We’ve all heard that one of the greatest ways to combat everyday feelings of stress, poor concentration and anxiety is to meditate. Research has proven that this magic state literally changes our brain, as outlined in this Washington Post article. While it’s true that meditation is a powerful antidote to many of the everyday maladies of stress, it can be a real bear to figure out how to meditate in the traditional sense. As many of us experience, sitting still and trying to ‘empty your brain’ can feel downright frustrating and often people give up on the process completely.
Fortunately, science has also found ways for us to ‘hack’ our brains into a meditative state without all that sitting around. Cognitive behavioral therapists assert that to address depression, panic, and anxiety based distress, ‘behavioral activation’, which means focusing on behaviors in the present, is much more useful than absorbing yourself in feelings of anxiety, depression and other negative emotions. Active meditation, whether that means keeping your body or just your hands busy, can be a wonderful alternative for those who struggle with staying still and will provide enough distraction to quell a worried mind. Some of these ways include exercising, music, and crafting to produce the same kind of benefits to ward off unhelpful feelings and thoughts. The ultimate purpose of this ‘flow’ state is to bring your body and mind into the here and now, and there is more than one way to achieve this:
As it keeps your hands busy and your mind on the task, knitting gives you a break from everyday thoughts of stress and overwhelm. Focusing on the knitting process does not leave your mind much room to worry about what is going on in your life at the moment or whatever else might be bothering you. Not only that, the creative fulfillment is a significant benefit as well. You will likely finish each knitting session feeling accomplished and relaxed. Check out this article from Jane Brody of the New York Times in support of this evidence-based approach.
2) Taking a walk
While walking, you can achieve the same quiet observation of your surroundings as you can while sitting still, except now you’re able to stay active and get movement in at the same time. Try soaking up some nature as you stroll by answering these questions as you go: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Focusing on the sensory aspects of the experience will bring you to the present and help anxiety and distraction melt away.
Last summer six of Amazon’s top 20 texts were coloring books for adults. While this is another sit-down activity, it keeps your fingers and mind busy by deciding which colors you want to use while focused on staying within the lines. Be as creative as you would like with your coloring utensils and choose a workbook that suits your personality. Here are some of those best-selling Amazon coloring books that folks are raving about.
4) Rock climbing
My personal favorite! At 41, I tagged along on a Boy Scout trip to my local climbing gym.
While being on the wall was (initially) scary, I also discovered that my busy mind was right there on the wall with me, focusing solely on the physical and mental task at hand. Since then it’s been one of my go to workouts, and I’ve made some great friends and muscles in the process as well!
Rock climbing, whether at a facility or in the outdoors, is a great way to meditate while keeping active. You must have a significant focus on where to place your hands and feet on each of the holds to maintain a steady ascension to the top. People from all walks of life can benefit from the low impact benefits of climbing, as you can see ages 2 – 80 scaling the slopes outdoors and in.
5) Listening to music
Relaxing music often triggers the release of dopamine in your brain, creating the effect of calming you from within. This could be either slow and soft tones, classical music, or something else entirely that makes you most relaxed and calm. Want to know the top 10 most relaxing songs deemed by neuroscientists to create a 65% decrease in stress and anxiety? You can find the playlist here.
6) Martial arts
The slow, purposeful movement of martial arts is beneficial as meditation as well. You are focused on each position change while keeping it controlled and purposeful. That focus required to do all of this is an amazing method of keeping your mind and body present in the here and now.
The act of baiting the hook, casting it into the water, and waiting for a bite is another way to hack your brain into a ‘be present’ state. It also requires a certain level of patience while waiting, as well as the concentration.
Harvard Medical School published this article discussing the empirically-based benefits of fly fishing, citing that an astounding 50% of study participants were able to reduce their blood pressure medication after 8 weeks!
‘Creating’, whether it be cooking, putting together a scrapbook or photography, can help bring an overworked mind back to center. In one of my favorite ‘go-to’ articles, ‘This is your brain on crafting’, there’s a myriad of resources and ideas regarding things to do to shift from anxious to relaxed. As reflected in the article, active meditation has been effective not only for depression and anxiety but also post-traumatic stress (PTSD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned yogi, you concentrate on where your body is going and how it is positioned. This intense focus distracts you from everyday life, provides stress relief, and gives your body the release it needs. As something you can do alone or with a group, taking 90 seconds or 90 minutes, this is an easy activity to fit into a ‘too-busy’ schedule. Of course, the physical benefits outside of the practice are also welcome. Increased flexibility and reduced inflammation can make a big difference in levels of chronic pain, which can often contribute to a distracted mind and of course, anxiety and depression.
One of my favorite studios in Downtown San Diego is Yoga One; the staff and teachers are welcoming, newbies will most certainly find comfort in the non-judgmental environment of varied levels of skill. Yoga One also has free and intro classes throughout San Diego so you can give it a try without the stress of a full commitment.
Writing and journaling are activities that you can take part in at any time of the day, but practicing it at the end of your day is especially helpful. As you write down the positives and the negatives, focus on the positives while reflecting on learnings within the negatives.
Of course, doodling and artwork are encouraged.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear from anyone who experiments with some of these ideas. Do you have other active meditation ‘hacks’ for others who want to manage their stress and anxiety? Please share!