Take charge of your stress

December is a busy, chaotic, pressured, stressful time. The holidays bring joy and frustration, although sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other. The end of the business and calendar years also increase tension as we rush around trying to multitask, wrap up projects and budgets, deal with personal and family angst and prepare ourselves for the coming year.

What we need is our own way to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and slow down enough – in a short, manageable period – to regain our emotional and physical footing without losing traction or productivity. Some people hit the gym, run or take a walk; others go out to eat, read, nap, pray or call a friend. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves down, focus and truly be present in the moment – can be enhanced through meditation.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require special gear, clothes or equipment. And we can practice meditation wherever we are – out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or between meetings. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore our calm and inner peace.

Inserting calmness in our day

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Originally meant to help deepen understanding of sacred and mystical forces of life, meditation is now commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.

During meditation, we focus our attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding our mind and causing stress. And the benefits don’t cease when our meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry us more calmly through the day and may improve certain medical conditions.

The emotional benefits of meditation can include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage our stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions

How you can help yourself relax

Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.

Meditation also is useful in dealing with medical conditions worsened by stress, such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and trouble sleeping.

Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you can also practice meditation easily on your own.

And you can make meditation as formal or informal as you like, however it suits your lifestyle and situation. Some people build meditation into their daily routine. For example, they may start and end each day with an hour of meditation. But all you really need is a few minutes of quality time for meditation.

Here are some ways you can practice meditation on your own, whenever you choose:

  • Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all attention on breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening and inhale and exhale through the nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When attention wanders, gently return your focus to breathing.
  • Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
  • Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the “om” mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
  • Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking, such as on a wooded path, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When using this method, slow down the pace of walking so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot; move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
  • Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about possible resources.
  • Read, write, listen and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. You can also listen to sacred music, spoken words or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.
  • Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of love, compassion and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the object.

Don’t judge your meditation skills, which may only increase your stress. Meditation takes practice. It’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.

Experiment, and you’ll likely find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy doing. Adapt meditation and mindfulness to your needs at the moment. Remember, there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate or to relax. What matters is that you’re taking control and doing something to help you reduce your stress and feel better overall.

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!