Date published:
26 April 2021

Shannon Webb, Senior Client Executive, ThirtyThree

When it comes to handling stress, there isn’t a one-for-all solution.

Our lifestyles, priorities and ways of processing the world around us are different, and so are the things that lie at the root of our stress. What works for one person may not work for the other, but by sharing ideas we can find out if there’s a trick we might be missing.

Meditation has been a part of my life for the past eight years, it helps me reduce feelings of anxiety, relieves muscles aches, helps me sleep better and I’m more productive throughout the day because of it. It’s a ‘life hack’ of sorts I always recommend to friends and family, but often I find myself coming up against misconceptions that many have about what meditation is.

This Stress Awareness Month, I want to share my thoughts on some of the most common misconceptions I hear and give my advice on how to get the most out of meditation if it’s something you’d like to try.

1. You need to ‘clear your mind’

The short answer is: it’s impossible to clear your mind of all thoughts, so it’s not something to aim for, or to get mad at yourself for not being able to do. Meditation and mindfulness focus on ‘compassion for the self’—that’s giving yourself personal time to reflect on how you and your body are doing, and treating all your thoughts and feelings with care, so you can better understand how you react under stress, and respond in a healthier way. Fleeting thoughts and distractions in our environment during meditation are bound to happen (sirens, kitchen appliances, pets, body aches, etc.), but noticing these doesn’t mean you’re ‘failing’ at meditation. Instead, train yourself to slowly draw your focus away from those things, and onto your reoccurring thoughts that can help you figure out the source of your stress. 

2. Cross-legged on a mountaintop

Film and television often show us someone meditating out in the wilderness, somewhere tranquil or remote. While the imagery is breath-taking, the reality is that when we need self-care the most, it’s usually in the most unexpected moments. Meditation/meditative breathing can be done anywhere, and in fact our everyday distractions are essential to teaching us how to focus past them. Focus in on each distraction and the sense it affects—the smell of food, or distant noises—and then focus on yourself—the rise and fall of your chest, the temperature of the air, your weight in your seat, the solidness of the floor below you. Knowing how to have awareness of your surroundings and then switch to a deeper focus on the self is key to getting the most out of meditation.

3. I don’t have time to meditate

Many of us can get caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to meditate to relax, being unable to because of our busy schedules, a fact which can make us even more stressed out. I found myself in this situation a lot, but a game-changer for me was learning that you can practice meditation in short bursts—just five minutes in between meetings, before you go to sleep or just as you wake up, can make a world of difference. 
If you’re interested in meditation, there are many different resources online you can access for free that can help. Guided apps like Headspace, Calm and Happy Not Perfect are great as beginner tools to learn the techniques that work best for you.

There is a lot of information out there, and it can be overwhelming, so to make it simple, I’ve outlined a step-by-step for a very simple seated meditation which you can try at your work desk between meetings or before/after a busy day:

Seated meditation (15 mins)

  • Choose a time when you think you won’t need to attend to anything for 10-15 minutes (i.e. in between meetings, when family won’t need your help, when you’re not expecting any deliveries or visitors)
  • Put yourself in a comfortable seated position with the soles of your feet on the ground and your arms relaxed (ideally on your lap, not on a desk)
  • Close your eyes and begin ‘box breathing’—breathe in for 3, hold for 3, breathe out for 3, hold for 3. Repeat this 10-15 times. You should feel your body getting heavier or starting to ‘unwind’
  • Return to normal breathing, and with your eyes still closed, focus on the different sensations in and around you. If any distracting thoughts come up, focus back on the depth and feeling of your breath, then return to your observations
  • When you feel you’re ready to stop, begin box breathing again, repeating 10-15 times to slowly bring yourself back, and slowly open your eyes
  • Sit quietly to yourself for a couple more minutes with eyes open before getting back to your day.

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