We all get stressed. We all get thrown off. When we need to come back into balance, each one of us has a different set of tools with which to do that. Generally, some of them are skillful, and some of them are not. Some of them keep us in the present moment, and some of them don’t. Here are five helpful strategies that you can add to your toolkit:
- Use your thoughts – Most of us use thinking to regulate our emotions already! It’s just that a lot of the thoughts we think in moments of stress are not kind or soothing (much more on that issue here). The good news is, we can use mantra-based practices (phrase repetition) to generate positive content in our minds, and positive emotion in our bodies. This is a simple, powerful way to rebalance. Click here for instructions.
- Use your friends – Vastly under-acknowledged in meditation circles is the importance of co-regulation (the balancing and synchronizing that happens automatically when humans come into empathetic contact with one another). We are herd animals. We can’t go it alone! That said, you may not reliably feel good when you connect with others. It’s possible that they don’t know how to connect well. You might not either! We use the social tools that we learn from our families as children, so if you have trouble connecting, you haven’t done anything wrong. That said, you can learn new social tools through meditation. Read here for more on this point.
- Become more temporally present – In other words, drop the past and the future. Or rather, notice that your mind is creating a past and a future. It might be just a matter of checking in: “am I actually in danger right now?” “Is this thing I’m stressed about actually happening, or is it a dark fantasy?” “How am I feeling right now?” “What can be done right now?” In the words of Michel de Montaigne, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
The closer we get to the absolute present, the less suffering there is. At the razor’s edge of the present moment, there’s never anything wrong. There’s no time for notions like “wrong” and “different”. There’s no time to fix anything. Experience simply happens. This isn’t some esoteric perspective restricted to meditation masters. With some practice (say, months?), this point of view will start to come into focus. And the whole road to the present moment is paved with reductions in suffering, so the benefits are incremental!
- Skillful distractions – I’m not a hard-liner about mindfulness-only interventions. Skillful distractions can be mindful, like turning toward the breath in order to relax (instructions here). But activities like physical exercise, or playing an instrument (anything involving hand-eye coordination) can be great de-stressers as well! If you’re like me and you want to keep the mindful thread going, you can run a technique (like breath counting) during your activity! Or simply make an effort to do your activity consciously—operating on “manual” rather than “automatic.” Redirecting your attention from distracted thoughts back to the sensations, sounds, and sights of whatever you are doing.
- Do one thing at a time – According to a study done at the University of Utah, about 2.5% of us can actually multitask. For the rest of us, multitasking hurts our productivity and our sense of fulfillment. See for yourself! Try a uni-task hour, or afternoon.
One parting thought: many of the interventions I described above are dependent on mindfulness. Mindfulness, in turn, is dependent on practice! If you want these tools to be available to you when you need them, you must be willing to rehearse them when you don’t. My site is filled with tips and resources for how to establish and maintain a meditation practice. You can get started right now with the 7-Day Meditation Challenge at this link.