Like so many people, I started meditating to reduce my stress. For a long time, I only used it as a go-to method for relaxing when life was particularly crazy.
And I used it exactly like a carpenter uses a saw, a hammer, or a screwdriver. It was a one-dimensional tool. Imagine this last one for a second ... that meditation is like a screwdriver.
For me, that looked something like this: When something in my life wasn't going well or the task-at-hand was really challenging--in other words, my stress was particularly high--I brought out my meditation screwdriver and tightened up that loose screw. It's 4:30 in the afternoon, and I've been working like a dog all day ... time for 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I have a presentation and I'm nervous ... time for a quick breathing mediation. You get the picture.
As a tool in my stress reduction toolbox, this worked very well. Meditation was there when I needed it. It helped me take the edge off of a stressful situation and kept the "screws fastened." The downside of using meditation this way is that it limited its usefulness and power.
I've started treating meditation more like a Swiss army knife, a multi-faceted tool, and seeing more benefits as a result. For starters, most mornings, I begin with a 15-minute meditation, and it sets the tone for the day. Sometimes, this is just focusing on my breathing. Other times, it might be noticing my thoughts, doing a body scan, or following a guided meditation. Even when this morning session feels clunky, or I'm preoccupied and can't let my thoughts go, I find that starting the day with meditation keeps my stress "ceiling" lower throughout the day.
I also do walking meditations during my 30-minute daily walks. I focus on the movement of my body, the air against my arms and legs, and the sounds and sights around me. This is another way to add additional stress reduction to my day and it conveniently piggybacks on my daily walking habit. It's just another element of the meditation Swiss army knife.
And I still use meditation when things are particularly stressful. It remains a great way to relax before a presentation or to clear my head before a meeting. But it's no longer the only way I use meditation. It's just another element of the mediation Swiss army knife.
Try expanding your meditation practice and see what value it brings. Adding even five minutes in the morning or linking it to part of a current routine (like walking) can be an efficient way to reduce your stress without adding more to your plate.