In today’s busy and chaotic world, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all of it. It is almost impossible to go a day without hearing about some tragedy in the world, someone who needs help, a political battle, or just simple conflict between people we care about. Pile this on top of the daily stressors of work, caring for a family, keeping a house, balancing a social life and it can feel nearly impossible to keep your head above water. The hardest part is, you can’t change that. There will always be scary things in the world and there will always be daily stress from the responsibilities of being an adult and functioning member of society. The good news is, you can change how you cope with it. Attitude and frame of mind play a huge role in how stress effects you and its impact on your life. While you can’t stop the things in life that may cause stress, you can minimize the negative feelings that follow.
These skills focus around staying in the present moment, and are often called mindfulness skills. Dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, or even worrying about the events outside of our own lives that we cannot control can only cause negative emotions. While all of those happen and are sometimes necessary, it is important to take advantage of times when we can stay in the moment. This does not mean that you ignore the rest of the world, but rather that you slow down and pay attention to the details of your daily life and invest yourself fully in the moments. It’s making your world temporarily a little smaller, to include on the things that are there with you presently. For example, taking your time during a meal to slow down, focus on enjoying what you are eating, spending the time being present with your family, engaging in conversation about them and how they doing “right now.” Don’t turn the television on, don’t worry about the crumbs spilled on the floor, don’t think about work the next day or what you have to get done this evening. Take a break from all of those things and focus only on the moment, of a family meal. Be engaged and be present.
There are many times in your day that this skill can be used to reduce stress. The first step is stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is opening a perfect window for all of those overwhelming outside stressors to get in. Focusing only on the task at hand allows you to put all of your attention on that one activity. It serves to ground you, remove overwhelming emotions, and increases your success and productivity. Secondly, take time to savor and enjoy life’s daily tasks. For example, when brushing your teeth, focus only on that. Focus on the feel of the toothbrush in your hand, the scent and flavor of the toothpaste, what it feels like when you start brushing your teeth, the temperature of the water as you rinse your mouth, etc. It is a short and simple task that often gets rushed through because of what feels like more pressing matters. Focusing only on that one task, keeps you in the moment, and removes outside stress. Even if it is only for two minutes, it’s a start and it is preparing you for the rest of the day. Once you get the hang of this, try it in the shower. Allow yourself these times to be in the moment and caring for yourself.
There are a multitude of ways to stay present or mindful, but some that can be utilized daily are:
Slow down – stop rushing through daily tasks with focusing on getting as much done as possible, rather engage fully in one task at a time and slow down to focus on the details. Engage yourself fully in each task rather than rushing and multi-tasking. For example, put the phone down while watching tv and invest in the show, or sit down and enjoy breakfast rather than eating on the go. Focusing on only one task and doing it at a natural pace rather than multi-tasking and rushing will actually improve productivity and probably assist in getting things done more quickly, while keeping you in the moment and reducing stress.
Focus on your senses – while completing tasks, focus on the tangible. What do you see, smell, taste, feel? Describe these things to yourself. Focus on the little details to help engage yourself in a task and remove outside distractions that lead to increased stress.
Acknowledge outside thoughts – when distracting thoughts come in, acknowledge them, don’t fight them. Distractions will always be present. When they interrupt your focus, recognize them and move forward rather than addressing them in the moment or becoming upset that they interrupted you.
Use daily tasks to practice – in the beginning, use daily tasks that have to be done to practice staying in the moment. You can’t skip certain tasks in your day such as brushing your teeth or showering. Use those times to practice your skills and give all of your attention to them. Use your senses. This is especially useful at the start of your day or before bed, when stress can impact us negatively the most.
Remove judgment – refrain from judging events, people, or yourself. Forming judgments, both positive and negative remove you from the present moment and add an emotional pull to an event that does not need one. Holding events and people to expectations sets yourself up for judgment and adds stress. Accept, agree to disagree, and move forward.