Tame Stress With These 5 Easy Meditation Techniques

buddhist monks meditating

Whether it’s worrying about money, how you’re going to make it to work on time and get the kids off the school in one piece, or when you can put down your phone for the day and just relax, Americans are stressed out. In fact, more than half of working adults—and 47 percent of all Americans—said they were concerned with the amount of stress in their lives, according to a survey conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association. Those experiencing high levels of stress also were more likely to report having other chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression or obesity.

The American Psychological Association survey was part of campaign aimed at spotlighting how many Americans respond to work- and family-related stress by doing things like comfort eating, making poor diet choices, smoking and being inactive—all of which are not only ineffective coping strategies, but also unhealthy behaviors. The good news is, if stress often leaves you anxious and/or tense, there are simple, inexpensive ways to channel some calm and inner peace.

One option worth considering are meditation techniques for stress. Because it’s easy, requires no health equipment and doesn’t cost much (if anything), anybody can practice meditation. Meditation can also be practiced anywhere, from a walk in the woods to riding the bus to a meeting in the boardroom.

Meditation: At a Glance

man meditating in forest

Practiced for thousands of years, meditation was traditionally designed to help deepen one’s understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. Today, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and lowering stress. When you meditate, you focus your attention and rid your mind of certain thoughts and worries causing stress. Meditation gives you a sense of calm, peace and balance that is beneficial both to your emotional well-being and your overall health.

By eliminating the information overload that builds up in your mind every day, meditation techniques for stress can help you:

  • Recognize a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Build skills to better manage stress
  • Boost self-awareness
  • Focus on the moment or the present
  • Reduce negative feelings

Some research has also suggested meditation may reduce stress and aid people with managing the symptoms of certain medical conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems

Meditation and the Relaxation Response

meditation techniques for stress

When you experience extreme stress, your body becomes overwhelmed by chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While this response can be beneficial in situations when you need to act fast, it can also wear you down and create health problems if consistently activated by life’s everyday stress.

It isn’t possible to avoid all stress. However, you can learn to combat stress by producing what’s known as the relaxation response. The relaxation response eliminates stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of balance. When the relaxation response is activated:

  • Your heart rate goes down
  • Your breathing slows and deepens
  • Your blood pressure decreases or stabilizes
  • Your muscles relax
  • Your body starts to heal

Learning how to produce the relaxation response isn’t difficult, but it does require some practice. You should set aside at least 10 to 20 minutes every day for your relaxation practice. Keep in mind that many relaxation techniques can become part of your daily routine (i.e., you can practice a relaxation technique at your desk at work over your lunch break or on the bus during your morning commute).

You won’t achieve the relaxation response by lying on the couch and watching TV or sleeping. The relaxation response is an active process that leaves the body relaxed, focused and at peace. There are many different relaxation techniques that can help you bring your nervous system back into balance, including various forms of meditation.

Effective Meditation Techniques for Stress

maze walking meditationWalking Meditation

Walking meditation uses the experience and action of walking as the main focus. There are several different types of walking meditation. Walking meditation can be a great choice for many beginners, as it’s often simpler and more powerful to become aware of one’s body while walking versus sitting still. Walking meditation can be easily squeezed into the gaps of our hectic lives as well. Walking outside in a park or an open space where you’ll be able to walk for at least 20 minutes without encountering traffic is ideal, especially for your first attempts. With walking meditation, the goal is to not change the way you walk, but to become much more aware of your body, your thoughts, and your feelings and emotions as you take steps. For example, focus in on the soles of your feet, being aware of your foot as the heel first makes contact, as your foot rolls forward onto the ball, and then lifts and travels through the air. Be aware of all the various sensations of your feet.

Deep Breathing Meditation

One simple yet powerful meditation technique for stress is breathing meditation (also called anapansati meditation). Deep breathing is perfect for newbies, as it can be practiced just about anywhere and offers a quick way to lower your stress levels. The key to deep breathing meditation is breathing deeply from your abdomen versus taking shallow breaths from your upper chest. This allows you to inhale more oxygen. Here is a step-by-step approach to deep breathing meditation:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should barely move.
  • Exhale through your mouth. When you exhale, push out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. Again, the hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale and the hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Continue breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough air to make your lower abdomen rise and fall. Count slowly as you exhale.

Smiling Buddha Meditation

Although it’s not complicated, this meditation technique for stress is ideal for those who have a little experience with meditation under their belt. It was taught to help Buddha find positivity and overcome emotional challenges. Despite being taught more than 2,500 years ago, the technique remains relevant and practical today. Smiling Buddha combines mudras (hand positions) and mantras (repeated words) to create deep relaxation and happiness.

Mindfulness

In Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is nurtured via the practice of sitting meditation. This meditation technique for stress is designed to teach you how to be unconditionally present—to be fully present with whatever is happening, no matter how you feel. Mindfulness, or paying close, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our lives as they come and go, doesn’t reject anything. Rather than struggling to avoid experiences we find painful or challenging, mindfulness allows you to practice being able to be with those experiences. There are three basic aspects integrated within the meditation technique known as mindfulness: body, breath and thoughts.

Visualization

Visualization meditation is considered one of the more advanced meditation techniques for stress, as it incorporates your imagination into the process. Simply put, visualization is imagining things to produce specific results. This technique can be practiced alone or in a group setting with a guide. For instance, if your goal is to relax, you might imagine enjoying a quiet day at the beach. Imagine the setting in detail, and use all of your five senses. (i.e., feel the warm breeze on your face, hear the seagulls calling in the sky, see the sunlight twinkling on the water). Bringing a certain scene to life in your mind makes it a more convincing experience. Here’s a snapshot of how you can learn to practice visualization:

  1. Imagine or remember an image or scene. Go into your mind and remember or build the image.
  2. Closely examine the image in your mind. Scour the image or analyze it in very fine detail. Don’t leave out anything.
  3. See and hold this image. Using the power of your mind, try as hard as you can to sustain this image with complete clarity.

Each step in visualization should be supported by the step before it. In other words, if it becomes difficult to hold the image in your mind (Step 3), go back to Step 2 (closely examining the image). With practice and patience, your ability to perform visualization meditation will become stronger and stronger, until you’re able to recall your image (or images) at any time.

Is Meditation for Everyone?

mand meditating on bench

Meditation doesn’t come free of challenges. It’s a skill that, like anything worthwhile, takes time and practice. Meditation isn’t about controlling or quieting the mind. It’s about being more at ease with your mind. Beginners should get into a good routine and avoid meditating before bed. It’s normal and okay for your mind to wander. Just try to bring your attention back to your breathing. If a certain technique isn’t working, don’t force it.

Whether it’s walking outside, sitting in a lotus position or listening to music, there are many ways to meditate and explore the mind. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to meditation techniques for stress. While mindful meditation, for example, is one way to step away from our jumbled and cluttered minds, it isn’t the only way. Flexibility is key. For instance, if you don’t have time to stop and sit down for 20 minutes, try mindfully eating an apple. Lose yourself in the color, taste and texture of the fruit.

If you’re hoping meditation will cure all of your problems, you will likely wind up feeling disappointed. When you start to meditate regularly, it’s possible that suppressed emotions could come to the surface and be too upsetting. Meditation should never be used as an alternative to seeking help from a medical professional or receiving behavioral therapy.