In our frenzied daily lives, we all need space to maneuver effectively through the chaos. When besieged by stress, we can use character strengths to create spacious moments, cultivate confidence, and shift into new possibilities. Try the 3-minute practice below as a way to get grounded in your strengths and create space.

The Inspiration

Lately, I’ve felt more stress than usual in my slice of the world. Two of my signature strengths being perspective and curiosity, I naturally gravitated to widening my view and searching the internet for what was happening elsewhere.

The American Psychological Association’s March 2022 Stress in AmericaTM survey was a top result that caught my eye. It reflected big picture items that Americans report feeling stressed about. Not surprisingly, many are stressed about inflation, global uncertainty, and the fear of retaliation from Russia. Also on the list was relationship strain as a result of the pandemic.

I thought about the other “everyday” kinds of stressors as well – personal conflicts, losses, joblessness, job changes, marriages, divorces, and others. The breadth of modern-day stressors is sobering.

Fortunately, there are many ways to manage and mitigate stress. If you’re feeling especially overwhelmed, know that the practice below isn’t meant to replace seeking professional help. However, you can practice it and turn it into a supportive habit that boosts your mental and physical well-being.

How Does Creating Space Help With Stress? 

It’s about pausing to open up internal space. The kind of space that allows you to see more possibilities, instead of narrowing your focus, in times of high-pressure. The kind that fosters living into your values, rather than questioning your thoughts and actions, when besieged by stress.

The practice below will help you pause in tough moments and become grounded in strengths. The pause is thought to be an essential lesson in emotional intelligence, as described in this recent Inc. article about Google’s decision to freeze hiring. They’re expected to save millions, make better decisions, and manage pressure more effectively. It all hinges on the pause.

On a personal level, I tend to complete this 3-minute pause at the beginning of my workday, or any time I feel my stress levels amping up. Afterwards, I feel grounded, calm, and ready to move forward with greater perspective and confidence.

Obviously, this practice won’t eliminate your stressors. However, it can shift the chemicals coursing through your body and lead you down more healthful and supportive paths.

What is the Character Strengths Breathing Space?

It’s a 3-minute mindfulness-based strengths practice that centers on 3 crucial character strengths:

  1. Curiosity, which helps you explore each present moment,
  2. Self-regulation, which helps you take control of your attention and emotions, and
  3. Perspective, which helps you widen your view to see more possibilities.

I hope you’re ready to give it a try! Take time to create space at the beginning of your day. Before you start your workday. During transitional periods of your day, like after finishing lunch and before heading to your next meeting. Or when you need to pause before a stressful event or conversation. Experiment and see what works best for you.

The Practice

This 3-part character strengths breathing space is available in Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec’s book Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing. The book contains a CD of 10 powerful mindfulness and strengths meditations. If you don’t have the book or don’t wish to purchase it, you can use the script below, used with permission, from the Session 2 handout. I did edit the text somewhat to fit the format of this blog post.

Ideally, you might record your own voice reading the script and listen to the recording. Or you can simply read silently and take time, maybe closing your eyes when reflecting on the prompts offered.

Ready to give it a try? You only need about 3 minutes and a place where you won’t be interrupted. Here we go.

Step 1 – Awareness (Curiosity)

Closing your eyes, or fixing your gaze comfortably on some point in the distance, begin to notice this present moment. Notice what you can sense right now – any sounds rising and falling within you or even in your surroundings, the contact your body makes with your seat, the coolness or warmth of your breath flowing in and out. Open yourself to it and observe the details. Allow your curiosity to explore the present moment fully. Practice being curious about your thoughts and feelings. Simply notice these things and then let each one go. If you find yourself getting caught up in one sensation or feeling, simply say, “What else is happening in my present moment? What else is there to be curious about?”

Step 2 – Concentrating (self-regulation)

Next, allow your attention to narrow to one thing – your breath. Try to let go of everything happening in the present moment with the exception of your breathing. Feel the fullness of your inhale, and the fullness of your exhale. Notice the sensation of breathing in your body. Concentrate solely on the breath. If your mind wanders away from your breath 17 times, gently bring your focus back to the breath 17 times. Each time you do this, you’re practicing self-regulation, or taking control of your attention.

Step 3 – Expanded Awareness (perspective)

As you continue to breathe, allow your attention to expand to your body in its entirety. Notice your whole self and the oneness of your body and mind. Allow yourself to feel a sense of completeness. This is about stepping back to see the wider view of your body and mind and your place in this present moment. See and breathe with this bigger picture.

When you’re ready, come back to your physical space, allowing the light into your eyes, opening them slowly, and taking a moment to savor the experience.

As you go about whatever comes next, notice how you feel, think, or act. If you’d like a bit more guidance, please feel free to contact me.

The Reflection

After completing a character strengths breathing space, I went about my day with a sense of ____________________.

Possibility? Openness? Grounding? Tranquility? Something else? Did this sense carry forward into your day, and if so, how? If not, might you try this practice again at a different time?

Wishing you spacious moments during times of high stress.

To your good health,