Have you tried to meditate to manage stress and overwhelm, but found it impossible to maintain a regular practice?
No doubt, you want to meditate for a reason. You know that mindfulness meditation is good for you – for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
But perhaps you’ve come to see meditation as another pressure and resent the time it takes away from your real-world obligations. Sometimes, you may feel aversion at the very thought of meditation. And, when you try to meditate amidst all the pressing demands of your life, sitting still may feel excruciatingly difficult.
How do you get through this?
Meditation can be a powerful way to bring more serenity into your life. But you must practice meditation regularly to feel its positive effects.
Meditation will never function as a magic bullet for stress or overwhelm if you can’t sit down because you’re subservient to your mile long to-do list. Meditation won’t relieve your stress if you jump up from your seat as soon as a torrential thought-stream of obligations makes you feel like you’re about to explode.
If life constantly keeps you from meditating or pulls you away from the cushion, you may need to take a serious look at the reality of your day-to-day world and make adjustments before you can fully reap the benefits of quiet time.
How to Work with Pressure, Stress and Overwhelm in Meditation
It takes time to establish a regular practice of meditation and experience its rewards. In fact, I’ve observed a 50% drop off rate in online meditation classes precisely because the busyness of life quickly pulls people away. Here are a few common places where people get stuck in meditation due to stress and overwhelm and 4 tips for working around them.
1. Scaling Back Your Life
Meditation will feel like an extra burden if you already lead an overwhelmed life. The obvious solution is subtraction not addition.
So the first question to ask is this: What can you subtract so that you can add meditation into your life without a sense of increased pressure and stress?
There’s only a limited amount of time in each day. But many of us get trapped in trying to accomplish more than is humanely possible. Is this what’s happening for you? Consider these ways to simplify your life: 10 Ways I Embraced Simplicity and You Can Too.
Meditation will not fix a permanently overwhelmed life. The way to manage an overwhelmed life is to scale back. Then you can add meditation in.
Do you have too much on your plate? How can you scale back? What can you subtract to make space for meditation in your life?
2. Deceptive Brain Messages
Scaling back sounds good, but does it seem unthinkable to you? If so, why is that?
It may be due to inner messages that keep you on the wheel of overwhelm. Most of us are subject to deceptive brain messages that were acquired early on in life. For example, you may have a deep-seated belief that your value depends on holding the world together, staying busy or productive, being perfect, or being the best.
Deceptive messages like these get entrained in your brain and result in unhealthy behaviors. Due to the way the brain functions, you then feel compelled to repeat the same unhelpful behaviors over and over again. It comes to feel like a matter of survival, and busyness them feels like an inescapable way of being.
With dedication, it’s possible to retrain the brain and overcome deceptive brain messages.
I learned about deceptive brain messages from the book You Are Not Your Brain, The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey Schwartz, M. D. and Rebecca Gladding, M. D. Mindfulness is the first step in their proven 4-part strategy for identifying and breaking free of deceptive brain messages. You can read my review and summary of the book by clicking the link above.
If you feel trapped in busyness, it may be time to investigate the possibility that long-held inner messages are keeping you locked in.
Are there any repetitive inner messages that seem to keep your life out of control?
3. You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person
Research has shown that 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive. These individuals have a more sensitive nervous system due to genetics. And people who are highly sensitive are more easily overwhelmed than others.
That doesn’t mean you’re flawed. There are many positive aspects to being a highly sensitive person. In fact, the highly sensitive person is generally more in tune with the spiritual dimension of being.
But it might be harder for you to settle into meditation if your nervous system is overcharged, especially if you’re taking on more than you can actually manage in your day-to-day life. Chances are, you’ll feel and operate better if you understand and accept your propensities, be realistic in your expectations, and give yourself more downtime to regenerate. Meditation can nourish your nervous system and give you a protective barrier if you are willing to simplify and make space for it.
Are you easily overwhelmed by sensory input? Are you more aware of the subtleties in your environment? Do other peoples’ moods tend to affect you?
These are just a few clues that may indicate you’re a highly sensitive person, which is also known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity.
4. Staying With It
Another possibility is to stay (relatively) still regardless of what arises in your mind during meditation.
The mind doesn’t miraculously calm down after your first few sessions of meditation. In the beginning, it often seems wilder than ever, not necessarily because it is. You may just be noticing how crazy it is for the first time.
If you can manage it, one way to deal with the thunderous waterfall of thoughts, emotions, and impulses in meditation is to remain the observer. This includes noting restlessness and the impulses to get up and get busy without caving in to the pull.
Apply whatever method you are using – for example, returning to the breath – whenever thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise. Eventually, the mind will calm down. It may take a few weeks of regular practice to see a shift, but one will gradually occur.
It might feel excruciating at times to sit still like this when your mind feels so active. But eventually the feeling will pass, and this capacity to patiently observe will gradually bring you more and more peace.
Ironically, it could be these very feelings of pressure and restlessness that keep you in the loop of overwhelm. Often, we want to quell the feeling of pressure by doing something. That works on the short run – it might make you feel better to tick something off the list – but it will just keep you in an endless cycle of having to be busy to dispel stress and pressure.
If you can sit through feelings of annoyance, overwhelm, or stress in meditation, it will have a beneficial effect on the rest of your life as well. At the same time, I don’t recommend pushing yourself beyond your limits with marathon sessions, ignoring serious physical discomfort, neglecting important responsibilities, or engaging in an embattled stance in meditation. Find a balance of healthy discipline that doesn’t stray into giving up too easily in a session or pushing so hard that you feel so frustrated you want to give up for good.
You can start out with short meditations sessions, just 5 – 10 minutes in length. A gentle, playful approach is always more skillful in meditation. And, you’ll be halfway to success if you can remember, “It’s just my mind trying to pull me away from meditation.”
These articles will help you fine tune your meditation practice:
- 21 Meditation Tips You Need to Know As a Beginner
- How to Overcome Restlessness in Meditation and In Life
Meditation can be powerful way to relieve stress, once you understand your own proclivities and work with them accordingly. If you’re on high speed all the time, you’ll probably need to make a few lifestyle changes like the ones I’ve shared before you can settle into meditation and fully receive its life-enhancing benefits. Once you clear the space for meditation and begin to practice regularly, your mind will naturally calm down and you will discover a greater sense of inner peace.
My e-course, Living with Ease, The Mindful Way to Less Stress, offers a complete roadmap for dissolving stress and preventing it from overwhelming you again. The course combines mindfulness, self-inquiry, and supportive stress reduction techniques to help you give stress the boot. Check out the course details here.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra