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I Try to Meditate, But I Just Can’t! What Should I Do?

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Updated October 01, 2012

I Try to Meditate, But I Just Can’t! What Should I Do?

Some forms of exercise can get you into a near-meditative state, and exercise carries lasting stress relief benefits, just like meditation

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Question: I Try to Meditate, But I Just Can’t! What Should I Do?
“I get pretty stressed, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my stress. People (and books) often tell me to meditate -- that learning to meditate is the ticket to stress relief. The problem is that, once I start, it seems like I get more stressed! Suddenly the thoughts in my head get louder. I’ve tried deep breathing and get the same result -- I just get impatient. Ditto with things like taking quiet baths, or anything that calls for just relaxing. Since I seem to get more stressed when I meditate or do any of these things that are supposed to be calming, how can I quiet my mind?”
-About.com User
Answer: It sounds like you're so stressed that it's difficult to "turn off" your mind, almost like trying to have quiet time to calm your mind only amplifies your inner chatter and the anxiety that goes with it. Don't worry -- you're not alone. Many people find it difficult to meditate, for these and other reasons.

You may find more benefits from a few different stress relievers:

  • Journaling
    There are many wonderful, proven benefits to journaling, and the practice can help you relieve stress. The trick is to write about what's going on in your life, and the emotions that come along with that. But also write about solutions to your problems, so you feel better and more hopeful at the end of your venting session. If you find yourself slipping into rumination about the past, it may even help to compose an 'alternate ending' to what happened (to get a second chance to redo things a new way), or to come up with a list of all the positive things that also came from the negative situations you're stressing about. Journaling can be especially calming if you keep a gratitude journal, which I highly recommend.
    Learn How to Keep a Gratitude Journal

  • Get Active
    If you get actively involved in something you enjoy, you may experience 'flow; you feel at one with what you're doing and live completely in the now, maintaining a level of mindfulness that's similar to meditation. Creative activities, such as creating art and gardening can be effective for this. Even more everyday tasks can help you achieve this, if you approach them fully and try to focus only on what you're doing in the moment. It’s a way of calming your mind that works well for those who like to keep busy.
  • Exercise
    Getting some exercise can have a wonderful effect on your stress and anxiety levels, as you can release tension and get a burst of endorphins in the process.
  • Don’t Give Up
    While these other strategies can be very helpful, I also recommend that you don’t give up on meditation entirely -- it has such wonderful benefits. I wrote an article on meditation for perfectionists, which outlines how to get past some of the difficulties that many people experience as they begin learning to meditate. It may be helpful for you as well.
That said, if you continue to have difficulty or feel that you’re experiencing more than just an average amount of stress, I'd also recommend seeing a doctor to get additional support and be sure you're not dealing with something more serious, such as an anxiety disorder.

Got a question? Post it in the Stress Management Forum; you'll likely get a variety of responses as well as mine, and may inspire an FAQ piece like this one!

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