Who here has an inner control freak? I’m confident I’m not the only one waving both hands in the air. I care.
And because I care, I occasionally operate under the illusion that I am omnipotent, letting my skill set spiral out of control until I take on so much that I find myself blinded by stress. My heart rate rockets up and my brain locks down, like I’m being chased by bears but can’t find my way up a tree. Full on freak out.
Overwhelmed, my inner control freak turns power-hungry and overbearing, attempting a hostile takeover as Chief Executive Worrier. I’m rational enough to know these freak out hi-jinks are runaway emotions; but the reality is they feel real.
I believe that if we can think ourselves into a freak out, we can work out our way out of it. Here’s how to establish a scalable meditation designed to restore calm and keep you keepin’ on:
- The vivid emotional picture of the stress that is clouding your vision. Being chased by bears? Not-so-nice surprise meeting? Big stack of overdue bills? Give yourself permission to create a detailed mental description.
- A giant imaginary bright red stability ball, the kind you see at the gym. Pick the biggest one.
- A blood-pumping piece of your favorite music. The tune that makes you smile and shake your groove thing.
- 64 seconds of quiet time.
Clap your hands together and rub vigorously until you feel uncomfortable heat from the friction. Seventeen seconds should do it. Cup your palms and envision your stress held therein, a hot mess of prickly situation. Consider the weight of the stress you’ve been carrying; wouldn’t it be nice to set down your burden, even for a few minutes?
Look around. Oh hey! There’s your giant imaginary bright red stability ball! That’s a great place to encase your stress while you do something fun. Put one hand on either side of your giant imaginary bright red stability ball, and allow the stress to transfer from your hands, through the plastic, to float suspended and unattended. You’ve got too much to do to spend all day staring at your stress.
Remember earlier when I asked you to gather a fave blood-pumping tune? What did you choose? For obvious reasons, I choose “Le Freak” by Chic. For real. Let’s hit play. Go on. Turn up the volume. Now get your groove on. Jog in place, bust out the burpees, do nonstop jumping jacks, or a wacky interpretive dance; just keep moving for the entire duration of the tune. While you do, your brain will be busy sending oxygenated blood to your heart and muscles, rather than worrying. It’s a better kind of stress; exercise.
As soon as the song ends, grab your giant imaginary bright red stability ball and stretch upward, as far as you can. You’ll notice, that even though it’s still full of the stress you left there for safekeeping, it’s remarkably light, lofty even. Holding the ball high over your head, you’ll realize that both the ball and the worry inside are inventions of your brain.
Smile in the ensuing calm and enlist tactical breathing, four rounds over the next 64 seconds:
- Step One: Breathe in through your nose. One Two Three Four. Keep that ball high!
- Step Two: Hold your breath. One Two Three Four. Envision the ball dimming in color from red to pink to white to grey; the stress inside becoming dim and diminished.
- Step Three: Breathe out through your mouth. One Two Three Four. Each time you breathe out, compress your giant imaginary bright red stability ball 25%, until it becomes a tiny sphere.
- Step Four: Hold your breath. One Two Three Four. Relax.
Four in. Four hold. Four out. Four hold. Four times. Good job.
After four rounds, that giant imaginary bright red stability ball is an itty bitty colorless puff of nothing in your palm. Clap your hands together and rub lightly a few times until you feel the grey cloud dissipate.
Wave your hands in the air like you don’t care. Because we do care.
We know that stress is a real part of being a vital and engaged human. We care enough to curb our control freak and not let stress get the best of us. When we keep calm and redball on, we allow our brain to unlock, our heart to calm, and clear our path.
Stress is real. Worry is optional.
You get it, you got it, go get ‘em.
POSTSCRIPT – Pressed for time? The redball method has been designed for scalability and flexibility. When I first immersed, I found my meditation took me a good seven minutes. In a perfect world, I redball proactively, when I have time and privacy. In the real world, I often have neither. Because I have established a regular practice of calming meditation, I can now bust out a 30 second redball in triage situations: four seconds to picture my stressor, four seconds to straighten my posture, sixteen seconds of tactical breathing, and a quick rub of my palms to signify I’m letting it go. Once you’ve personalized your version, let me know. I’m interested.
PROPS to John J. Ratey, MD, whose book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, I regularly read. I underlined this bit in pen:
“The way you choose to cope with stress can change not only how you feel, but also how it transforms the brain. If you react passively or if there is simply no way out, stress can become damaging. Like most psychiatric issues, chronic stress results from the brain getting locked into the same pattern, typically one marked by pessimism, fear, and retreat. Active coping moves you out of this territory.”
PROPS to Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, the former West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and Army Ranger who articulated the tactical breathing technique in a way I could understand for my everyday battles of being. His book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace, is next up on my reading list.