You're sitting at your desk feeling waves of stress roll over you. You have a big deadline looming and you're not sure you can make it. You've just had a difficult conversation with an employee or a client. Or you're facing a cash crunch. Whatever the reason, you feel like anxiety and upset are controlling you instead of the other way around.
You're aware that multiple scientific studies have proven the mental benefits of meditation and you've been meaning to learn more about it, but you haven't found the time. Besides, you need something that'll help you right now.
Help is on the way. In a post on the Psychology Today website, licensed counselor Meg Selig offers 12 meditation techniques you can perform absolutely anywhere in 30 seconds or less. People around you won't even know you're doing them, and every one of them will help you reduce your stress and feel better able to tackle the difficult tasks ahead of you.
You can find the full set of 12 mini-meditations here. These are some of my favorites:
1. Take a few deep breaths.
Research has shown that the simple act of controlling your breathing to take deep, slow breaths actually activates parts of your brain that you can't normally access. Just a few deep slow breaths--or even just one--will immediately take some of the edge off your stress. Just give it a try.
2. Name your feelings.
You don't have to name them out loud, just say them in your own head. "Frustrated," "angry," "demoralized," "afraid." Whatever the bad feeling is, you will rob it of some of its power when you name it, a technique called "affect labeling." Why does affect labeling work? Because strong emotional responses drives activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that governs fight-or-flight responses. This is why some experts refer to being overcome with strong negative emotions as an "amygdala hijack." But the amygdala has no words. When you use words, you're unleashing activity in the prefrontal cortex, the thinking, logical part of your brain. This explains why, when I'm feeling out-of-control upset, my first instinct is to grab my journal and write about what's troubling me which inevitably makes me calmer.
OK, don't smile if you're in the middle of a meeting about how your company just lost its biggest client and may have to shut down. But if you're in a situation where smiling is appropriate, then research shows that smiling has huge benefits, both to how you feel and how other people see you. And you get those benefits even if you aren't feeling it and are simply making yourself smile. You don't need a great big grin, just a little Buddha-like smile is good, Selig writes. This will work particularly well if you make eye contact with someone and smile at that person.
4. Watch your thoughts go by.
You are not your thoughts, even thought it may feel like you are. The Yoga Sutras draw a specific distinction between one's thoughts and emotions and the "witness" observing those thoughts and emotions as they arise. The more you can hold yourself--your true self--as separate from the flood of emotions, thoughts and ideas flooding through you, the more you can cultivate calm and equanimity even in the middle of a crisis. "Practice watching your thoughts pass by, as if you were watching a parade," Selig advises.
5. Notice five things.
This can be especially fulfilling if you can get out of your office into the wider world, or even a park, but you can also do it sitting at your desk. Open up your sense and notice five interesting things that you can see, hear, feel, or smell. For example, sitting on the base of my monitor stand is a small snail shell I found while working in my garden. It's a perfect spiral, translucent, and incredibly light, and it makes me happy every time I pick it up. What can you see, or touch, or hear, that makes you happy wherever you are right now?