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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

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5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

Do you feel the frustration of being pulled in a million directions?

Scattered energy—the result of scrambling to do all the things, but feeling like you’re failing to be effective at any of them—ignites overwhelm both at work and at home. Maybe you’re struggling more than usual because the lines between professional and personal life have become blurred. Or maybe the extra challenges of this year are simply magnifying this battle you’d already been fighting for awhile.

Although it’s impossible to eliminate all of the stressors that make us want to pull our hair out by the roots or curl up in the cozy comfort of our beds, we can master control of our reactions to them. The key to successful stress management is simple: take a proactive approach.

These science-based stress management techniques will help you stop the hamster wheel so that you can feel more calm, no matter what life throws your way.

Mindful Morning Rituals Set the Tone for a Peaceful Day

Do you ever feel like you’re just slogging through the motions but don’t really enjoy the process of starting your day? It doesn’t have to be that way. Starting our mornings with intention sets in motion a positive ripple effect that touches every aspect of our lives. Simply taking the time to create a sense of calm and self-nurturing in the morning goes a long way toward effective stress management.

1. Focus on Feeling Good First

Instead of feeling defeated from the moment you open your eyes, plan ahead to do something that brings you joy. For this to be most effective, choose something based on what you truly like, rather than what you think you should do.

For example, you may have read that morning workouts relieve stress by increasing serotonin (that wonderful mood-boosting hormone). This is true, and if working out feels good for you, keep it up!

If you dread getting out of bed to exercise, however, it’s time for a different approach. Putting pressure on ourselves to do something we can’t stand actually diminishes our motivation and compounds our stress!

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Strategy: Let go of “shoulds” and do something you know you like.

In case you’re not sure, here are some simple ideas to try:

Indulge in peaceful quiet before everyone else in the house wakes up. Savor the warmth, flavor, and aroma of your coffee. Get outside to soak up the peaceful beauty of the sunrise. Listen to uplifting music or the sounds of birds chirping. Write about what you’re grateful for or what’s going well in your life.

Mindfulness activities like these help us tune into our senses and notice our thoughts and feelings without interruption. They relieve stress by building resilience in the form of improved coping skills and decreased tendencies to take on others’ negative emotions. These abilities mean that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.[1]

2. Carefully Cultivate Whom/What You Allow Into Your Mind Space

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This famous Jim Rohn quote was penned long before the advent of modern technologies like the internet and social media. Thanks to these advances, our five-person bubble has expanded exponentially.

We would be wise to not ignore the fact that even a “quick morning check-in” on our phones can have a powerful impact. Our mood and stress levels throughout the day often hinge on this single element.

One efficient method for controlling this impact is to create solid boundaries. Decide which individuals, events, and thoughts are deserving of the precious real estate in your brain. Refuse to allow other people’s urgencies to become your emergencies.

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Strategy: Avoid email, social media, and news until after you have taken time for your morning feel-good activity.

Limit exposure to these outlets throughout the day to minimize stress levels.[2] Identify any people, topics of conversation, or situations that trigger a stress response in you. Avoid these as much as possible, and cut out any extra noise that isn’t supporting you to feel calm.

Avoid Midday Meltdowns and Gain Control of Your Life

Have you ever noticed that many stress relief tips, especially as related to enhancing success and improving our quality of life, focus on morning and evening routines?

Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, calls these habits the “bookends” of our days and states that they are the hallmarks of a successful life. While this practice in itself helps us relieve stress by putting ourselves in control of our daily beginnings and endings, there is an often undervalued merit in creating additional anchor points throughout the day to keep our energy grounded and optimized.

3. Make Space for Fun

Let’s face it– adulting can be a real drag. We have so much pent-up tension due to our focus on “shoulds,” “musts,” and “need-tos.” In all that busyness and resultant worry, we sometimes forget to let go of expectations and tune back into our wants, dreams, and physiological requirements for relief.

Strategy: Resist the urge to scold yourself for being selfish or lazy, or for not “earning” it.

That inner critic is totally normal but it’s not only a fun-killer, it will intensify your feelings of stress. Handling that voice can be a little tricky, but it’s totally doable.

These self-sabotaging thoughts, at their core, come from your subconscious mind trying to protect you from judgement, either by self or others. Simply noticing them is the first step to moving past this. Ask yourself, “Is this really true, or is this my brain speaking out of fear?” Liken it to addressing a small child: would you tell her that she is selfish or lazy for playing, taking a break, or enjoying herself? Of course not! Imagining yourself in her shoes is a simple way to practice self-compassion.

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Also avoid the tendency to save fun for the end of the day after you’ve “earned it.” It’s not about keeping score, and if you try, you’re likely to lose. Happiness and satisfaction with our lives doesn’t have to be earned, no matter what we were taught.

Our brains and bodies react so positively to experiences that evoke joy, comfort, connection, and play that the effects are measurable. In fact, simply engaging in enjoyable activities has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone).[3]

4. Eat to Beat Stress

A fuel-starved brain is a stressed brain. When our stomachs are running on empty our blood sugar levels dip, flatlining our energy. This reduces patience levels, too.

If you have ever experienced a child, or even your spouse or a colleague, fuming at you like a ticking stress bomb, you may have witnessed what some call “the hangries” (hunger + angry). People are more likely to panic or blow up when functioning at this level. The part of our brains that makes educated, logical, insightful decisions is literally shut off in this situation.

It’s common to only notice we’re hungry or remember to eat once we’ve already reached our edge. The problem, as mentioned, is that our decision-making skills at this point are nil. We’re likely to grab whatever will most quickly reassure our brain that it’s not starving to death, and since one of our brain’s top fuel sources is glucose, we naturally crave simple carbs and sweets to get that sugar hit fast. This adds to stress a couple hours later, when our energy crashes. It creates even more stress by causing us to waste a lot of mental energy beating ourselves up over choices that make us feel crappy.

Strategy: Planning ahead is essential, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Batch prep staple foods– like pasta, quinoa, and various fruits and veggies– for putting together quick meals and snacks on the fly. Keep nourishing nibbles on standby—in your car, desk, fridge—for convenient and quick recovery from the “hangries.”

Include foods high in magnesium, which are proven to work to manage stress and create a tranquil mood.[4] Magnesium-rich oatmeal and brown rice are easy to prepare in advance. Load salads or sandwiches with leafy greens like romaine, red leaf lettuce, or spinach. Snack on bananas, yogurt, broccoli, or Brazil nuts for a quick dose of this stress relieving mineral.

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Unwind and Decompress to Release Tension and Stress

At the end of a chaotic day, it’s natural to want to set our troubles aside and just tune out for a bit. The hard truth is, many of our nighttime relaxation go-tos don’t actually get us the results we’re trying to achieve. At best, they provide short-lived surface-level relief… and at worst, they actually aggravate the stress we’re attempting to escape.

5. Break Free From the Nightcap Trap

Alcohol is commonly used as a method for winding down at the end of a stressful day. In fact, about one-fifth of all American adults use alcohol to help them relax enough to sleep at night.[5] The effects of adequate quality sleep on stress relief are well documented, so it makes sense that we’d equate the combination of these benefits and alcohol’s sedative effects with lowered stress levels.

Unfortunately the opposite is true, causing this approach to backfire. The sedative effects of alcohol naturally wear off after just a few hours, which leads to what’s called the Metabolic Rebound Effect, a phenomenon which directly interrupts restorative sleep cycles.[6] One proven consequence of sleep disruption is increased stress responsivity, bringing this cycle full-circle.[7]

Strategy: Shift from escapist stress relief methods to more intentional ones that contribute to feeling relaxed, connected, and balanced.

Using alcohol-free stress relievers will help you feel truly nurtured and support your restorative sleep. Here are some ideas to try:

Pull Your Scattered Energy Together!

With these five stress management techniques, you can finally say goodbye to sluggish mornings and frazzled days, and consciously create the life you’ve always known you could live.

Big improvements to our stress and overall well-being are possible with relatively small adjustments to our mindsets and behaviors. Tune into self awareness, commit to releasing the habits that keep you planted in complacency, and shift into actions that support you to live your purpose, on purpose.

More Stress Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Tsunami Green via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Last Updated on November 8, 2021

How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

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How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

Do you often feel stressed for most of your day? Maybe you always feel a burden that you just can’t get rid of? Focused meditation might be your answer.

In this article, I’ll explore what focused meditation is, how it differs in the pool of many styles of meditation, and how to implement and start this practice today. Likewise, I’ll highlight the benefits of a focused meditation practice for your overall health.

What Is Focused Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of becoming self-aware through breath and attention to connect the mind, body, and spirit.[1] Meditation as a whole can change the structure and function of our brain. That being said, focused meditation or a guided meditation for focus is by far the best one. Meditation for focus and concentration can come in different forms. Experienced meditators use the following:

  • Mindfulness – this meditation involves us to be focusing on your breath and observing thoughts. This allows us to focus on our feelings without becoming too absorbed in them.
  • Concentrative – a meditation that gets us to focus on a particular point; be it a word, breath, object, or a point in the space you’re meditating. This is meant for us to pay attention to that point and prevent our minds from getting distracted.
  • Moving – this meditation involves gets us to focus on slow and repetitive movements similar to yoga or tai chi. The goal is again to be focusing on your breath while relaxing your body and mind with the movements.

Focused meditation, also known as concentrative meditation, is the practice of meditating and bringing your attention to one single object. This object can be something practical and tangible, such as a mandala painting or a candle flame. It can also be something abstract, such as a phrase (also known as mantra) or a sound (such as Om).[2][3]

Whatever you settle your attention on becomes the focal point. None of these object examples are better than others—they are simply choices depending on what you’re looking to get out of your practice. For example, practitioners will choose candle gazing to interpret the images the flame makes in the shadows while others will choose a mantra because that particular phrase or word empowers or heals them.

How Does It Differ From Other Meditation Styles?

All meditation styles and practices overlap and build on each other. Their basic foundation is the same: to bring the practitioner insight and introspection.

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There is no right or wrong way to meditate, however, the various types of meditation can enhance particular qualities. Based on your personality and needs, one type of meditation may be more useful to you than the other. The 9 types of meditation are:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Spiritual meditation
  • Focused meditation
  • Movement meditation
  • Mantra meditation
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Loving kindness meditation
  • Visualization meditation

Focused meditation, specifically, is the practice of focusing on one single object for the duration of the practice. How this differs from other meditation styles is that it gives the practitioner something tangible to do: focus. It’s almost like giving your mind an action to perform—listen to this sound, repeat these words, watch this flame, etc. This is also one of the reasons why this particular meditation style is great for beginners!

One of the biggest challenges in any meditation practice is that the mind gets carried away and we lose ourselves to random thoughts. This “obstacle” is actually a style of meditation in and of itself called Vipassana.[4] However, in focused meditation, we give the mind something to do so that it’s not simply left to its own devices. This type of meditation is beneficial for beginners and for practitioners who prefer some structure and guidance to their meditations.

The Benefits of Focused Meditation

In this style of meditation, what you’re really doing is exercising your mental muscles. Your brain is highly affected by dedicated and concentrated meditation practice.

Scientists have performed countless studies on focused meditation and have found that active meditators have more gray matter volume in their brain and, therefore, offsetting the cognitive decline that comes with aging. So, not only does practicing focused meditation help you learn how to focus better on certain tasks, but it also improves similar functions, such as memory. [5]

Likewise, it helps in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which our society is currently crippled with.[6] By settling your attention on an object, you are essentially building your ability to observe your thoughts and sensations from a place of objectivity. This allows you to detach from negative self-talk that is often the breeding ground for depression and other mental illnesses.

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From a guided meditation for focus to practicing it yourself, daily meditation for focus comes with several benefits:

  • It’ll reduce stress
  • Help you to control anxiety
  • Enhance your self-awareness
  • Improve attention span
  • Helps you to focus on the present moment
  • Increase your creativity and imagination
  • And boost your patience and tolerance for things.

How to Practice Focused Meditation

Here are six tips to help you practice focused meditation. Based on your availability and interest, these tips may change and evolve. That’s the point: to create a structured practice that caters to your needs.

1. Find a Comfortable Seat

As with any meditation practice, comfort is truly key. The physical body responds to meditation practice by alerting you to whether it is comfortable and supported or stressed out and in pain. This is best observed in practitioners who tend to slouch and lose the tall, supported spine that is essential to meditation practice.

A simple rule in meditative sitting is to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees. Therefore, choosing to sit in a chair instead of on the floor may be a smart decision or perhaps propping yourself up on a cushion. For meditation techniques overall, it does not matter how you sit. All that matters is that you are supported and comfortable sitting for some time.

2. Choose Your Object of Focus

Every meditation training session is going to be different because no single day is the same for any one person. Therefore, experienced meditators know that choosing an object is more about listening to what you need at this time versus following any doctrine or “rule.”

If you’re not sure and have a hard time deciding, make focusing on your breath and pay attention to the inhale and exhale is a good option. Then, assign each inhale and exhale a number, and once you reach 10, start over. This is one of the simpler methods of keeping your mind occupied—by giving it a task. This also trains your mind, and over time and with practice, your mind will easily focus on an object without too much effort.

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3. Set Your Desired Time or “Go With the Flow”

If you have a structured routine and would like to stick to your schedule, by all means, set a gentle timer for how long you’d like your meditation to be. This is also your opportunity to throw out the notion that any meditation has to be a certain length of time to be correct—it does not.

Likewise, if you have the time, you can also listen to your body and come out of your meditation when you feel it’s right to do so. This is often a beautiful practice of listening and tuning in.

4. Relax Your Body as You Focus on Your Meditation

Typically, when we are focusing on something, we tend to tighten our body. Observe this next time that you’re concentrating on something: your jaw will tighten and your shoulders will squeeze up towards your ears.

As you sink into your meditation, keep this in mind and check in with your body every once in a while. Let your shoulders sink down your back and release any tension through your jaw and face. Lastly, relax your brow and let your eyes be heavy in their sockets. Then, return to your object of meditation. Observe if your meditation changes at all by relaxing your physical body.

5. Return to Your Breath and Object When You Get Distracted

Notice that I didn’t say “if you get distracted.” That’s because you definitely will drift off with random thoughts or get pulled away from your object of focus. In meditation, distractions are almost guaranteed. Therefore, it’s your opportunity to practice detaching yourself from feeling guilty or inadequate to continue.

Over time and with practice, you will find it easier to stay with your object of focus. In the meantime, however, notice when you get distracted. Pause and take a big breath in and out. Check in with your physical body and relax. Once you’re ready again, return to your object of focus. Meditation is simply one long cycle of wandering and coming back to yourself.

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6. Journal Your Experiences

When your meditation practice has ended, another powerful practice is to jot down any experiences that you felt. There may have been insights and “downloads” that you acquired during your session that you may want to record.

Likewise, you could write about any challenges that you faced. These are great lessons that will continue to show up for you, and it’s nice to keep a journal of them to see how they evolve and progress over time (and they will). Lastly, you can write about what works and what doesn’t, as far as picking your objects of meditation go. This way, you can learn what you most associate with and feel comfortable with.

While these steps are simple, it’s easier said than done. Whether you’re starting out with a guided meditation for focus, loving kindness meditation, or transcendental meditation, anticipating failure the first time you try these things is healthy. Furthermore, congratulate yourself for even making slight progress like noticing and returning to the present moment and noticing the sensations you experienced.

Final Thoughts

If practicing meditation causes you to feel distracted and unsupported, give focused meditation a go! With the help of an object to bring your attention to, it structures your meditation time and offers guidance and support.

Dedicating yourself to this style of meditation will help increase your memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better cognitive function. Even though any style of meditation is a powerful way of taking care of your mental health, focused meditation gives your mind a tangible task with which to grow and strengthen.

More About Focused Meditation

Featured photo credit: Lua Valentia via unsplash.com

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