Meditation and mental health

Something I have been exploring for the past 24 months or so is meditation. It has changed my life in a very positive way and I'd like to share some thoughts with you regarding how it can help you, particularly if, like me, you can suffer from anxieties.

I've had perhaps the most hectic two years of my life which included being on the road for a staggering number of days, exhausting my mind and body, being away from my wife and family for very long periods of time, moving from the UK to the US and everything that you might imagine that comes with that, and stepping down from a business that I've run for fifteen years. It's been a lot of change and a lot of limbo in a relatively short amount of time, and it all took its toll on my mental health. Rather, it would have obliterated my mind had I not been practicing meditation on a daily basis.

I'll list some resources that I highly recommend towards the end of this post.

If you're new to the idea of meditation or struggle with daily practice, or just don't think it's for you - hear me out. What if you could quickly and effortlessly reframe any situation so that it does not upset you, or so that you can process negative feelings in a positive way? What if you could recognise the symptoms of fear and anxiety and simply witness them without descending into the abyss of panic?

Around age 20, I suffered a series of crippling panic attacks. I was on my lunch break from my 9-5 office job in Birmingham UK. I was standing at the cash register, waiting for the cashier to hand me back some change when all of a sudden, BOOM, I was hit with a wave of absolute terror. I was frozen but I felt as though I needed to run. Imagine a tiger suddenly appearing right next to you - that kind of terror. Thinking it was nothing, and shrugging it off, I walked away and went back to work. The next day, the same situation, BOOM - this time it's worse and I can barely walk back to work. I stop about halfway and rest against a fence to catch my breath. It's no good - I'm convinced something is wrong and I'm about to die. I'm close enough to the train station to wobble my way onto the platform and onto the train, where I spend 40 minutes hyperventilating, convinced my throat is closing. My mum meets me at the train station and I go home, while we wait for an appointment with the Doctor.

Later that afternoon, the Doctor tells me to go straight to the hospital, where I spend a week waiting for an examination from a heart specialist - as that's what we thought the problem might be. As it turns out, after a couple of tests, the Doctor discharges me, telling me I had suffered an acute panic attack and I'm fortunate enough to be prescribed a therapist through my office.

It took a good two years of baby steps for me to get back to anything like normal - I basically would not socialise or go to any clubs with my friends, go shopping etc. Anything that involved crowds or waiting in line, as that was my trigger. Very occasionally even now, I'll still feel the symptoms of panic rising for no apparent reason but I have learned, through meditation, to allow those feelings and to watch them. To focus on them instead of resisting them - what happens to them when you witness them rather than pushing them away? Well, they subside and soon enough, lessen and lessen, which over time re-establishes the connections in your brain to disassociate a fear response with a very normal situation.

There have been a number of times over the past couple of years where I've felt overwhelmed, physically and mentally. Regularly practicing mindfulness and breath exercises has helped to bring me back and ground me in the present, instead of spiraling into a brain-dump of all the possible bad situations that are about to happen. Not surprisingly, the bad situation never or hardly ever happens - these are all just stories that we tell ourselves. Until you recognise that fact - that everything you think, is a story you're telling yourself and most likely is not based in fundamental truth, you will be prone to suffering. Meditation will help you understand all of this.

What I use:

I HIGHLY recommend Sam Harris 'Waking Up' app - it has taught me so much, I genuinely think I'd be a mess had I not chosen to do this course and the 10-minute daily practice. Some of the concepts go deep and will cause resistance at first, but stay with it. The door starts to open and the mind clears. The most amazing thing is that if you can't afford the subscription, simply contact them and they'll give you a year for free.

I also recommend the book Awareness by Anthony DeMello - this little book has been described by many as a mental reset switch. It's absolutely superb. It reaches into spiritual territory and some of the language may cause resistance, particularly if you're not a religious person - but the book itself explains this and sets it out from the beginning. Reading this with an open mind is an absolute pleasure. My personal copy traveled with me everywhere the past two years.

Another app, something that I tend to tag-team immediately after my meditation session is Wim Hof Method - specifically the guided bubble breathing. Three or four rounds of this and I feel incredible. Please read or watch the instructional videos before attempting to do the breathwork!

Another resource I've really enjoyed over the last 24 months is Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee - If you're sensitive to caffeine, as I am, try switching out your morning coffee to this. It has about half the amount of caffeine of a regular coffee and has Lions Mane and Chaga mushroom extract, which are shown to increase cognitive function and health. You can also get a discount off your order with Four Sigmatic by using this code: JAYPOSTONES

I have a set nutritional plan, an exercise regime and an evening routine to ensure I am asleep at a sensible time and limiting my blue light (screens), getting the best possible sleep - and I can honestly say that through this stack of routines and resources I'm the strongest I've ever been mentally and physically. My ability and focus as drummer has increased noticeably, as has my creative drive. Even during these crazy times we're living through, I'm living the best version of my life and I'm convinced that these small decisions to make a daily effort to practice and work on 'me' have made the biggest, most positive difference to my quality of life.

If you have any questions or comments, as always I'd love to read them.

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