The practice of meditation helps you respond to life’s events consciously, rather than react unconsciously. This can go a long way towards reducing stress. For example, if you’re waiting in line to pay for your purchases and someone cuts in front of you, rather than going into an immediate stress-related reaction (such as shouting “How dare you cut in front of me! I’ve been waiting 20 minutes!), meditation can help you notice events without having such a strong emotional reaction. You may be able to calmly say to the encroacher, “Excuse me please, people are waiting in line here. Please step to the back of the line.”
Practicing meditation doesn’t have to take long; simply sit in a quiet place for a few minutes, close your eyes and bring all your attention to your breath, noticing your chest rising and falling, or noticing the coolness of the air when you inhale and its warmth when you exhale. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath. This practice, even if done for a few minutes a day, can help recharge and center you.
If you’d like to listen to guided meditations, check out my new podcast, Mindful 180. https://joyrains.com/category/mindful-180-podcast/
Got stress? Here are three tips to help you center and find balance.
Tip #1: Create a Stress-Free Zone at Home
Have a “stress-free zone” in your home. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room—or even a favorite chair. One busy professional carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a quiet meditation space. Another person transformed a bedroom corner into a private space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, music, or artwork. Taking the time to pause—even for a few minutes a day—can go a long way towards managing stress.
Tip #2: Weave Mindful Moments Into Your Day
Consider weaving “mindful moments” into your day-times when you quiet the chatter in your mind and bring your focus into the present moment. For example, when you walk to the coffee machine in the office, bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your feet. Or when you eat lunch, bring all your awareness to the process of eating: the pace of your eating, the taste of the food, the colors of the food on your plate. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back. This process of bringing all your attention to what’s happening in the present moment can also go a long way towards managing stress.
Tip #3: Do a body relaxation meditation.
Sit in a quiet place and gently lower your eyelids to a soft gaze or a full close. Slowly move your awareness throughout your entire body, either starting with your feet and working your way up, or starting with your head and working your way down. Pause at each muscle group and see if you can release any tension. You may want to silently say to yourself “relax” with each inhale, and “release” with each exhale. Or you may want to imagine a muscle group getting warmer and warmer until the tension melts away. If you find that you’re more relaxed, see if you can develop a muscle memory of what your body feels like when it’s relaxed, so you can tap into that memory in times of stress.
These three tips are simple to practice, and best of all, they’re free! They don’t require any special equipment or training. All they require is remembering to stop and pause—if only for a few moments.
Since studies show that behaving more compassionately toward yourself and others can make you happier, why not develop a compassion habit? The brain has neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways and new ways of being. You can actually train your brain to operate from a center of compassion. Here are some tips on how to develop a compassion habit:
Start with yourself. Unless you practice self-compassion, it can be difficult to bring compassion to others. Every day, take time to be compassionate toward yourself, whether you pamper yourself with a bubble bath, practice a type of meditation designed to cultivate feelings of compassion, or simply pause for a few minutes to rest.
Notice your thinking. If you become aware of thoughts that are less than compassionate, see if you can shift to a more positive attitude. Although this can be especially challenging in some situations and with some people, the more you practice, the more natural a compassionate mindset can become.
Ask your inner critic to retire. Many people have developed an inner voice that freely offers negative judgments about their actions, such as “That was such a ridiculous thing to say!” or “You really messed up that presentation.” Ask this inner critic to step down, telling it that the job is no longer available. Replace internal criticism with internal encouragement, such as 19th century psychologist Emile Coue’s famous phrase, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
Look for commonalities. When you’re with people around a dinner table, notice everyone eating together. When you’re at a music venue, notice everyone listening to melodies together. Even when you’re sitting in traffic, you’re all here together, in this shared experience, as frustrating as it can be. The more you notice the common bonds between you and those around you, the more you’ll realize how interconnected we all are, and the more accessible a mindset of compassion can become.
Bring a compassionate approach to those around you—friends, family, colleagues, clients, and even those you don’t know. Take small steps, such as smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, or holding the door open for someone. You don’t have to make grandiose gestures to bring compassion into the world. As the activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “Be a flea for justice. Together all the fleas can move the big dog.”
Let operating from a center of compassion become a habit. When you consider that the first seven letters of the word compassion form the word “compass,” this can remind you to allow a mindset of compassion to guide your actions in the world.