We all have times when we find ourselves overwhelmed with anxiety and stress. Our minds run on an endless loop, driving us further away from calm and rational thought. When we are anxious, we can be our own worst enemy as we overthink our problems and cause them to spin out of control.
Countless studies have shown that meditation can be a valuable tool when we are anxious or stress. Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Over the past decade, meditation, yoga and mindfulness are getting more and more attention, as the evidence for the benefits of meditating grows.
But, some people struggle with meditation. They may find it hard to just sit still and do nothing. They can come to resent meditation and find themselves going into it with the wrong attitude. Forcing yourself to meditate negates any benefits it might have. Here are six helpful suggestions for meditation alternatives.
1. Challenge Yourself
Give yourself a little bit of a challenge. Concentrating on a task can turn off the endless stream of self-talk in our minds and bring us into the moment. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, but try to give yourself a boost.
If you’re a writer, try word sprints, where you set a timer and see how many words you can write. If you enjoy crossword puzzles, try one that is more difficult than you usually work on. You might enjoy an adult coloring book with intricate pictures.
In fact, you don’t have to do something out of ordinary. You can simply pick something you usually do, like drawing or playing an instrument. Just be sure to increase the difficulty bit by bit. Any of these activities can calm your mind and give your mood a lift.
2. Help Someone Else
When we are heavily involved in our own problems, sometimes it helps to take a step back and focus on someone else’s needs. This can be as simple as baking brownies for a neighbor or calling a friend who has been having a tough time.
For chronic stress and anxiety, try making a commitment to some simple volunteer tasks. It will get you out of the house at a minimum. Just don’t take on so much that it becomes a source of stress in itself.
3. Engage Your Creative Side
One of the easiest ways to boost our mood and calm anxious thoughts is to become involved in creative activities. Making music, writing, painting, or doing crafts are all excellent ways to relax.
According to this article from CNN, working on craft projects increases our bodies’ production of dopamine, the reward hormone. Engaging in any activity to the point where we forget everything else is called “flow.” When we experience “flow,” our minds move naturally through the task at hand and other thoughts are drowned out.
Craft projects are an accessible way to produce “flow” in our minds. The simple, repetitive action of knitting or sewing can focus the mind. Baking, creating jewelry, painting or drawing from observation are just a few of the activities you can try. You can try learning a craft on your own, or you can take craft courses designed for adults with no experience. Taking a class has the double benefit of learning the activity and giving yourself more social opportunities.
4. Get Your Body Moving
Exercise is one of the best alternatives to meditation. When you exercise, your body produces more endorphins, the neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy. This is known as the “runner’s high,” but any vigorous exercise can bring you the same kind of mood boost.
Exercise takes your mind off your immediate problems, especially if you listen to music. The long-term benefits of exercise will also make you feel stronger and give you more energy. Getting in shape and focusing on taking care of our bodies is also a good way to practice self-care.
5. Make Concrete Steps
If the source of your anxiety is something you can control, take small steps to alleviate your stress by working on the problem. Are you worried about an endless stream of work or about an unpleasant phone call you need to make? The best way to deal with these problems is by breaking them down into small pieces so they are easier to cope with.
For example, give yourself half an hour to work on the task that you’ve been dreading. Set a timer. You can do anything for half an hour. When the time is up, take a break. Have a cup of tea or your favorite hot beverage and take a few minutes to recharge. After you’ve worked on a few small steps, you might feel less worried and more purposeful.
6. Be With Your Friends
Many people have the instinct to hunker down when we are feeling stressed and upset. We want to hide away from the world that is causing us so much worry and anxiety. Consider that hiding alone with your problems only increases your stress. When you’re alone, your problems take more hold on your mind.
Rather than succumbing to the lure of Netflix and the couch, call a friend and make plans to have coffee or see a movie. You’ll find that taking your mind off your problems for a little while makes you feel better. Venting to a friend can also be a big help. Just don’t use your friend as a dumping ground for all of your problems.
You don’t have to meditate to make positive steps toward controlling stress and anxiety. Any of these simple alternatives can help you feel more grounded. Perhaps after trying some of these suggestions, you’ll feel like you can go back to meditation again. Any or all of these methods of reducing stress can work hand-in-hand with meditation.