For most of my life I approached meditation in the same way I did exercise. It was something I would only do in my free time and in specific places. I kept fitness confined to the gym zone and staying centered confined to my meditation space.
It was something I treated as the solution to my problems, never stopping to ask myself how I could instead use it in a more preventative way. Because of this, I would often get on the phone to call someone that gave me anxiety, and instead of stopping to breathe and slow down, I would power through, feeling my adrenal levels skyrocket. Afterwards I would feel a wave of fatigue as my body slowed back down to normal.
This process of rising in anxiety and then crashing down would leave me exhausted at the end of the day. It frustrated me, because I knew I had the tools for better living at my fingertips. All I had to do was ask myself how to translate them from the meditation mat to my everyday life.
Once I started doing this, I no longer saw stress as unavoidable. It still happens, but I move out of it quicker now as I don't wait until I'm home and "in the right place," to unwind from it. Below are my tips for feeling more calm and centered throughout the day. These have helped me to raise both my self-confidence and my excitement for life.
1. When you feel unstable and unsure of yourself, put your shoulders back
When I sit to meditate, the first thing I do is sit up straight and pull my shoulders back. This helps me to open my chest and breathe deep.
Breathing deep is one of the best ways to get your blood pressure to lower and to get your overall stress levels to drop. Even better, good posture helps you to feel more powerful. When you stand up straight, with your chin up, you send a signal throughout your body that you feel confident, strong and tall. Other people will respond to the signals you put out, and this simple act will help you anytime you feel overwhelmed or confronted by a situation.
2. Take a breath
As soon as I feel myself sliding into the stomach-knotted, throat dry feelings of anxiety, I command myself to take a deep breath. Deep breathing is an integral part of meditation, but often gets forgotten outside of the practice.
When oxygen is being restricted in your body it makes your mind feels as if it's time to panic. By taking a moment to catch your breath your whole body functions better. I like to breathe in and out through my nose so that I don't feel I'm making a grand statement of what I'm doing. Oftentimes what stops me from taking a deep breath is the knowing that other people can see that I need a moment to calm myself. By breathing through my nose, my actions are more subtle, and I can do it sporadically without feeling conspicuous.
The longer I sit in meditation the more my face relaxes. If I sit there long enough I get that tiny, corners of the mouth curled up smile. Smiling is a wonderful way to both instantly relax yourself and to relax anyone you're speaking to. Throughout the day, I'll lean back in my chair, take a deep breath, and smile. Smiling has an amazing way of triggering all kinds of feel-good signals in the brain. The best part is, you don't have to run a script of positive mantras. The act itself is enough to have an impact on your physiology.
4. Ask for Help
One of my favorite aspects of meditation is feeling like I'm letting go of all of my problems and worries. I breathe slow and deep and hand everything over to a higher power. During this time of quiet communion with the forces beyond me, I ask for help. It took me a long time to realize that asking for help is something I can do outside of meditation.
Asking for help during meditation or prayer is natural and easy for me. Nobody can actually see that I need help. But asking for help outside of meditation, from my friends, family and colleagues, was something that I really had to make an effort at. One of the things that deeply inspired me to make this more of a priority was Amanda Palmer's Ted talk on "The Art of Asking." It seems I'm not the only one that needed help with this. It's been viewed over 10 million times.
5. Slow Down
When a monster to-do list presents itself in my life, my initial reaction is to do everything I can and rush around. This is learned behavior, and it stems from a desire to feel in control. Rushing around and exhausting myself almost always ends up costing me more time. I don't think things through clearly, I make mistakes, and I wear myself down.
I am now learning that meditation does not have to be the only time I slow down and take a moment to reflect. Whenever I get up to get a glass of water I take a moment to stretch and do some neck rolls. Taking moments throughout the day to stretch, drink some water and give your brain a break are things that are small in nature but can have a big impact on your overall well-being.