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How to Help Your Mental Health If You Find Mindfulness to Be ‘Excruciating’

You might know Dan Harris as co-anchor of both Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America. You might know the same Dan Harris as the author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, or the cofounder of the guided meditation app 10% Happier.

Either way, this is a guy who had a panic attack on national TV. It was not a moment he wanted to repeat. But it ended up being a moment that eventually kicked off his meditation habit and side gig.

And the first time he tried meditating, he pretty much hated it. So did MH psychiatry advisor Gregory S. Brown, M.D.

On Friday, Men’s Health brought them together on Instagram Live to talk about why everyone keeps telling you to do mindfulness meditation (including them!), why it’s totally normal to want to avoid it right now, and how they made peace with it and got…actually, a lot more than 10% happier. What they said:

Why meditation seems so excruciating, especially right now

“If you’re stressed right now, there’s nothing wrong with you,” said Harris. “It just means you’re paying attention.” It’s a perfectly appropriate response to 2020.

So it makes sense that the last thing you want to do is sit down (“I don’t sit cross-legged or anything,” Harris says) and notice your thoughts. In fact, faced with the opportunity to meditate in a yoga nidra class a number of years ago, says Dr. Brown, “I just wanted to go to sleep—which is a major avoidance technique.”

What you don’t have to do when you meditate

You don’t have to sit in a weird position (although Greg, a yogi, thinks sitting cross-legged is just fine). You don’t get into some weird woo-woo chimes and finger cymbals “other state.” You just take a minute and have a non-judgmental moment. Notice what you’re thinking, don’t judge it, and let it go.

Which is simple. Except in reality, not so much, which is the challenge and fun of meditation. Your thoughts will try to hijack the process. And then your thoughts about how you suck at this try to hijack those.

One way out is basically through. “Embrace the dragon,” said Harris. Fighting these thoughts won’t let them go; embracing them might. And this is one of the things that a mindfulness meditation practice can help you with in life: Embracing what’s there, and finding your way through it.

Why bother trying it

Harris recounted how, shortly after he’d been meditating regularly (which was more than 10 years ago; “this is the one trend I’ve ever been ahead of,” he said), he overheard his wife at a cocktail party explaining that he’d been meditating and had “become less of an asshole.” So he assumed it was working.

Later on, colleagues kept after him, wondering what he got from this whole meditation thing. “It makes me exactly 10% happier,” he says he half-joked at the time. Now, “I’m kind of stuck with this math joke,” he said, “but like anything you invest in, it compounds. More than 10 years later, I’m probably 200% happier.”

Harris says that it sounds cliché, but routines have been essential him for managing the pandemic. And meditation—along with trying to get enough sleep, working out, and paying attention to your relationships—is one of the routines that’s kept him going.

There are many ways to get started in mindfulness; many great apps and books; many opportunities to take a moment with your own mind, he says.

Harris’ own app features video intros and interviews prior to the meditations that often ask the skeptical questions you’ve been harboring in your own mind, including whether acceptance makes you lose your competitive edge (we’ll point out that it hasn’t for him, the guy who’s a journalist, dad, husband, book author, co-founder of an app and regular meditator and exerciser), why embracing the dragon sounds so weird, how to talk about meditation without sounding weird and lots more. You can check it out at 10% happier.

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