Taking time out every day for meditation is a proven and effective strategy to combat stress, calm anxiety, manage your emotions and stay mentally fit while you handle the pressure of a modern, busy life. Unfortunately, when demands increase and life becomes more stressful, the things most likely to support your wellbeing, are often the first things to be dropped from your routine. It seems impossible to find time to sit still in meditation when there are so many pressing and urgent things to do.
These are the times when we need that quiet time the most to calm our busy brains, but if time to meditate is out of reach, there are other ways you can quickly and efficiently find your zen and keep your cool even on the busiest days.
A mindful check-in involves taking a couple of minutes to literally check-in on how you’re feeling. You do it by simply turning your attention away from your outside world for a moment in order to observe your own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations: Ask yourself: How am I feeling? Is there tightness in my body? Am I consumed with worry? Angry thoughts? Frustration? Is there tightness in my chest or another part of my body? All of this is done with the attitude of an impartial observer. From this place of more mindful awareness, you can choose to let go of unhelpful thoughts, relax the tension in your body, honour your feelings and move on to the next part of your day with more calm and clarity.
When you’re stressed, you tend to live in your head. Your mind whirrs with thoughts, plans and to-do lists. You become distracted from your immediate environment and disconnected from your body. To counter this, a great simple exercise for calming anxiety and reconnecting with the present is to notice five things. Pause for a moment and silently name:
- 5 things you can see
- 5 things you can hear
- 5 things you can feel in contact with your body (your seat, clothing, hair, watch etc).
By reconnecting with your senses and your environment, you interrupt your racing thoughts and become more present to what’s happening right now.
Anxious breathing tends to be rapid and shallow and this creates a physiological response in your body designed to prepare you for danger. The result? Your body floods with cortisol and the rational, problem solving part of your brain goes offline in favour of your primitive ‘fight or flight’ response. To reverse this, grab a watch or clock with a seconds hand (or use the timer on your phone) and breathe in for a count of three seconds, then breathe out for a count of three seconds. Do this for one minute and notice your stress levels drop. (It’s important that you don’t just count but that you use a watch or clock to ensure each breath lasts a full 3 seconds in and 3 seconds out.)
If you’re quite literally on the run, use the process of walking as meditation. Mindful walking means noticing all of the sensations in your body as you move. Become aware of one foot landing as the other foot lifts and swings through the air. Feel the air on your skin, the movement of your arms and hips. Whether you’re moving between meetings, rushing to catch a bus or train or just getting up from your desk to grab a coffee, you can use walking as a cue to practise meditation on the go. You don’t necessarily have to walk slowly to be walking mindfully but if the noticing causes you to slow down, that’s a bonus.
Being stressed feels as if your mind is all over the place and your energy is scattered. To ground yourself, take a moment to deliberately feel the sensation of your feet connecting with the floor. Push your feet down into the floor and notice the feeling of tension in your legs as you ground yourself on this spot. Become aware of your spine holding your body upright, relax your shoulders and imagine gravity holding you down while your spine extends upwards. As you breathe in, you might imagine your breath travelling down your spine, through your legs and out of the soles of your feet into the earth. Taking it one step further, you might even imagine all the restless, nervous energy you’re feeling being gathered up by your breath and passing down through your spine into the earth where it is dispersed, leaving your body feeling calm and relaxed.