Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meditation as Stress Management?

I read this post at Janice Hardy's blog today, where the guest poster recommends meditation as a stress reduction and relaxation technique. The post was about establishing healthy writing and living habits. Some of it's not for me, but the meditation idea piqued my interest.

I am an absent-minded, daydreaming sort of person. I'm no expert, but meditation seems a lot like directed daydreaming. 

I've tried meditation before, and usually with pretty good results. I was first introduced to it in church. The pastor wanted us to pick a focus word and meditate on that. He gave some tips for focusing the mind (read: not getting bored out of one's mind) such as holding an image in your mind or watching a candle flame, or paying attention to your breathing. He gave the focus word for that particular time, and if I remember correctly, he probably recommended some more words for later practice. 

My church also held all-night vigils and Tenebre services during Lent and before Easter. If you signed up for a vigil, you took an hour or two hours or whatever and sat in church meditating. You could choose to play meditative religious music, which usually featured a word, phrase, or prayer repeated over and over with varying instrumentalists. The vigils would start at sundown and go until dawn Easter morning. Because multiple people participated, it was less a private experience and more a communal meditation.

My third experience with meditation was also religiously based. When I was in the confirmation class, we went to a convent and walked a labyrinth. You're supposed to meditate on stuff when you walk a labyrinth. Afterwards, people would write down their thoughts, prayers, whatever in a little book on a board by the labyrinth. We read through them. Some people wrote basic stuff thanking the facility for the beautiful location, some people were inspired to write poetry, some people wrote down what they meditated on or any kind of spiritual guidance they wanted. 

I guess people associate meditation with New Age-y stuff, so it's kind of funny that I was introduced to it via Christianity.

I used meditation as a relaxation technique more than a spiritual one in college, because I wanted some kind of stress relief. I had studied psychology, and I knew that it was possible to hypnotize yourself. So I would basically hypnotize myself into a relaxed state with meditation. It was kind of nice.

The problem is...It takes a long time.

The benefit of and problem with meditation, for me, is that it takes a long time. So when I am choosing to do it, I am actively choosing not to do something else. It's hard to relax when you're thinking about all the things that you should be doing but aren't. 

My other main problem with it is that I daydream too much already. I always think about what I am going to do, read, write, work on, or whatever, and think about it but don't end up doing it. I don't want to get into the habit of meditating and using "I'm doing it to manage stress" as an excuse to do that instead of things I need to be doing. I can see how it would help manage stress or clear your head, but I don't see how it would contribute to overall productivity or self-discipline.

What I'm saying is that I guess I'm a bit up in the air about its effectiveness. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has tried this and gotten better results than I have.


  1. I have tried meditation various times over the years for a few months at a time. I have had mixed results with it.

    Most of the time I've used it to calm my mind, to think less as it were. To be 100% present, and not living where I usually live...among thoughts and concerns and plans in my head. Generally, that works, or at least did work, for general stresses. Once true, clinical anxiety showed up in my life, meditation felt less effective. I just couldn't shake what needed to be shaken, as it were.

    Meditation for productivity and creativity has been far less effective in a regular basis for me. I can't off hand think of a time when a writing-related issue was resolved during or because of standard meditation. I've even used guided meditations for creativity at various times, and while those would generally relax me, I don't think I found "answers" per se to specific questions or concerns...nor do I recall an idea for writing coming to me, or a problem with same being resolved.

    Writing/creativity issues I have dealt with in other ways, some of which may be considered more incidental meditation, but not the sitting down and working on it type. I don't know if it's me or if I just haven't found the correct practice yet for creative purposes.

    Also, I would often fall asleep.

    1. "Also, I would often fall asleep." Hahaha. I feel like this is a problem a lot of people have with trying to meditate.

      Shaking what needs to be shaken can be tough...even if you aren't trying to shake it permanently, putting it aside on a temporary basis without any distraction -- choosing to do nothing or meditate -- can create even more stress. I prefer to go play a video game or do something immersive like that. I'll occasionally exercise, though I find that boring.

      I suppose the block for me with meditation and writing creativity/productivity is that I have classified writing as "work" in my head, and trying to work while trying to meditate seems to defeat the point of meditating.

    2. Funny you should mention video games...as I have done the same thing in the past. Actually for a while one of my favorite tactics to remove stress or anxiety was play a video game on easiest level. (Though medium is about as difficult as I ever master anyway.) James Bond or something like that on easy, where I can blow away evil doers and such seems to do the trick.

    3. Yes -- and even when the games are on a more difficult level, I find the puzzles and the challenges of the game therapeutic in that they take my mind off the current problem but let me focus on a problem that I know is completely irrelevant...there are no stakes in playing a game by yourself; when you mess up, you can always reload or respawn.

  2. I'm a lot like you, where I daydream and think about tasks rather than doing them. I don't know if meditation would help, but I was hoping it would teach me to focus my daydreaming instead of letting it control me. I also tend to get into stress cycles, where I think about stressful things until I depress myself. I think meditation could help break that chain. http://www.lifebloggerpro.com

    1. Directed meditation or focusing daydreaming could help break destructive thought patterns, maybe. I can see where it would encourage one to sink into them, though. I guess it all depends on method and the personality of the learner.

      I try to make a point to write down my daydream ideas so that I will a) not forget them and b) be more likely to act on them later. I can hold an idea in my head and shape and refine it for a really long time without needing notes...or, I used to be able to do that. Since college and graduate school, and working part-time, I have been forced to change my style and write things down because there's too much knocking around up there for me to effectively organize it all. Maybe meditation helps people clear out brain-space for the important stuff.


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