Proud member of the most stressed-out generation

Has the universe ever sent you multiple signs pointing to a recurring message, the cosmic equivalent of a friendly, yet persistent poke? That’s how the practice of mindfulness was introduced to me.

I am someone who is often described as anxious, high-strung and a worrier. I’ve been known to sweat the small stuff and get overwhelmed rather easily by a growing pile of laundry, weekly meal planning or when one of my pets has a bout of diarrhea. Let’s not mention my student loans. Perfectionism often prevents me from starting – nevermind finishing – projects. My brain chatter is vicious, and this nitpicking can make small victories and major accomplishments seem irrelevant. Last year, I deleted Facebook from my phone when I realized my own insecurities were exacerbated by routinely comparing my level of success and happiness to those of former classmates.

A significant portion of my twenties (I’m almost 28) has been spent agonizing over whether or not I am on the right track, whatever that may be. As it turns out, I’m not the only millennial feeling like a hot mess.

According to an annual online survey of adults conducted by the American Psychological Association, millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) are the most stressed-out living generation. The most common stressor among the responders was money and finances, not entirely surprising for a generation that grew up during the crash in 2007. Chronic stress has a significant impact on mental health, which in turn, affects physical health. Before you label me as a whiny millennial, the effects of stress apply to every generation.

When the idea of taming my emotions and inner critic through mindfulness and meditation presented itself for, oh, about the hundredth time, I considered adding it to my self-care regimen, but not without a healthy dose of skepticism.

Mindfulness is described as both a general awareness, as well as a form of meditation. Without trying to sound new agey or sappy, the purpose of mindfulness is to focus on the present. Over time and with practice, identifying the triggers to stress-inducing thoughts and feelings calmly and objectively can help emotional reactions become less knee-jerk. Mindfulness isn’t a way to deny existing problems, but the mental clarity is helpful in recognizing possible solutions.

The 10% Happier podcast hosted by news anchor, Dan Harris, is a great place for beginners to start. During every podcast, Harris, a self-proclaimed "fidgety" skeptic, interviews a guest, each of whom come from different backgrounds. While topics like Buddhism, enlightenment and Nirvana (not to be confused with the 1990s grunge band) are sometimes discussed, the Q&A format is practical and fact-based.

Listeners can easily apply a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the information that appeals to them. The app also provides short, guided meditations along the way.

The idea of meditation still seemed hokey to me when I decided to give it a try. Okay, so even if I could calm my inner angst through mindfulness, it was still another commitment that would require me to carve out time in an already tight schedule. And where the heck would I meditate? Anyone with pets or kids can relate to an overall lack of peace and quiet and privacy at home.

Harris earned brownie points when he explained in one of his first podcasts that even starting with 10 minutes a day was better than nothing. That’s something I could manage, and it was convenient to tack it on at the end of my workouts. It can be tough to get started, though. Someone with a racing mind who often analyzes the past and frets over the future may become distracted and have difficulty focusing initially. That’s okay.

Keep trying. It will get easier and feel more productive with practice.

No one should be made to feel lazy or guilty for taking time to relax, particularly if they are overworked and overstressed. Regular downtime is an important form of self-care. While this shouldn’t be used as a convenient excuse to binge watch Netflix, do give yourself permission to slow down, disconnect and simply be.

Allison Cote is a Nashua native and enjoys discussing topics that impact millennials. Her column will begin appearing the first Saturday each month.