Feeling Overwhelmed? This Simple Ritual Will Bring Instant Calm

Updated 12/15/16
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

You're sitting at your desk when an uneasy feeling starts to unfurl. Your stomach clenches, you feel hot, and amid the holiday deadlines, events, and pressures, you just can't see a clear path forward.

Stress is an issue we grapple with year-round—a massive 30% of Americans say it has a constant presence in their daily life—but as we hurtle toward the holidays, it seems to reach a whole new level. If you've ever felt overwhelmed or anxious at work, there is a simple way to find calm without leaving your desk. Here, yoga and meditation experts share five simple rituals you can do anywhere, anytime to find calm and stability, even amid the chaos of an office.

When You're Overwhelmed

Sitting at your desk, close your eyes and fully relax into the surface that supports you, says Anne Douglas, who has devised a holiday meditation exercise for mindfulness app Simple Habit. Take a long, deep breath, and "with each exhalation, try adding a gentle sigh. Each sigh helps set your body to its natural state of ease," she tells us.

"Now consider some of the top stressors of your holidays. Notice how you feel just by thinking about this. It's usually our stressful thoughts about the holidays that generate stress," she recommends. "Imagine it doesn't exist, and go back to the feeling of relaxation that comes with a deep breath. Feel intention dissolving with each exhalation. Feel your body letting go."

Next, "to think of some strategies to help you overcome the issue, think about your top holiday stressors again, but consider it as if it's someone else’s issue rather than your own," she says. "This helps diffuse the stress response by allowing you to experience them as impersonal. What advice might you give to a friend to deal with this stressor?"

When You Feel Rushed

Take a moment to regroup and clear your mind before tackling the task at hand. Gloria Chadwick, the author of Zen Coffee: A Guide to Mindful Meditation, says an easy way to squeeze mindfulness into your busy day is by tweaking parts of your routine, like your morning cup of coffee. "By focusing on your coffee—making it a special time to meditate—it can actually make you calm and relaxed," she told The New York Times.

"Focus on the sensations coming from your coffee. Notice the warmth, the rising steam," she says. "How does the cup feel in your hand? When you take a sip, pay attention to the taste, the aroma. As you swallow, feel the warm liquid."

When You Feel Far From Home

"We are never too far from home, even when it feels like it," Simple Habit's lead teacher, Kelly Boys, tells us. "Try this practice for when you feel a bit lonely, which you can feel even if you're surrounded by family and friends."

Remain at your desk with your eyes shut, or "go into the bathroom, put your cell phone down, put your hand on your heart, and say to yourself, Come home. You're welcome here," she says. "Does that sound weird? Well, it's way better than your inner critic bashing you for doing it all wrong. It's an invitation for you to be just how you are and to find a sense of home within. This is the insight part of meditation—seeing clearly that you're truly okay just as you are."

When You Feel Anxious

Try counted breathing, says Larissa Hall Carlson, yoga teacher and Ayurveda expert at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. "Lengthening each exhalation is a proven way to calm the mind and reduce stress," she tells MyDomaine. "Give yourself a few breathing breaks throughout the workday to let off some steam and remain level-headed all holiday season."

To try it now, Hall offers these simple instructions: "Sit comfortably, rest your palms down on thighs, lengthen the spine, and close your eyes. Inhale to the count of three, then exhale to the count of four," she says. Continue at a comfortable, steady rhythm. "Once the counting breath feels really smooth, try gradually lengthening each exhalation—eventually inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to six."

Then, "after two-to-three minutes, release the technique. Let out a long, soothing sigh," she says. "Take a moment to notice the calming effects. Repeat as needed to maintain mental focus and calmness throughout the day."

When a Colleague Gets on Your Nerves

If you feel your patience waning and can't fight an overwhelming sense of frustration, Kelly Boys recommends this simple mantra: "Say to yourself, This person has wants and needs, just like me or This person wants to be loved, just like me. It will help remind you that we're all in this together, and we're all doing the best we know how. "

Breathing with intention can also help relieve the stress and frustration. "Breathe in pain, and breathe out goodness," she tells us. When you inhale, imagine you are breathing in any frustration. Then, on the exhale, image breathing out goodness—"a sense of being okay in this moment, a feeling of gratitude, a warmth in your hands, whatever it is."

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