Meditation seems to be the prescription for all ills these days. The recommendation comes from a good place — meditation does work to reduce anxiety and stress (via the stress hormone cortisol), encourage physical relaxation, calm the fight-or-flight response, increase mindfulness, improve brain function, and so much more.
But meditation isn’t for everyone. If you are one of those people who can’t seem to clear your mind for even 5 minutes a day, it can be infuriating to constantly get the breezy suggestion of “just meditate” for every issue. If only it were so easy.
The good news is, there are several alternatives to meditation that achieve the same results but may be a much better fit for you.
Try Breathing Exercises
One of the simplest and most similar ways to achieve the same results as meditation is through breathing exercises. The nice thing about this method is that you can do it anywhere — even on the go — and you already know the basics given that you breathe up to 20 times a minute. The key to using this natural process to reduce your stress lies in how you do it.
There are many different breathing exercises you can try, but some basic ones to start with are:
Deep breathing: This is probably the simplest form of breath work. All it entails is slowly and evenly taking a deep breath in through your nose and then releasing it through your mouth. The two things to remember are that you should be taking deep, restorative breaths (not the shallow, choppy ones associated with anxiety), and that you need to keep an even rhythm by making sure your inhales and exhales are about the same length.
Box breathing: This technique is a slight step up in difficulty from deep breathing and one you may already know from yoga. The magic number here is four: gently and deeply breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, hold for four counts. Then repeat. Do it for a few minutes or until you feel a sense of calm wash over you.
4-7-8 Method: This breathing pattern specifically targets the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve, which helps stop fight-or-flight mode and increase relaxation. For that reason, it’s also recommended for anyone who has trouble going to sleep. The only thing that matters in this exercise is the pattern of counts: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, and breathe out for 8. Then repeat.
Experience the Healing Powers of an Epsom Salt Soak
In the time of Jane Austen, a spot of ill health might earn you a prescription to travel to the coast to “take the waters,” aka soak in the natural mineral baths. I like to think the modern equivalent is an epsom salt soak.
Epsom salts are a naturally occurring mineral substance made of magnesium and sulfur that, when added to warm water, soaks through your skin and signals your muscles to relax. The boost of magnesium can also help improve your sleep quality and reduce stress.
If you have the time to indulge in a full self-care session, pour yourself a glass of wine and jump in an epsom salt bath. But if your day is just too busy, you can get the same benefits from putting warm water in a big bowl, adding some epsom salts (which can be found at any grocery store that has a beauty department), and soaking your feet for 10-20 minutes while you keep checking things off your to-do list.
Puzzle Your Way to Wellness
Puzzling can be meditative — a way to trick your brain into unwinding and entering a calm state of mind without actually meditating. As long as you’re not turning this hobby into a competitive sport, sitting down for a few minutes a day to focus on a repetitive task like finding one correct piece after another has been shown to be a great way to cultivate mindfulness and to give your brain a break from the constant stress of daily life. As an added bonus, you will also get a brain boost via improved memory and problem solving abilities, and a mood boost thanks to the dopamine that’s released every time you successfully solve a particularly tricky part. Doing a puzzle is a fun and healthy win-win. Just ask puzzler extraordinaire Hugh Jackman…
Enjoy Some Sound Meditation
If your issue with meditation is the whole sitting still in silence part, you might be interested in trying sound meditation instead. The benefits are the same, but in this version you get to listen to something rather than be alone trying to keep your mind focused on the present. This practice has deep roots in traditional cultures, and it typically involves things like singing bowls or chimes. Playlists can be found on Spotify and many popular meditation apps.
But if you want an even easier DIY way to try out this concept, another idea is to put your favorite song on repeat (preferably one of the more soothing variety) and then zone out while getting lost in the familiar words and melody.
Find Peace Through Journaling
Putting your thoughts on paper may not sound like meditation given that one method tries to clear the mind of thoughts while the other dwells on them, but the results can be just as cathartic. Studies have shown that even 15 minutes of journaling a day can reduce anxiety and obsessive thoughts, improve your mood, and even calm physical symptoms. The act of writing down your feelings – whether good or bad – can help you get them out of your head and free you to move on to the next thing.
We have officially entered the Wellness Era, which can sometimes feel like a rat race where everyone is trying to one-up each other’s zen. But don’t let that get you down. Even if traditional methods like meditation don’t work for you, there are plenty of ways to reduce your stress, calm your mind, and achieve that coveted wellness.