The key to reducing anxiety and stress
Living in the past leads to guilt and regret. Living in the future makes us anxious and stressed.
Why not choose to live in the present?
After all, this is the only moment that we truly have. The single, most important contributing factor to decreasing anxiety and stress is being in the moment. Living mindfully will help you truly know yourself, honour your boundaries, and create a life that is in-tune with who you are.
Our society places a high value on achievement and busyness - some people are proud of the fact that they can function on 'five hours of sleep', and we are always running from one place to the next, thinking about what comes next. It's no wonder a lot of us feel unhappy and unsatisfied!
Until I started practising mindfulness, I didn’t really know myself. I feel like I was functioning on auto-pilot, always rushing from one thing to the next and never catching up. I was constantly angry, defensive, and stressed. One day, one of my favourite yoga instructors, Adriene, started a routine advising us to put our to-do list aside, let go of the day thus far and just focus and enjoy our time on the mat. This was difficult to do at the beginning, as thoughts keep creeping up - what am I going to make for dinner? What else do I need to put on my shopping list? How do I solve this or that problem at work? Each time my focus started drifting, I gently brought it back to the pose I was working on, or to my breathing. As a result, this was the best yoga hour I had ever experienced. I had challenged myself but not pushed it too far, and most importantly I felt relaxed and at peace for the rest of the afternoon. This is when I realised I had been living in the future or in the past, and from that moment on I vowed to live in the present.
Eight strategies to help you live more mindfully
1) Give your phone a rest - I didn’t realise how addicted I was to my cellphone until I started practising mindfulness. Yesterday, I went for a romantic dinner with my husband. When he got up to go to the washroom, my very first reaction was to reach inside my purse and grab my cellphone. I panicked at the thought of having to spend five minutes without digital entertainment. Instead, I resisted the urge, and just sat there drinking my prosecco and watching all the other people having dinner. I noticed the romantic old couple on the table next to mine, how loving he acted towards her. I saw how composed the waiters were, even in the face of mixing up an order, but the funniest part is I noticed that the guy next to me had taken his shoes off and was barefoot, this would not have been shocking if it was McDonald's, but this was quite a nice restaurant. If I had just stared at my phone for the time my husband was gone, I would not have been able to savour my prosecco and discover everything that was going around me.
This is just one example of how giving your cellphone some rest can help you see and experience the world differently. Having a mobile phone-free dinner or conversation with your friends or partner will also help you build strong and long-lasting relationships.
2) Slow down - I live in London, one of the most congested cities in the world. There are crowds everywhere, and people are always running. Most trains run every two minutes, and sometimes one minute during rush hour. Yet some people literally throw themselves at the doors, even when they are closing - I have seen bags and clothing get caught, groups being split apart because some made it and others did not, and people being injured because the doors closed and hit them. Not to mention the fact that this causes delays, which is what people are trying to avoid in the first place. If you are late to a meeting or an engagement, I understand that you may need to run, but make it a habit to slow down, walk at a normal pace, and enjoy the view, savour the bite of food or drink, and enjoy being in the moment.
3) Meditate - when some of us think of mediation the first thing that comes to mind is Buddhist monks sitting down in lotus pose for hours on end. However, mediating simply means to put sensory input aside and focus on our inner-selves - it doesn’t matter for how long. Set aside a few minutes each day to just focus on your breath. Close your eyes, breath in and out, and focus on your breath. If other thoughts or feelings come up, gently let them go and focus on the rhythm of your breathing. You can do this whenever you feel overwhelmed or you think you need a break. You can also choose to do longer meditations. YouTube has some great videos that you can watch for free, and there are also a lot of apps that you can install on your phone.
4) Set an intention - as part of my morning spiritual routine, I set intentions for the kind of day I would like to create. Simply writing down 'I will be mindful and aware and enjoy the moment' has helped me become more aware and happier on a daily basis.
5) Set reminders - I set up reminders on my phone to stay aware throughout the day. If I am having a hectic day or I’m drifting away from my intention, the reminders help me get back to mindfulness.
6) Do one thing a time - I used to be proud of the fact that I could multitask like it was nobody’s business. I would work, put some laundry on the machine, and fill up the dishwasher simultaneously. I was in a constant state of stress and always rushing. This led to errors that took even longer to rectify than if I had not made them in the first place, and, most importantly, it made me miss out on enjoying the simple things in life. As I started doing one thing at a time, I realised that the quality of my writing and work improved exponentially and that I enjoy the mundane things - like just talking a walk - much more than I did before.
7) Listen to your emotions - learning to listen to your emotions is a great guide to create a happy life. I have found that negative emotions are especially good guides if you are aware of them and listen to what they are trying to tell you. If you feel angry at someone for suggesting an outing, maybe it is because you are tired and you need time to rest. If you feel defensive, maybe the other person has actually crossed the line and you need to let them know. The more you are aware of your emotions, the easier it will become to feel happy and fulfilled.
8) Live in the moment - this is the cornerstone of awareness. Remember that the only moment that we have is now - the past is gone and there is nothing we can do about it. The future is not yet here, so why worry about it? Live in the now, take a deep breath of fresh air, look at the sky and the people around you, and remember to give thanks for these great gifts that we sometimes take for granted.
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