There is no shortage of things in our lives that cause us to worry. When one of those things disappears, we feel good. But soon another thing pops into our mind, and we start stressing about something else. We all have moments when the demands on our life leave us stressed. It not just about stress when we are about to speak in public, there are all sorts of occasions in life when our nerves get the better of us. When this happens, the anxieties we feel –rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, and light-headedness– are normal.
Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. We can use a technique called “Centering.” You can use Centering to improve focus and manage stress. It will help you keep a clear head when you face a stressful situation. But it’s good for everyday situations as well, such a gathering your thoughts before a difficult conversation or when you must deliver bad news.
There are many ways to “center” yourself, but for this newsletter I’ll focus on a simple, three step visualization technique.
Step 1: Focus on Your Breathing. This is a way to help the body relax and restore its basic functioning to steady your breath. Sit or lie somewhere comfortable. Place one hand on your stomach, and breathe in slowly through your nose. Breathe deep into your stomach, using the air you breathe to push your hand while keeping the rest of your body still. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds before exhaling slowly through your mouth.
Step 2: Find Your Center. Your center, your “physical center of gravity,” is about two inches below your navel. Become familiar with it, and remember where it is and what it feels like. It’s important to focus your mind on the “center” of your body. Whenever you feel stressed, return to this “center” and remind yourself that you have balance and control. Once at your center, breathe in deeply at least five times. As you concentrate on your center, you should feel your body stabilize. You can do this prior to a difficult discussion or speech and while sitting in a chair or standing, if you don’t have the opportunity to lie down and breathe.
Step 3: Redirect Your Energy. Channel your energy. Choose an image that works for you. Imagine energy flowing to the center of your body. This image can be a ball, or a hot air balloon, whatever works for you. Put all your negative thoughts into the balloon or ball. As you inhale, say to yourself, “I let…” As you exhale, say “…go.” Depending on your imagery, imagine tossing it away, such as throwing the ball, or watching the hot air balloon float away. Let go of whatever is stressing you, and imagine your center filling with calm.
At the next inhalation think about what you want to achieve and focus on it, thinking positively. Use affirmations like “I breathe in calmness and breathe out nervousness,” “I trust my inner wisdom and intuition,” or “I draw from my inner strength.” Or you can repeat a word to yourself, such as “success” or “confidence.”
For each self-defeating thought that pops up, such as, “I’ll never get it all done,” visualize a large, red stop sign in your mind and think, “Stop.” Try to drop the rest of the thought. This takes practice because those thoughts have a lot of “psychic inertia,” and that’s why we may need a “Stop Sign.” Use it liberally.
When you can center yourself in times of distress, you will find that you work more efficiently, relate to others more easily, and improve your physical health. You can employ the above techniques anywhere and anytime, in just a minute or two.
Life can get hectic, but these simple tools can bring you back to center so that you can master stress instead of it mastering you.