How to Relieve Stress Through Meditation
Escaping When The Walls Feel Like They're Closing In
You're at work and the project deadline is looming. Your fingers are thrashing your keyboard. You're making progress. But every time you look at your clock you realize that hours have passed. As the time ticks away you're getting more stressed and you're suddenly working a little less efficiently than you did when you got in in the morning.
This has happened to all of us at one time or another. Fortunately, there are some quick and easy meditative steps you can take to de-stress and help refocus your mind on the task at hand.
1. Find a Quiet Place or a Place of Retreat
Maybe it's your office, your living room or the laundry room in your apartment building. It may very well be the place that is the source of your stress (i.e. work). The key is to not just find a quiet space but to transform it, temporarily, into a place of calm.
If you have an office with a door at work, close the door. Turn off the fluorescent lights. Turn off your monitors for a few minutes. Sit in the stillness of the dark and breath. If you are in a place where noise is unavoidable, like the laundry room, focus on any rhythmic sound and just listen to its steady pattern.
For a period of time, I had no private office and there was no quiet space to retreat to at work. My only option was a park across the street. It was anything but quiet since busy city traffic surrounded it. I started bringing ear plugs with me. I'd sit in the park, plug my ears and enjoy some quiet away from the stress. Until I bought those ear plugs, however, I would just listen to the sounds of the city and find rhythm where I could.
While quiet is ideal, what you're really going for is a place where you can retreat from the source of stress even if you're "retreating in place." You can also listen to music or soothing sounds though be careful. Avoid songs with lyrics. Avoid depressing tunes. For this, I recommend popping in your earbuds and listening to white noise or shamanic drumming.The steady rhythm will help calm those frayed nerves.
2. Don't Try To Fix It
This is the part where anxiety typically spirals out of control. You're stressed and you try, in this moment, to fix it. Your job feels like it's killing you so you frantically search for new jobs on your phone. You're feeling overwhelmed with money problems so you stress search for part time jobs, money making opportunities, or that checking account you forgot you had from two towns ago hoping to find some lost change.
Our minds are natural problem solvers. The problem is that in the heat of the moment they aren't particularly efficient at this job. So we stress as we clamor for a solution. When we can't find one in our anxious state we then get more anxious and start to feel down on ourselves and like we can never get out of our present problems.
This isn't true. This is just a really bad time to try to fix most problems. This is a time for calming. With a level head you'll be better positioned to tackle the project with the tight deadline or making rent this month. Worrying won't get you there faster it will just stress you out in the process.
The objective here is to calm your mind and think clearly once again. Imagine a friend or a family member comes running up to you speaking frantically. Do you adjust yourself to their speed or try to calm them down? That's what you're doing here. The only difference is that your "friend" is your own mind. Calm it down first. Don't try to solve anything in these few minutes.
Focus on your breathing. Focus on the feeling of your feet hitting the ground as you walk. Focus on that tree over there. Focus on watching the water run. Focus on something that you can physically experience. If you find it's hard to push out the thoughts of your day, focus on multiple things (e.g. breathing, something you can see and something you can hear).
Don't worry about time. Don't worry about where this will take you. Just focus on the sight or sound and simply experience it. If there is nothing especially beautiful nearby then focus on something ugly and try to find the kernel of beauty within it.
What you focus on matters less than the fact that you are focusing. By diverting your attention away from your source of stress you can help slow down that pounding heart and begin to feel calmer.
4. Put Everything Into Perspective
I once worked at a highly toxic job for a local real estate developer. The man was an eccentric millionaire who made his money in commercial real estate. When I first went to work for him I thought "Wow, I could learn a lot from this guy!" and I did. Unfortunately, I also learned that he had really poor social skills and a warped sense of what to expect from employees.
There were times I was mad when he would reject work I had prepared, even after incorporating his feedback. It was a situation where he would get frustrated because I did what he asked rather than doing what he meant.
One day, after a few months, he did us both a huge favor. He fired me. There was no drama. There were no tears. We both knew it wasn't working out. Afterward though, as I was in the middle of a job search, I was mad at him. He let me go two weeks before Christmas. My biggest concern was that it would be hard to find a new job before the New Year (I ended up starting my new job on December 23).
Realistically, as unfortunate as my situation felt at the time, I had little reason to be angry with him. He was never a people person. He used to have a business partner who was. That partner knew all of his quirks. He knew what he "meant" when he had issues with someone's work. So he would work with other employees to make sure their work was exactly what he wanted. When the partnership split up, he lost that person working with the staff to polish their reports. He had no idea why staff members, some of whom had been there for years, were suddenly dipping in the quality of their work.
In short, he was as frustrated as I was. He was just as stressed out. His stress was compounded by his feeling that he was losing control of his business that he relied on to support his family. While I could find another job, if he lost his business it would be devastating. He could surely find work but it would almost certainly not allow him to maintain his present lifestyle.
The other thing to consider was that this former job is just a blip on my career path. I was stressed at the time. In the end, it didn't matter. Stressing didn't help me to overcome the many obstacles to success. Nor did the good work I did survive the test of time any better than the work I did that didn't meet my boss's expectations.
For something that caused me a lot of anguish it had zero long term consequences on my life. It was a job. There have been jobs since. There were jobs before.
Anything short of a terminal diagnosis is something that you can rest assured will be soothed in time. Life will go on.
This Too Shall Pass
I have a good friend who went through three divorces. Another, a highly skilled IT professional, has had the misfortune of companies closing not too long after he starts there, a run that has been going on for nearly 15 years. Still another friend had her career goals derailed when she got a single C in a graduate program that caused her to get kicked out for academic performance. Saddled with student loan debt and not the career she had been pursuing, she could have been bitter.
What all three of these people have in common, however, is their positivity and their unceasing desire to move forward. These are happy people. They have their struggles, especially financially, but they are happy with their lives and look forward to the next chapter even if that chapter seems far off or a little less bright than they would have imagined for themselves.
These are also people who meditate regularly and can live in the moment rather than constantly worrying about whether tomorrow will bring about the resolution they desire.
Whatever is looming over you right now will pass in time. You will survive. How well you survive, and how quickly you bounce back, is up to you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Tagg Martensen