The beginning of a new year is an exciting time because we are all reminded to check in with where we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to go.
Most of the time, we get a little too excited and end up setting a bunch of lofty goals with 12 month deadlines, and no real plan on how to reach them. At least we tried, right?
Reducing stress is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions, and one we tend to fail miserably at. You can try to reduce stress by changing or getting rid of the things causing you stress, but that tends to result in broad goals without actionable steps (get a new job, lose weight, exercise, etc). Instead of focusing on how to get rid of stress, let’s get better at managing it.
All you have to do is breathe.
I know. You’re probably thinking “I’m always breathing and I’m still stressed,” but hear me out. A recent study done by scientists at Northwestern University discovered that when you inhale through your nose, you are “stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus.”1
This is where emotions, memory, and smells are processed. The amygdala, in particular, is linked to fear-based emotions, and stress, fear, and anxiety are wrapped up together in one big ball of unhappy. The lead author goes on to say, “When you inhale, you are, in a sense, synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network,”1 which may give insight into the basic mechanics of meditation and focused breathing.
To help de-stress a little, below you will find the steps for a simple counting meditation technique that can be done just about anywhere. I learned it several years ago, and have been using it ever since.
Step 1: Find a quiet place to sit comfortably.
This can be in your car during your lunch, in the stairwell at work, at your desk, etc.
Step 2: Set a timer
You can use your phone or any of the many meditation timer apps available. Set the timer for 5-10 minutes. If you have less time, that’s ok. Setting a timer allows you to completely focus on the exercise and not worry about how much time has passed.
Step 3: Close your eyes and breathe.
Start by taking a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Then, allow your breathing to return to a normal, relaxed pace and begin internally counting your breath. Inhale, count 1, exhale, count 2, inhale 3, exhale 4 all the way until 10. Once you reach 10, start over again at 1. If you get distracted by thoughts, that’s totally ok, just start counting again. Continue counting until the timer goes off.
That’s it! This technique is great to use whenever you are stressed or to even build a regular meditation practice if you would like. Add it to your morning routine right after waking to set yourself up for a smooth day. Have a happy 2017!