Centering - How to Deal with Stress in the Modern Day

Unless you’re independently wealthy and incredibly lazy, your days can get hectic. Multiply by 10 if you have kids. Multiply by another 10 if you’re also one of the millions of Americans caring for their aging parents. Multiply by eleventy-billion if your financial situation is anything but secure.
There comes a point where all the little titchy things add up to one giant burden, and you find yourself ready to explode when the barista asks if you would like sugar in your coffee. It’s times like this when you need to center yourself. Ideally, you would be able to spend an afternoon meditating alone by a babbling brook, but let’s face it – no one has the time for that. The only babbling in your life comes from your toddler, who just painted your iPad with grape jelly. The only alone time you get is when you use the bathroom. At work. Before anyone else gets there.

Perfecting the art of the instant center doesn’t take much practice, and it can go a long way in making you a happier person.

✔ Stop
When you live your life at breakneck speed 24/7, you end up on autopilot. Have you ever driven to the store only to realize you don’t remember getting there? Yeah – that’s your lizard brain taking care of business, while your executive brain is busy with other things. To avoid an outburst at an inopportune time, you have to unite your mind-parts – get the whole team on-board, in other words. While it may be non-damaging (but still not-nice) to blow up at the barista, a stress-borne yell at your boss could have lasting consequences.

► Action Step: Take a step back. Literally, if you have to. Turn off the autopilot and fully engage.

✔ Disconnect
Once you’ve stepped back from the situation, you have to take a moment to calm the physical reactions to high stress. When you’re at the breaking point, there are very real physiological responses – basically, you’re in fight-or-flight mode. Your heart rate and blood pressure are sky high, your pupils are dilated, and your muscles are tensed. If your stress is caused by a lion who wants to make you his dinner, your physical response is perfect. If your spouse is asking what you would like for dinner, you really need to calm down.

► Action Step: Take a slow, deep breath, and blow it out. Inhale as much air as you can hold, and blow it out until there’s nothing left. Scrunch your eyes shut and clench your fists as you breathe in, then release all of your tension as you breathe out. This will calm your body and leave your mind, rather than adrenaline, in charge.

✔ Engage
Open your eyes and confront your immediate situation. Make an executive decision at that moment – one that takes care of the issue at hand. Don’t hem and haw, and don’t second-guess yourself. Trust that your brain is making the right decision, knowing what it knows about the situation. If the issue is too big or important for you to feel comfortable with at the moment, put it off. There are very few times in life when a simple ‘let me get back to you on that’ won’t suffice.

► Action Step: Deal with the situation, simply. Keep your voice calm and level, and speak with authority. Use your ‘parent’ voice. Move deliberately, staying in the moment.

✔ Carry On
By this time, the crisis has been averted. The trick now is to go on with whatever it is you were doing instead of curling up into a little ball and rocking back and forth. If you need to take another deep breath, do it. If you feel like splashing some cold water on your face, do it. But don’t linger on what just happened – move past it quickly. No moping, no replaying it over and over in your head. True, you may come to regret that decision you made, but that’s not a lesson indicating that you shouldn’t trust your brain – it’s a lesson that those are the types of decisions you should save for later next time. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

► Action Step: Do whatever you need to do to recover quickly. Move right the heck on.

It seems like an awful lot to remember, and at the same time it feels like a weak technique – but the more you use it, the better you’ll get, and the less you’ll need it. The entire process takes about two seconds in real time, so you can do it while in conversation with someone and they won’t even notice. You can skip the eyes-scrunching part if you need to – just blink slowly, and emerge instantly centered.