Inner peace is possible, and you don’t need to meditate on a mountaintop or break the bank for a wellness retreat in order to find it. Carving out time to relax is wonderful, but it’s amid the frantic pace of everyday life when we need serenity the most: That moment when you’re stuck in the pharmacy line and the contents of your bag spill on the floor just as your phone starts ringing? That’s when you need to find inner peace within yourself, right as you’re suppressing the urge to unleash a stream of four-letter words.
“I think often people look for circumstances to help achieve a sense of inner peace,” says Ashley Davis Bush, psychotherapist and author of The Little Book of Inner Peace: Simple Practices for Less Angst, More Calm. “In fact, this calm, compassionate, deep awareness is actually within each person. It’s as if we have a deep reservoir of peacefulness and serenity inside us. What we have to learn to do is tap into it.”
With the help of what Bush calls “micro-practices,” you can get better at accessing your inner calm—even if it’s been in hiding for awhile.Have you ever been scuba diving, or even just watched a good deep-sea documentary? The ocean’s tide brings the drama when it crashes against the shore, but venture a few meters down and you’ll find a tranquil world of creatures moving at their own pace, wholly unfazed by the action up above.
“The problem is most of us live sort of on the surface of the waves, where there’s a lot of turbulence and wildness,” says Davis. “But again, this deep, calm, awareness is actually within each person.”Davis maintains that you don’t need to shut out all the noise to find inner peace. “There’s this assumption that if you’re in a quiet place, it will be more conducive to accessing this spot within. But, in fact, there are people who have panic attacks while they’re on a massage table. You could be on a New York city subway, surrounded by people and noise, and close your eyes to go into this space where your calmness resides.”Breathe in, breathe out.
Your breath is always with you, and both yoga and meditation practices harness the power of breath control to help shift your state of mind. Davis likes to recommend practicing the 4-7-8 breath, which is based on a time-tested yoga technique, because you can do it anywhere at any time.
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose as you count to four. Hold onto that breath as you count to seven, and then exhale through your mouth for the count of eight.
“The long exhale helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is basically initiating a relaxation response in your body,” Davis says. “Make sure to breathe really low, to fill your belly with air.”
Feel the truth that you’re safe and loved.
“Remind yourself that you’re breathing. And hopefully, you’re physically protected,” says Julie Potiker, mindful self-compassion teacher and author of Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos.
“Think about the people you care about, and the people who care about you,” Potiker suggests, saying that focusing on that can lower your panic response. “Let the truth of that warm your heart.”
Visualize your happy place.
This is another micro-practice that becomes easier the more you do it, and the stronger your visualization, the more effective it is. It’s okay if it takes you a while to conjure up what that go-to happy place is.
“You might want to picture the ocean, or your bedroom under your covers, a lake view, playing with your pet, being with someone you love, or maybe a favorite vacation,” Davis suggests. “Then, try to really get all the details in your mind’s eye—the smells, the sounds, the textures, the touch.” Accessing these vivid memories will cue your body to start feeling like you’re actually there, which will relax you, she says.
Read the story you’re telling yourself.
If you find yourself spiraling over a perceived disappointment, frustration, or panic-inducing thought, try stepping back to assess whether what your brain is telling you is true. Examining the source of your turmoil can make it feel smaller in size.“I tell my students that what you resist persists and they need to feel it to heal it,” Potiker says. She often recommends the RAIN technique, an acronym first coined by meditation teacher Michele McDonald.
Recognize what’s happening. “Label the emotion, because simply naming it calms down your over-arousal,” says Potiker.
Allow your situation to be there. “You’re not resisting it, or trying to numb it and run away from it,” she says. “You’re allowing it to be there long enough to work with it.”
Investigate. Potiker says to ask yourself, What most wants my attention? What am I believing? Where am I experiencing these feelings in my body—can I put my hands on where I’m feeling it, and soften the area? All of this inquiry is done with love, not judgment.
Nourish. This is alternately defined as natural loving awareness. You’ve observed yourself, and it’s time to treat yourself with loving kindness. “Ask yourself, What do I need to hear right now?” Potiker says. “Just talking to yourself like you would a dear friend is extremely helpful and healing. It staves off the feeling of isolation.”
Or ACT your way to deeper self-compassion.
There’s no one road to self-compassion, so here’s another way to think of it. Davis suggests trying a three-step method she calls ACT, based on the work of Kristen Neff, a prominent researcher in the field of self-compassion.
“’A’ is for acknowledge, as in you acknowledge your suffering or your struggle: This really sucks,” Davis says. “’C’ is for connect, connecting to all common humanity to remember that you’re not alone in this. Other people get frustrated, feel angry or impatient. The ‘T’ is to talk kindly to yourself.”