By Sharon Salzberg
At best, stress is a constant hum; at its worst, it’s an acute and insidious pang. There are countless reasons for stress, spanning from inbox overload to more painful experiences like grief.
While we can’t control our experiences, we can control how we respond to them. With that in mind, here’s a quick and effective five-step plan to help stop stress from spiraling out of control.
1. Recognize and Accept the Feeling
Trying to deny any feeling creates resistance, and that only exacerbates pain. If stress arises, the first step is to simply notice it.
2. Tune Into Your Body
Where in your body do you feel stress? Is it tightness in the chest? An accelerated heartbeat? Doing a quick body scan is a great mindfulness practice and helps you be present.
3. Breathe With Intention
One of the simplest ways to find balance in moments of stress is to take a few seconds to focus on your breath. Rather than allowing our energy to fly around, we cultivate concentration, making us feel calmer and more empowered.
4. Get Curious and Explore
Stress is often a mix of feelings, including anger, sadness, self-blame, and doubt. Take a minute to close your eyes and settle your attention inward. If a feeling or thought comes up, try naming it. Show yourself that you’re interested in your experiences rather than fighting them.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
Often when we’re stressed, we look for every reason to blame ourselves. Even if it feels counterintuitive, times of stress are actually great opportunities to extend a little extra kindness to yourself — as though you were your own friend.
All of these steps are exercises in mindfulness, and together they can turn stress into an opportunity for learning new ways to relate to ourselves, our feelings, and our experiences.
Sharon Salzberg is a meditation teacher, New York Times bestselling author, and expert at Happify. She is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. Sharon has been a student of meditation since 1971, guiding retreats worldwide since 1974. She is a weekly columnist for On Being, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and author of many books, including Real Happiness and Lovingkindness. Visit Sharon’s website at SharonSalzberg.com, and for more of her meditation tips, check out Happify.com’s 28-day meditation track.