Going to the grocery store. CVS. The dry cleaners. Running errands. It’s a part of life. Some find it relaxing. I, like most people, find it stressful, owing mostly to the irritations inherent in being out and about with humanity — lines, traffic, crowds, noise (Yikes, I sound like The Grinch)…Here are five things I do to keep calm and ensure that my inner Vesuvius doesn’t erupt.
1. Slow down, don’t rush
Slow down, meaning literally walk slower. This dawned on me one day as I got out of my car and walked through the parking lot toward the grocery store. I was speeding along and feeling really uptight and tense. And it hit me: Why am I walking so fast? If I slow down to a saunter it’ll take me maybe ten seconds longer to get to the entrance. So what? So I slowed down. And immediately I felt the tension melt away.
I can hear many of you right now saying, “But I’m always in a hurry! I’ll get behind schedule if I just stroll around.” Sorry, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. Sure, sometimes you may have to get in and out of a store or two in five minutes because you have to pick up your kids at school or whatever. But MOST of the time, if you added five minutes to the total time of your errand excursion because you chilled out on your walking pace, it would make absolutely zero difference. And you’ll feel so much better.
What we’re really talking about here is the concept of rushing. And most people rush for one and only one reason: because they’re in the habit of rushing! I think I can speak for all humans when I say that rushing produces stress and anxiety. So slow down.
2. Breathe while waiting
An older woman rummages through her purse for a few minutes gathering her coupons at the grocery store check out. You’re fourth in line and your head is about to explode. Ahh, waiting in lines. So fun. The old me absolutely detested it. But now? I view it as an opportunity to relax and go inside. All I do is close my eyes and take five deep breaths. I feel way calmer when I open my eyes. And then I look around the store and keep my attention on my breathing. This is so much healthier than checking your phone for the 297th time that day. Bottom line: When I do this I’m calmer and more peaceful than if there had been no line at all and I zipped right through.
3. Stop and smell the roses
This one is specifically for the grocery store. On your next trip, make a point to walk over to the flower section. Almost every grocery store has one. Stand there and look around at all the brilliant yellows and purples and whites. Just take it in. Then go to the roses and smell them. Do your best not to think about what you’re seeing and smelling. Try to experience the flowers’ beauty from a place of no thought. Just take one minute. You won’t regret it.
4. Use Red lights
You’re racing from one errand to the next to the next and you’re fried. Then on the way to your last stop you hit a red light, and it takes f…o…r…e…v…e…r to turn green. Finally, you lose it and yell “GODDAMNIT!!!” as you smack your innocent steering wheel. Be honest. You know you’ve done it. I know I have. Many times.
But again, look at red lights as opportunities to calm down and be present. I know, you’re thinking, “First this idiot wants me to enjoy waiting in line and now he wants me to rejoice in red lights? F that!” I get it. We humans like to move, to go forward and we absolutely HATE being forced to stop. But unless you have a death wish, you have no choice but to wait at that light. So use it. Look out your window at the blue sky or the trees swaying with the breeze. As you’re doing so, place your attention on your breathing.
And here’s one thing to definitely NOT do — don’t let your mind wander as 99 percent of all earthlings do when stopped at a red light. Because normally it’s wandering to places that aren’t good for you — like the snide comment your boyfriend made earlier in the day or how much you hate your job or, or, or. It’s an endless and mostly destructive list. Do your best to stay in the here and now.
5. The two breath rule
Sometimes things happen on your errands expedition that go beyond just being annoyed by waiting, etc. I’m talking about stuff that really pisses you off. Someone takes a parking spot you’ve obviously been waiting for. You go to Staples and they don’t have any staplers in stock (this literally happened to me!). You go to pick up your shirts, which were supposed to be ready yesterday, and they’re still not ready. When something like this happens and you’re about to blow your stack, force yourself to stop and take two deep breaths before responding to the parking spot thief, the Staples clerk or the dry cleaner guy. It’s the difference between reacting, which is usually not healthy or constructive, and responding, which is measured and won’t send your blood pressure through the roof.
Making these things happen for yourself requires only one thing — awareness. You need to train yourself to become aware when you’re about to blow your stack or when you’re walking really fast and feeling uptight, etc.
The best way to strengthen your “awareness muscle” is to meditate. All meditation is is placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then when you became aware that your mind has drifted into thought, you simply bring your attention back to your breath. Doing this repeatedly, over time, will strengthen your ability to notice when you’ve been yanked away from the present.
If you want to give meditation a try, and I HIGHLY recommend that you do, go to my website davidgerken.net and download my free ebook Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice. The sole focus of the book is to make learning how to meditate as easy as possible.