It’s only the first week of school, but do you feel it? Papers, phone calls, parties, midterms, mothers, mistakes, boyfriends, girlfriends, bi-friends, friendships, roommates, mixing, working, charging, paying bills, rushing, Facebook, religion, drugs, dads, exercising, identifying, judging, applying, sleeping, eating and… living. It’s a lot.

How do you cope with it all? Exercise? Talking with friends and family? Making lists? Using drugs? Being assertive? Playing Rock Band? Journaling?

One of the tricks to coping with stress is to have more than one trick.

Consider meditation.

I never did. Meditation to me was some new-age, heal-thyself, help-book mantra. And I didn’t even know what mantra meant.

But people I respected kept telling me to try it. Finally, I did.

It sucked.

I was sitting on the floor, listening to a bell ring with my eyes closed, and a calm voice was telling me to focus on my breath.

“Am I breathing too fast or too slow? Wait, I’m not supposed to think about that. OK, just breathe. That’s better… hmmm… what if I fall asleep and start snoring? I don’t want that…” I thought, after taking a deep breath.

The meditation session was only seven minutes long, but it seemed like an eternity. My thoughts never stopped. I was a meditation failure.

“This may be good for some people, but I’m sticking to playing guitar and walking,” I told myself.

Many years after that first attempt, Student Health started offering free meditation sessions. The clinician in charge told me this type of meditation – mindfulness meditation – has been researched in clinical trials and is an effective tool to deal with stress.

“But I’m not good at it,” I thought to myself.

Then something weird happened.

“Mindfulness meditation isn’t about doing it right, wrong, good or bad. It’s just about doing it,” she said.

She gave me the first chapter in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the chapter: “When I pay attention to the moment, I mindfully focus my mind on NOT daydreaming of past events or feelings or future fears or hopes. I feel how my body and mind are now. We can meditate, be fully aware and focused on driving, listening to others, listening to music lyrics and sound, washing dishes, eating. The more we practice, the more likely it will come more naturally in all areas of our lives.”

The practice of mindfulness meditation can help us become more aware of ourselves without judgment. And when we are more aware, we can take control of our lives better.

Debbie McHann, the clinician who currently leads mindfulness meditation for UCSB students, wrote in our Student Health Newsletter, “Meditation has been proven to decrease anxiety, tension, pain, headaches, stress levels, depression, eating disorders, drug use/abuse, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, anger, sadness, aging complaints, mistakes at work and more. It has also been proven to increase self awareness, self confidence, positive mental health, pleasure, calm, stability, creativity, alertness, coping abilities, energy, performance on intelligence tests, performance of physical tasks, productivity and job satisfaction. Now don’t you want to mediate?”

Meditation isn’t about zoning out. Meditation is about paying attention.

Give it a try.

Meditation is offered on Mondays and Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Student Health’s Classroom 1. Join the UCSB Meditation Facebook group.

Wellness tip of the week: Get a free introductory professional massage at the Wellness Centers at the noon hour: Mondays at the Student Resource Building, Tuesdays at the Davidson Library and Wednesdays at the UCen.