Practice mindfulness right at your desk with practical techniques to realise your potential every Monday. This week, follow this simple guide to de-stress.
From the moment you open your eyes to when you lay down exhausted at the end of a long day, your mind is churning with thoughts, plans, and anxiety.
Even falling asleep offers no respite with the turbulence continuing in your dreams. You may be doing something that qualifies as ‘time out’ – exercising, watching a movie, or taking a holiday, but the tsunami of your thoughts always lurks below the surface, ever ready to carry you away.
Sound familiar? Most of us have accepted this stress-ridden scenario as the new normal. We believe that the demands of ‘always-on’ modern lives leave us with no other choice. Damaged mental and physical health and scarred relationships are collateral damage -- sacrifices we must make if we want to live and compete in today’s world.
This is entirely untrue.
A few years ago, I set out to understand how I could do a better job of living my current life – a busy life that has many professional and personal demands. My recommendations are therefore, based on first-hand experience, as much as they are drawn from centuries-old wisdom. They may or may not work for you but I hope they will demonstrate that the power to change things lies in our own hands.
Don’t call it meditation
To mediate, you must sit upright on the floor, in a quiet place, close your eyes and empty your mind of all thought for an hour.
Easy if you are a Buddhist monk. Almost impossible otherwise.
Try this instead:
- As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, you probably want to reach for your phone.
- Keep lying down, hold that thought and say to yourself ‘I really want to check my messages right now.’ As soon as you become aware of what you are feeling, you will find it easier to control the impulse.
- Now keep lying down, or sit up in bed – whatever makes you more comfortable. Breathe in and think ‘I am breathing in’. Breathe out and think ‘I am breathing out’. Do this six to eight times. That’s less than 20 seconds.
OK, now you can grab that phone.
- Pick three times in your day that you are likely to be alone – no calls, or meetings
- Set an alarm for all these times.
- When the alarm rings, reach for your phone. Feel the weight of the phone in your hand. Say to yourself, ‘The phone is in my hand and I am switching off the alarm now’.
- No matter where you are – at your desk, in the elevator, eating your lunch – count six to eight breaths again. The same routine. Breathe in and think ‘I am breathing in’. Breathe out and think ‘I am breathing out’. You can even do it in a boring conference call or meeting, without anyone knowing.
You may find that your breathing becomes more labored as you count. That’s natural in the beginning. As you practice, it will become natural and even.
Most likely, even for the few seconds you are trying to breathe, your mind will be crowded with thoughts. You may even lose count after the second or third breath, thinking about the many things you have to do. That’s fine. Smile. Say to yourself ‘I was distracted and I lost count but now I want to go back to my breath.’
Maybe you won’t be able to do your breathing routine four times in a day. Maybe you’ll do it once or twice, or some days, not at all. That’s fine. Don’t shut it out. Let it be in your life like a good friend and go back whenever you can. If it becomes a chore, it will not benefit you in any way. Look forward to those few seconds. As you get used to the routine, add your own variations. For example, you could think:
- ‘I am breathing in confidence’ and ‘I am breathing out doubt and fear’
- ‘I am breathing in peace’ and ‘I am breathing out anxiety’.
Whenever you can, focus on your breath and watch yourself breathing in and out. Smile as you do it. If you forget, don’t be hard on yourself. Say to yourself ‘I have been too busy but I will start again now.’ Gradually increase the count of breaths to whatever you are comfortable with. Reach eight breaths and start counting again from one.
What will this do for you?
You will have the answer to that question once you have followed the simple routine for three months.
See the difference that will emerge in your state of mind, in your interactions and in the way you approach tough situations. You will feel calm and energised. You will find that you are less judgmental and more objective when you make decisions.
There is extensive research to show the benefits of using breathing techniques to destress but again, I will only quote from my experience, borrowing a metaphor from one of my teachers.
Before, I was swimming in the middle of a fast-flowing river, at the mercy of the waves, focused only on keeping my head above the water. Now, the river still rages, as it must, but I have a sturdy boat. I can choose to ride the waves or pull into the shore for respite. I have control.
Be sure to write to me at email@example.com and tell me if this worked for you.
(Next Monday: Sharpening your mental faculties during a busy day.)