I struggle with meditation. As a mind-body wellness coach I recommend it all the time because it really does help, but in a subtle way.
I don't feel that epiphany after I meditate like my dependable runner's high that comes after a three miler. I just feel... normal.
Throughout the day, however, I'll notice that my general state of anxiety is lower if I meditate. The unplanned doesn't affect me quite as much as it does when I skip my 10 minutes of Om. For someone that has an anxiety disorder, that's huge!
Here's the thing: I'm a do-er. I like to do things. I'm not a fan of just sitting and being. I want to be up and moving and laughing and jumping and being too loud and...
...that's exactly why I should be meditating. It grounds me in a gentle way.
Well, sometimes I just want to do something that grounds me without having to sit still.
Today, I'm going to share with you some of my anxiety-calming exercises that you can do in place of meditation.
Let's go into this with a side note: Even if you aren't a huge fan of meditating, you should make time for it at least a few times a week if you're dealing with stress or anxiety. There's just no substitute for the stillness... that doesn't mean we have to like it, though.
For those other times, however, here are some options to get grounded even if you're on the move.
1. Just Breathe
This one's my go to for stress and anxiety at all times. I learned breathing techniques way back at the beginning of my transition into a healthier, more mindful life, and they've become my savior in times of stress.
I've got my breathing down to a science, but getting started might take a few minutes of dedicated time on a consistent schedule.
All you have to do is take long, deep breaths through your nose and concentrate on your breath. That's it! Think of breathing all the way down into your lower belly; your shoulders shouldn't rise all that much, but your stomach will expand with air.
Breathing deeply like this stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which basically turns on the relaxation switch.
To start implementing it into your life as a habit, try taking long, deep breaths for just 10 minutes daily. You should be alone or in a place where no one is likely to talk to you for the duration of your deep breathing.
It seems too simple to be helpful, but so does meditation, right?
2. Listen to Calming Music
Without music, my world would just crumble. I like to think I have a soundtrack to my life... which I put together manually in iTunes. I work with music on, I work out with music on, it's on in the car, it's on when I'm going about my morning ritual... you get the point.
Calming music helps me release tension and lose myself, which is often just the break I need from a stressful day. Turns out, it's a proven stress-reliever.
What's calming to me may not be your music of choice. I love the "Chillwave" station on Pandora, but you might like classical or jazz or even ocean sounds!
Play around with a few options and stick with the ones that make you say, "ahhhhhh."
3. Walk + Connect
Walking outside is a proven stress-reliever and it's the optimal time to do your deep breathing or plug in those earbuds and jam out to calming music!
Take a 10-20 minute walk and connect with your surroundings. Notice, breathe and feel. Try not to judge your thoughts; just be with them while you walk, and watch those thoughts flow in and out like waves.
For this to be stress relieving, you have to go outside. Since that isn't always available for those who live in extreme climates so if it's really cold or hot outside, skip this one and try another technique listed here.
Writing out what's stressing you out is a productive way to tackle what may be causing your anxiety. When I feel anxious and I'm not sure why, I'll free-flow write. I'll hash out everything that's on my mind, what happened that day, maybe even if I've eaten something different over the past 48 hours that could be affecting me, and I'll usually find the source of my stress.
To try it for yourself, write for 10 minutes without letting your pen leave the page (or your fingers leave the keys). Don't worry about spelling and grammatical errors. Just go. Let it all out. It's a safe place to go deep and get some perspective.
One thing to note if you're going through a LOT of stress: have the number of a close friend or therapist handy just in case you start to feel really emotional while you're doing this. You can always chat on 7 Cups of Tea for free.
If you want a really active way to get the anxiety out, hit the mat.
Having done yoga for years, I'm comfortable with the sequences and names of poses, so I can go into most yoga classes and just let the moves take me.
Vinyasa yoga is my form of choice because it flows from move to move quickly. When my mind is focused on keeping up and doing the poses correctly, I become more mindful and present than if I'm sitting still, mind wandering.
Typically, yoga takes some time to really get into the flow-zone and reap the mindful benefits, but even new yogis can use a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation for anxiety release.This technique requires you to sit or lie down, but you'll be doing small movements while you do.
To try it, sit or lie down in a quiet place where you can be alone. Starting with your right foot, tense the muscles for eight seconds and allow yourself to really feel that tension. Then, release it and focus on the feeling of your muscles as the tension flows out of them. Go to your left foot next, then progress up the body (right calf, left calf, right thigh, etc.) until you finish by tensing and releasing your face muscles. It takes a while to do at first, but with practice, you'll get this down to a 10-minute practice.
I know it can be frustrating dealing with stress and anxiety, but remember that you'll never be dealt anything that you can't handle. Growth takes stress, but it doesn't have to rule your life in the process.