The gown gaped, exposing my spine as I sat there on the papery end of the exam table waiting for the oncologist. I was spackled in goosebumps and my emotions were wild and wavering between anger over the inconvenience—the doctor was an hour late… would my babysitter stay?—and the fear that I was dying.
I thought of my 9-month-old, work deadlines, making dinner, and questions about my insurance coverage. I thought about cancer. I went on fretting, ruminating, fearing, cussing. And then, finally, meditating. Right there on the end of that table, in that cold, sterile, white room with the stainless steel backsplash, I remembered to meditate.
Life deals us plenty of high-pressure situations. But meditation and other simple habits can infuse the moment with the calm clarity we need to cope. Here are a few of the practices I use to help me feel better no matter what the moment brings.
If this happens: You are waiting and worrying to hear what could be some difficult news and you are obsessing over the ‘what-ifs’ and all that could go wrong in the days ahead.
Try this: Say what you see. Sit down, take a deep breath and tune into your environment with all your senses. Notice both the inner and outer landscapes. Breathe in and feel the texture of your clothing under your fingertips. Breathe and see the tree outside the window. Breathe and smell the scent of rain in the air. Listen and hear the hum of the computer. Taste the bitter remains of the coffee on your tongue. Notice too, the sensations in your body. When you become fully present in your environment, you can find the safety in the now and not be overwhelmed by anxiety over what might happen.
If this happens: You are headed to a client meeting across town when you become snarled in a traffic jam. Not only will you be late for your meeting, but now you’re behind schedule for the rest of the day. Your neck and shoulders become tense and you mumble a slew of cuss words.
Try this: Gratitude blurts. Stop the mental rumination about your delay and blurt out a goodness instead. Notice something that is working and give a loud and spontaneous thanks for that. Gratitude is not only a spritzer for fiery emotions, but it diffuses our stress response, lowers blood pressure, enhances our attention and immune function, and builds optimism, among other benefits, according to studies at the University of California, Davis.
If this happens: You made a dinner reservation at a new restaurant weeks ago, but your partner cancels at the last minute because they forgot they had a client meeting. The miscommunication makes you feel angry and hurt—after all, you had discussed the evening plans with your partner several times.
Try this: Get curious. Right there in the middle of the emotional muddle when it feels like you want to scream, take a deep breath and get curious. Take on the role of an interested, outside observer. Pause long enough to ask from a third person perspective: “What can they do to deal with this and improve their communication?” “What led to this situation?” Curiosity often leads to a non-judgmental inquiry and can yield compassion. Gaining some psychological distance from the emotional upset by assuming the role of an outside observer helps us make wiser, more rational choices, according to University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross.
If this happens: It’s Monday morning and your manager asks you to deliver a project update to a group of 15 bigwigs—in 15 minutes. Public speaking is not your thing—just the thought of it churns your stomach.
Try this: Whistle worries away. When we feel pressure rising it’s not uncommon for our bodies to tense and our brains to become muddled with nervous, negative thoughts. This makes it tough for us to access the information we know and need. Override this choke response by whistling or humming a simple song, according to Sian Beilock, University of Chicago researcher and author of “Choke”. It will help the information you need fall back into place.
This piece was originally published by Headspace.