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How to use meditation to manage stress and anxiety

Mindfulness coach Luke McLeod shares tips on using meditation techniques in times of uncertainty

Written by
Eliza Campbell

Worried, anxious, stressed – are these words that describe you right now? Because, same. Times of uncertainty can be especially challenging for our tiny little brains. But when things are out of our control, it’s important to find ways to manage these emotions or you’ll find them derailing your day pretty quickly. 

“When you find that calmer state, you’re not getting caught up in everything. You just see it for what it is, and you can step away from it,” says Luke Mcleod, a mindfulness coach and founder of Soul Alive. He encourages people to use the practice of meditation to manage their busy lives – and now, to help deal with the mental health impacts of a global pandemic. “Meditation isn’t going to give you all the answers, but it helps you approach whatever problems you have with a clearer state of mind," he says.

Luke McGregor instructs a meditation class. He wears a white jumper and pants and and is sitting cross-legged with his eyes clothes.
Photograph: Supplied/Soul Alive

Mcleod initially sought out meditation to help him be more productive in his high-performance job – but five years later, when his personal life fell apart, it helped him stay afloat. “People still associate mindfulness with religion or see it as something that they're a little bit intimidated by, but it’s something that anyone can do, anywhere, that can really help them.”

A clearer state of mind is something we could all use right now, so we asked Mcleod to break down some common misconceptions about meditation – to and explain how you can start using it to better cope with, you know, everything.

TO: What is meditation, and how is it different from mindfulness?

LM: Meditation leads to more mindfulness. Meditation is the exercise, and mindfulness is the state that results from meditation.

Who is meditation for?

Meditation is for anyone. If you work in a high-pressure position, it can be used to increase your performance – whether that's for more focus, more energy or achieving a clearer mindset. For people looking to use it to manage stress or anxiety more generally, it’s a way to achieve a ‘neutral gear’. So, not as a solution, but more as a preventative to that stressful state.

How can people be more mindful if they’re busy or time-poor?

You don't have to go sit in the mountains for an hour and try to meditate, you can find small moments here and there during your day. Taking five or ten minutes throughout your busy day can be just as impactful as spending an hour somewhere totally serene. Whether you’re in an office cubicle or at home, you can do short breathing exercises, or just take a couple of minutes to really open up all your senses and engage with the environment you’re in.

What’s a simple meditation exercise people can do at home?

Right now, wherever you're at, find something you can really tune into. Search for things you can see, hear or feel and notice them in a curious, detailed way – no matter how mundane or ordinary they are. 

It could be a bird chirping, the feeling of air-conditioning or the sun on your skin; if there’s a tree outside your window, notice how the wind is moving the leaves and all the different shades of green you can see; It could be a tingling sensation you feel somewhere in your body. This simple exercise helps reset the nervous system and brings you back into the moment.  

Luke Mcleod’s company Soul Alive offers online Meditation classes, with free podcasts and articles to help you further – or start – your practice. You can find him on Instagram at @luke.mcleod.

Free meditation apps and podcasts to help you practise mindfulness:

ABC’s Mindfully podcast

The Tara Brach podcast

Smiling Mind app

The Mindful Minute podcast

Healthy Minds Program app

​​The Rubin Museum: Mindfulness Meditation podcast

Spotify’s Daily Wellness playlist: If you have a Spotify account, type “Daily Wellness” into the search bar for a tailored playlist of podcasts and music to help you chill out.

Need to chill out? These are Melbourne's most peaceful places

  • Things to do
  • East Melbourne

Head to the scenic Fitzroy Gardens, nestled in Melbourne’s busy cityscape. Take a stroll around the park and you'll notice some heritage highlights, including Captain Cook’s 1755 family home uprooted from Yorkshire and re-assembled here in the 1930s, a conservatory, and a collection of fountains, statues and memorials. The park is blissfully underused, especially on the weekends. You can always find a secluded spot from which to admire the avenues of mature elms and rare specimen trees from the 19th century.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Bulleen

Surrounding the Heide Museum of Modern Art are six hectares of heritage-listed gardens and a sculpture park – and it's always free to enter. Just a short drive from the CBD, the tranquillity of these impeccably maintained gardens make it a perfect place to chill out. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the sun or simply stroll around the public exhibition.

  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

Birrarung Marr is an eight-hectare park located between Flinders Street and the north bank of the Yarra River, with the name meaning 'river of mists' in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people. The winding pathway through the park acknowledges the significance of the eel as a traditional food source, and a semicircle of metal shields represents each of the five groups of the Kulin Nation. It's a beautiful, spiritual place to take a moment from the city hustle and bustle.

  • Museums
  • Elsternwick

Located only 20 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD sits the last of Australia’s grand suburban estates. The extensive 19th-century pleasure gardens surrounding the mansion are laid out in the romantic Picturesque and Gardenseque styles popular at the time. The house is accompanied by lavish lawns, a fernery, orchards and an artificial lake full of eel, carp and turtles.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries
  • Melbourne

The State Library of Victoria is a cultural landmark that houses an incredible amount of books, as well as several exhibitions and galleries with a lot of history. But the jewel (or rather, the dome) in the crown is undoubtedly the stunning La Trobe Reading Room. The magnificent octagonal reading room is six storeys high, complete with spiral staircases and green glass-lit reading desks. Oh, and it's very, very quiet.

  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

If there’s anywhere you can escape the madness of the CBD without actually leaving it, the Royal Botanic Gardens is the place. Located on the city’s fringe, this expansive garden is home to a cool 8,500 plant species, calm lakes and lush lawns. There are three meditative Wellbeing Gardens located on site, designed to encourage people to take time to relax and recharge in the peace of nature.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown
Visit Melbourne

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown

Named for the shape of its coastline, Jawbone Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown protects 30 hectares of coastal waters. It has been fenced off from the rest of the world for more than 80 years, making it an often-forgotten haven for coastal and marine life. Walk along the promenade and take in the stunning natural beauty of the ocean, rock formations and animals that call the sanctuary home.

Eliza Campbell
Editor, Time Out Melbourne
  • Kids
  • Abbotsford

Bringing the country to the city, the Collingwood Children’s Farm is the perfect place to unplug. You can get in touch with nature – literally – and milk the cows, feed the chooks, ride a pony or play with the baby lambs. In addition to the healing properties of a few furry friends, the adjacent Abbotsford Convent and surrounding parklands are a lush and peaceful place to take a bit of time out on your own.

  • Museums
  • Melbourne

The Shrine of Remembrance was built between 1927 and 1934 as a place for Victorians to grieve, honour and preserve the memories of those who had lost their lives in World War I. You can climb the steps of the exterior of the monument for panoramic views over Kings Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. It is truly, truly beautiful.

Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
  • Things to do
  • Carlton

Carlton Gardens are home to the heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building, fronted by a tranquil water-fountain and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. The tree-lined avenues and miniature lakes within the CBD-adjacent gardens make it a tranquil escape in the heart of the city. Listen to the soothing sounds of the fountain, or spot wildlife atop trees or ponds.

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