A student’s 7-day trial with meditation. Here’s what happened.
It’s the middle of the night and my laptop screen is glaring at me. For once, it’s not projecting a badly rushed essay. Instead, a YouTube video titled “10-Minute Meditation for Stress” is playing. How did I get here?
The onslaught of hell-week
With the semester drawing to an end, submissions and finals are also piling up. I was drowning in deadlines and barely had time to procrastinate; a procrastinator’s worst nightmare!
This period of time doesn’t really last a week and its occurrence differs amongst university students. However, its notoriously intense workload earned it a devilish moniker — hell week.
As a full-time student juggling part-time work and external commitments, hell week meant that I was constantly on edge. Meanwhile, my mental state was slipping off the edge as I struggled with self-doubt and burnout. Hence, I started looking for ways to cope.
Meditation and Stress Relief
Meditation definitely calms you down. Taking long deep breaths slows down your heart rate and helps your body relax, which in turn makes you feel calmer. But what can it do for stress?
Over a 10-day period, meditation was revealed to reduce stress by 14%. In fact, 8 weeks of meditation can alleviate stress by changing your brain activity. Meditation’s immense popularity only made it seem more legit since an estimated 500 million people practice it worldwide. Still, I wasn’t entirely convinced and wanted to try it out for myself.
The seven-day trial
I decided to experiment in the midst of hell week and yes, I’m aware that seven days might be a bit too skimpy of a trial to see any proper results. But, I wanted to see if I could reap any benefits within a shorter time span.
I also knew that I wouldn’t have the discipline to sit through a long guided meditation so I settled for a 10-minute YouTube video by Goodful. It’s a guided meditation targeted at stress relief and exactly what I was looking for.
Throughout the week, I mostly meditated at night because that was the most convenient timing for me. My mornings are usually spent in bed and my afternoons are either consumed by my job or classes so I’d usually meditate at around 10pm.
Frankly, I was worried that there was nothing significant to report but I was pleasantly surprised. Here are the outcomes!
Improved Sleep Quality
I have a much harder time sleeping when I’m stressed, usually taking about 30 minutes before I finally drift to sleep. My brain takes a much longer time to shut down because I’d often worry about my pressing deadlines. Maybe it’s because I meditated at night but I noticed a significant improvement in my sleep quality. On some nights, I was able to sleep almost immediately and on nights with more intense workloads, it only took about 10 minutes before I fell asleep.
I suspect that this is due to my more relaxed state of mind. Meditation can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone which induces a much deeper state of sleep. Although I’ve always been a heavy sleeper and rarely get nighttime awakenings, I still felt a lot more well-rested after meditation. With enough daily practice, meditation can actually lead to long-term improvements in sleep activity.
For someone with a scarily short attention span, I was shocked that a few days of meditation led to better focus. On day four, I had to design some slides for a presentation. Usually, I’d take forever since 10 minutes into the task, I’d be scrolling through my phone or opening up YouTube unthinkingly. However, this time I actually sat through the entire process without being distracted. Of course, there were multiple temptations throughout but I found myself being too absorbed in the task to give in to the cravings for my phone.
To a chronic procrastinator, this was a game changer. Although I still got distracted throughout those seven days, I focused for slightly longer periods of time before giving into my distractions. This could be explained by the higher concentration levels from meditating. A study also showed that short-term meditators became better at blocking out distractions and long-term meditators had a marked improvement in their focus.
Now you may be wondering, did meditation help with my stress relief? You’ll be pleased to know that it led to...
At least, momentarily! Right after each meditation session, the cluttered mess that’s my mind feels much clearer. I found that I didn’t overthink as much and just worked on the task at hand. I also started feeling a lot better about myself, which worked wonders for my mental health! The time used in meditation allowed me to process all my feelings of self-doubt and insecurities with objectivity, which made me less affected by them.
However, this doesn’t mean that I was stress-free throughout the day. There were times where I still felt like tearing my hair out but meditation gave me a brief respite of tranquillity.
My short stint with meditation offered a glimpse into the full potential of daily meditation. If I could notice these benefits in a week, just imagine a whole month!
Time to subscribe to meditation?
Definitely! Just like exercise, it only brings benefits and no harm, when done in moderation. And just like exercise, the best time to do it is whenever you can! You don’t have to do it everyday but it’d be good to set aside some time, even if it’s just five minutes, to sit down and meditate. With summer approaching, it’d be an ideal time to introduce it to your lifestyle. Or you could just wait till the next hell week!
If you still think meditation’s not your thing, you can try other activities that train mindfulness like journalling. Tell us how it goes in the comments below!