“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Victor Frankl
There’s a big lie we tell ourselves during stressful times.
It keeps us feeling lost, afraid, and unloved, like we’re being picked up and carried away helplessly by a storm.
Our heads can fill with scary images, words, and stories about the cause and who is to blame for our unwanted pain.
Sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone. You’re normal. This is how humans biologically respond to stress.
So what’s the big lie?
The big lie is that we have no control over our stress response. Actually, we do. A lot of control.
I’ve struggled the hard way through my fair share of troubling times. I’ve experienced money and job issues, battled with health, and been pushed in challenging relationships.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is I grew up a highly sensitive person, who would internally react to almost anything that could be interpreted as negative.
Of the feelings above, I hopelessly sat at the “feel all of them” end of the scale.
That was until a particularly trying relationship caused me so much stress and anxiety that I became sick of my unconscious reactions, and vowed to do everything possible to stop it (or make it easier).
Through research and a lot of experimenting I created a practical way to calm myself down instantly anywhere, anytime, when a meditation cushion or reassuring book was out of reach.
The technique was so simple and powerful that it pulled me through a harrowing experience in that relationship, and has held me together in plenty of experiences since.
It’s easy to remember, has an instant effect on your mind body, and most importantly, is simple enough to be remembered and used when you’re going through the eye of your own stress storms.
How to Calm Yourself In Two Minutes
Take a moment right now to make yourself comfortable and try these four steps yourself:
1. Freeze yourself.
Remember the game you played as a child when you suddenly stopped mid-motion, like you were frozen in ice? Do that now. Halt your body parts, emotions, and thought processes. Think of yourself as a cartoon character that’s been hit with a stun gun. You can even make it a little dramatic if it helps.
2. Focus on your index finger.
(Skip to this if you find the first step difficult). For twenty to sixty seconds, concentrate solely on the back of your index finger. Let your mind and body be consumed by it.
Bring it closer to you. Study the rivets, creases, and those tiny little fingerprint lines. If your situation is noisy, let the sounds around you merge into a single background buzz, and let it fade out of your attention.
3. Take a conscious breath.
Let go of your focus and check back in with your body. Take a deep, conscious breath in, then let it go through your mouth, slowly and calmly, creating a wave of relaxation that starts in your chest and floats out through your being to the surface of your skin.
4. Look around consciously.
As you re-integrate with your surroundings, scan the scene in front of you. Remain as indiscriminate as possible with what you focus on the way you would when waking up in the morning.
Take conscious note of the thoughts that are trying to push back into your head and observe them with an attitude of curiosity.
How do you feel?
You might now feel a little more in touch with your senses, distanced from previous thoughts, and connected with the present moment.
Most importantly, you’ll recognize that the root of your discomfort is your thoughts. Everything else, like emotions, and physical discomfort, and pain, start there.
If you’re having difficulty slowing down the mind at the beginning, try this: If you meditate regularly, spend the last minute of your session focused on the same finger, in the same way. Doing this will associate (or anchor) the feelings of clarity, relaxation, and attachment with the action.
And if you don’t meditate, it’s a great time to start! It will help with your ability to cope with stressful situations generally, and dramatically improve the effects of this technique.
Why This Technique Works
Stress is a mental or physical tension, and both manifest from your relationship to the procession of thoughts in your head.
Mindfulness allows you to step out of the procession and watch it go past, without being carried down the fast-flowing river.
When we get pulled down a heavy stream, our emotions and bodies react as if the danger or pain contained in the thought is real, immediate, and must be dealt with now. That’s why we feel discomfort even when someone reminds us of a stressful situation we were trying to forget.
Reconnecting with the present reminds us that here is the only time there really is.
Focusing on your hands is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that helps to ground the soul and provide stability in the physical body.
Try It for Yourself
The most important reason this technique works is it gives you something back—control.
We may not be able to choose what happens to us in our lives, but as Viktor Frankl says, we can always choose our response.
Give it a go next time you feel yourself panicking (and be sure to let us know how you go in the comments below).