The easiest stress reduction tip I know is to pull yourself back from rumination and worry by rooting yourself in the present moment.
Think about it: most of our stress is about what might happen in the future. How to pay the bills coming due in three weeks. What to wear to the party on Saturday. How your daughter will fare if the kids are mean to her in kindergarten, how to make the doctor’s appointment and still make it to the field in time for your son’s last soccer game. We worry about what might happen to our money, kids, health, relationships in the future, when all we have is now.
Here’s the thing, when you are in the NOW, living the moment that is this one, you don’t have time to worry. You are too busy making the most of this moment. That feels better, but it also sets up less to stew about. When you are making the most of the moment you have right now, you are creating ripples of good energy that will improve all the moments to come.
Think of it this way: If you are really focused on the project you are working on at work, if you are present to the process in that moment, then you’ll make fewer mistakes, you’ll enjoy the process more and feel more satisfied during the development. You will be less (or not at all) concerned about outcomes because you don’t have time to obsess about that in the now. Instead you are busy working to create a fantastic experience while creating a fantastic project. In the end, that usually makes for a good outcome anyhow. Worried about what might happen to the kids in later life? Well, focus on spending time with them NOW. Living well in the present is the best deterrent of future troubles.
When we multi-task and ruminate, we make more mistakes, we feel more anxious. When we are present, we don’t. That simple. But how do you get there? When you are stressing about the day, how can you pull yourself into the present and ease the stress.
Try these five things:
1. Close your eyes. Often, when we are living in our heads and disconnected from the present moment we are over-analyzing and over thinking every move. Then just physically stop moving your body and shut down one of your main senses — for most of us that’s sight. When your eyes are closed, take a deep breath and perceive your environment with your sense of touch and taste and hearing and smell. Don’t over think this, just let your senses take over. Our senses have the keen ability to pull us right back to the now. Use them when you are disconnected and moving too far ahead.
2. Savor. Savor is the act of seeing the good things in life, then identifying and absorbing the good feelings from that moment. We cannot savor things that haven’t happened yet. We cannot savor things that might happen. The only way to savor is to become present. So, stop, look around you and find one thing that is wonderful, or beautiful or inspiring — a delicate web growing between the leaves, a purr of a kitten, the warm fingers of your child as they absentmindedly reach out for your hand, the flavor of a garlic or sweet wine. Find the good stuff in this moment and relish it to reconnect to now.
3. Whistle, or sing a simple tune. When we are worried about what might happen in the future, we are stuck in rumination. to stop that cycle, bring your brain back to what is, NOW. Do this by singing a simple tune or whistling. Pay attention to the notes and the breath moving in and out through your lungs. Your body only exists in the present and when you take on a task that requires your attention to complete, it brings you right back to the present.
4. Daydream in reverse. Right. Here I’ve been telling you to not think too far ahead and now I’m going to show you how to use those projections to come back to the present. Imagine your future self. Think about what your life will look like a few years out. Imagine the dreams you’ve accomplished, the people in your life, the house you live in. Paint the picture in your mind – what you want it to look like, then rewind back toward the present day. Put your attention on today. Right now in this moment, knowing that whatever you do right now, will lead you to the future you imagined but the only way to get there is to stay present right now.
5. Pause to see what is. This is one of my favorites probably because it’s the easiest one for me to do. Throughout your day — when you wake up, or at lunchtime, before you start the car, before bed or at any other transition in your day — stop to see what is. Give mindful attention to the things in your environment and call them out: I hear a fly buzzing against the window, I see cat fluff in the corner, I feel the heat from the floor vent on my ankles. Do not judge them: I see the fly against the window that came in through the broken screen, this house is falling apart, (sigh) I’ve got so much to do. Do not feel the heat on your ankles and then condemn the weather for being cold and raising your heat bill. Just notice. What is there. This is your life right now. By becoming present to all that, life becomes easier and more colorful because you are no longer worried about what might be, you are living with what is.