Personal Experiment 4: The Fight Against The Silent Killers, Anxiety and Stress

Xue Zing
5 min readJul 12, 2021
Image from Unsplash by S Migaj

Anxiety and stress.

Two of our generation’s most widespread issues.

We all know from the reports and journals being published, talking about these silent killers.

Heck, we can feel them directly in our lives.

I was no stranger to stress and anxiety, they usually paid me a visit before an exam when I was a student.

Now that I am in the workforce, they come by much more often, moving into my head for a day or a week.

So, I decided to try to deconstruct and reconstruct myself using a few series of experiments to lower the stress and anxiety levels when they came.

Awareness of the problem

I became acutely aware of this issue back in my university days.

Before a major exam, I would worry and fret, making me lose appetite and sleep.

Many students also face the same problem.

So, I decided to select a method that reduced stress and to experiment with it.

This was a time where morning routines were getting popular. After reading quite a few, I found most of them had a few common parts.

One of them was meditation.

Mediation was said to have effective benefits against stress and anxiety.

Of course, like everybody else, I was skeptical about it.

However, it was also inexpensive, easy to set up, no risk, and not time-consuming.

As a poor uni student, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it a try.

Goal Setting

The main goal was clear, reduce stress and anxiety levels.

However, that was still too vague, how would this experiment be considered a success?

I decided that if the symptoms were alleviated (lack of appetite, insomnia, nausea), by at least half before a major stressor event, it would be considered a success.

This means if I used to miss 2 nights of sleep before an exam, it would be 1 night.

The same goes for lack of appetite and nausea.

For the time frame, I would set it for a semester which was 3 months again.

That way, I could see if the results were effective before my exam.

Process building.

This was where it got interesting.

Similar to working out, the problem with collecting info on meditation is that… there is simply too much of it.

It also gets very complex with different mediation having different processes and different structures.

However, unlike the working out experiment, I didn’t have anyone to guide me on this.

Hence it was a bit hard to find trusted sources.

On the books I read on the topic, the one that influenced me the most was The Untethered Soul.

The first part of the book was the most important to me, with the concept that your conscious and your thoughts/emotions are two separate entities.

You are not your thoughts.

This was especially useful during meditation.

Then I used two of the highly recommended apps at that time.

Headspace and Calm.

This was back in 2016 -2017, so not many apps on meditation were found yet.

Hence, after the information was found, it was time to move on to the actual process building.

The research I have done showed that it was better to do a session everyday and it didn’t need to be too long.

10 minutes was the recommended time.

So, the only simple rule in this experiment was 10 minutes of attempting meditation practice each day using either app.

How hard could it be?

Execution

It was very hard.

Focusing on the breath and guide your mind back to to when thoughts appear.

I started off with the introduction to beginners on both apps. Further classes needed to be paid.

I couldn’t even last 10 minutes for the first week.

Sitting still, not moving, doing nothing but noticing my thoughts for 10 minutes sounded easy.

Yet, I would get the urge to fidget, to move, to jump about. My physical body was not use to being totally still consciously.

This was a very interesting observation for me, it meant that my body was constantly in an active state, it wanted to move and be occupied.

My legs would tingle my hands would go numb, and when I really couldn’t stand it anymore, I would stop.

Then, there was the actual practice in your head.

It was not easy, being distracted by thoughts constantly and having to catch yourself.

However, the app did have reminders so I would still be able to catch myself when I drifted off again.

Once I finished the introductory course of 7 or 10 days, I would restart it again.

Of course, there were times where I would skip the practice. But I would ensure never to miss more than 1 day in a row.

Closing Up

The results were interesting.

The main goal to reduce stress and anxiety during exam periods… was not exactly met.

There was a marginally better effect but the symptoms were still there and quite strong.

However, the other benefits were unexpected.

I finally found what Viktor Frankl meant in his book Man’s Search for Meaning when he said,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I would notice the emotions and thoughts welling inside me during normal days and was able to quickly choose where to direct them.

That was the space he was talking about.

Of course, if the emotion or thought was too strong, it would still overwhelm the small space inside.

I learned to be more still as well.

And in the stillness, I found a bit more peace and a bit more gratitude.

This comes from the fidgeting and tension running throughout the body which I never noticed previously.

Through meditation, I was able to relax this tension and it felt like a burden on the body was lifted for a while.

Therefore, the peace of mind, the gap between stimulus and response, and physical relaxation were the unexpected side benefits from this experiment.

I would rate this experiment as a well done, although we did not meet the main goal, the other benefits were enough for me to keep this habit going for more than 3 months.

In Conclusion,

This experiment was a bit on the peculiar side.

It is hard to measure peace of mind and gratitude and so on.

A lot of people would be skeptical, they would question, they would disagree.

Furthermore, from my research previously, different people might have different results from meditation.

Some might have wild improvements and some might have no results to show.

It isn't consistent.

Therefore, why not design your own personal experiment around meditation.

There isn’t much to lose, but there might be everything to gain.

--

--

Xue Zing

Writing about thought provokers that go against conventional self-help