Room to Breathe: 5 Strategies for Creating Inner Calm
Being home, forced to practice social distancing, the walls can start to feel like they are closing in. After months of being home 24/7, you can begin to feel a bit squirrely. You may find yourself unable to stick with simple tasks or sitting in front of the TV, mindlessly flipping through channels. At the same time, you may find it difficult to focus on work or even to engage in hobbies you typically enjoy. And to top it all off, you may observe an annoying tendency towards being irritable and impatient with those around you. Yuck!
While you can’t change the current world conditions and it may be awhile before we “get back to normal,” there are things you can do to give yourself room to breathe. Here are five simple strategies to help you create a sense of inner calm and mental “space.”
1- Set aside time for quiet
I know mothers who deliberately rise at least 30 minutes before the rest of their household so they can enjoy their first cup of coffee alone. Often this time also serves to help them review and plan the day ahead. But even 5-10 minutes of quiet, looking out a window or savoring a cup of tea can refresh and restore you. In the evening before bed, set aside a few minutes of quiet time to ponder the day’s events or make the next day’s to-do list. Not only will taking time to process the day sooth your mind, it may also help you sleep better.
2- Clean off one surface
Whether its your bedroom dresser or the console of your car, create one place that is clutter free. You’ll be amazed how soothing and refreshing this can be. Decorators advise leaving empty space between furniture and wall art because of the pleasing effect of that unadorned space. The same idea works in other parts of our homes. Even if only for a day, clear off one surface on your desk or kitchen countertop and savor the mental effect of empty space.
I like to think of the breath as a “portable” yoga practice. Breathing requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere and at any time of day. Stress, anxiety, and fear frequently trigger us to hold or suspend our breath which heightens the stress response. When you notice this, take a deep breath. Let it out slowly with the sound of “shhh” and notice the effect. You can do this in the grocery store checkout line, sitting at a red light, or waiting at the doctor’s office. Repeat as needed.
Read this blog to learn more about other “portable” breath practices.
4 – Move
Movement creates space. Stretching is particularly effective for creating space in our muscles and joints. Think about how you feel after a yoga class where you’ve moved and stretched all your muscles. The result is a lightness and sense of freedom in both your body and mind. So try standing up and stretching your arms overhead, or circle your wrists and ankles to invite openness into your joints. If you’re feeling more ambitious, get in the car and drive to different local neighborhood and take a walk. I guarantee the change of environment as well as movement will leave you feeling refresh and re-energized.
5 – Meditate
Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t have to “empty” your mind in order to meditate. Instead, take five minutes to notice your thoughts. Pay attention to the types of thoughts that routinely occupy your mind such as worries, plans for the future, regrets, etc. Then, focus on something in your environment like the sound of birds outside your window. Tune into those sounds and really listen. If you notice that your mind has wandered back to worries or plans, gently steer it back to the sound of the wind and birds in the trees. With persistence and patience, your meditation practice will create an everyday sense of calm and spaciousness.
For more resources for starting a regular meditation practice, read my blog, “Ready, Set, Meditate!”
Deliberately making space both in our environment and in our day for quiet, movement, or meditation can give you room to breathe, even while staying safely at home.