attention on your breathing, on each inhale and exhale. Close your eyes and try to do this exercise without music or sound. Silence will make it easier to maintain focus.
Step 1 Start by inhaling deeply through your nose for 3 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth for 5 seconds. When you first begin meditating, it may help to count 3-2-5, but keep in mind that the goal of this breathing exercise is for you to focus on your breath (not counting) so you don’t have to be too strict about the time it takes!
Step 2 Observe and listen to the sound of your breath. Feel your chest and belly rise and fall with each breath you take.
Step 3 After you reach a point where you feel relaxed, your thoughts may return. That’s okay. Watch each thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. This may sound meta, but think about your thoughts from an outsider’s perspective. Don’t be hard on yourself if you lose focus. Take note of it and gently redirect your attention back to the sound of your breath.
Step 4 Stay here for 5-10 minutes, or simply for as long as you are lost in the sound of your breath. When you feel ready, become aware of your surroundings and slowly get back up.
Why you should try it
All the self-loathing we do has to end – or at least get a break. Acne doesn’t define who we are. Practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes every morning will give your mind a bit of calm before you tackle a busy day. It can be challenging at first, especially if you’re a person who’s constantly stressed, but it will help relieve anxiety, sharpen your ability to concentrate, and get you closer to the state of emotional wellness that can improve your skin and acne.