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How to Stay Chill (when everyone around you is losing their mind)

Fighting a stress attack? Try meditating. It’s easier—and less boring—than you think.

Picture this: Your gym teacher announces you’re going to practice meditating. Soon you’re sitting on the floor with your eyes closed, trying to clear your mind, but instead, your brain is racing with a million thoughts—what’s for lunch, how you did on your algebra test, the fact that your crush is sitting next to you. And is that your nose starting to itch? Do you feel relaxed? No. You feel silly, self-conscious, and restless.

In other words, as sophomore Carrie Tananbaum says, “Meditation is really stressful.”

Here’s the thing: Carrie’s right. Meditation—aka the practice of sitting quietly and focusing your mind—can be stressful. And boring. It’s hard to sit still and be alone with your thoughts, especially if you’re used to constant entertainment and distraction. But your gym teacher is also right: You should try it anyway. That’s because regular periods of meditation can increase activity in your hippocampus, the part of your brain that helps regulate your emotions, while reducing activity in your amygdala—the section that triggers fear, stress, and anxiety.

Meditation can also help you focus right away—say, when you’re cramming for a test. Taking a break for a few moments to reset your brain while you’re studying can improve your memory, so you retain more of what you learn. And over time, meditation can train your brain to be less reactive, so you can make good decisions and manage frustrating situations, says psychologist Jennifer Guttman, who uses meditation with many of her teen clients.

All it takes is an open mind (and maybe a comfy seat), and you can be meditating in no time. (For a step-by-step guide, see “How to Meditate.”) To get you started, we asked some experts—including teen meditators—to bust some myths about what meditation is and how to do it. (Spoiler alert: There is no one right way.) So read on, and get ready to get your calm on.

MYTH: I need to completely clear my mind to meditate.

FACT: It’s practically impossible not to have a random thought while you’re meditating—and that’s totally OK. Rather than trying to force your mind to go blank, notice your thoughts as they come up, then let them go. Try focusing on your breath—for example, you can count your inhalations and exhalations up to 10, then back down to zero. Do your best not to worry about what happened before you started meditating, or what you’re going to do once you’re done. Just try to pay attention to what you’re feeling in the moment: “Meditation lets me be in a different zone and focus on one thing instead of the chaos happening around me,” says Ilana Drake, 17.

MYTH: I don’t have time to meditate.

FACT: If you have time to brush your teeth, you have time to meditate. Research shows that meditating for as little as 10 minutes can change your brain, and you can see results from even a few minutes a day. “I used to think that meditation was a waste of time, but then I reached high school and needed something to manage stress or else I was going to crack,” Isabel, 16, says. “Now I know that even meditating for 5 minutes is helpful.”

MYTH: I have to be a certain religion to meditate.

FACT: It’s true that meditation, which is thousands of years old, has roots in various religions, but you can be any religion—or none at all—to meditate. And while the idea of meditation might make you picture Hindu monks chanting “Ommm,” chanting is optional. You can, however, repeat a favorite word or phrase out loud or in your mind. (A word or phrase you repeat is sometimes called a mantra, and it can help you stay focused.) You might also try telling yourself something nice, like “I’m proud of myself for taking the time to meditate today.” Or you can say nothing. It all works.

MYTH: I have to sit cross-legged with my eyes closed and my body perfectly still.

FACT: Those Hindu monks we mentioned? You most likely picture them sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed, but you can meditate in any position that’s comfortable for you: lying down, sitting on a cushion on the floor, resting in a chair, even standing on one foot (seriously!). If staying still isn’t your thing, try meditating while you go for a walk—just keep your eyes open so you don’t run into anything!

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