I had my yearly physical exam a few weeks ago and, while I was waiting for the doctor to show up, I noticed a display on the backside of the door. It listed all of the signs of stress, and, because I’m in occasional denial about my stress level, I decided to go through each one and see if it applied to me. I predicted I would only tick off a few. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of all of the signs of stress, I was experiencing about 90% them on a regular basis. The doctor showed up before that could really sink in, but, on the drive home, I began to think about that display and wonder why I was so stressed out and what can I do about it.
I’ve know all along that stress isn’t good for me, but I thought I had life under control and my stress was minimal. It didn’t it occur to me how stressed I was because it was a gradual increase; I was the frog placed in lukewarm water and slowly brought to a boil. What happened was my stress level would go up a notch, which would become my new “normal”, and then the cycle would repeat and my “normal” would be raised even higher. Upon realizing and reflecting on just how stressed out I had become, a few revelations came my way:
- Focusing on the past takes me away from the present. Being stuck in the past is part of my nature. I replay what I should have done or said and this tendency of mine has contributed to my depression. Being in the moment relieves me of the burden of “what if” because the past cannot be changed no matter how much I dwell on it. And there is no reason to regret the past because the past is what makes me who I am today.1
- Focusing on the future takes me away from the present. Along the same lines of #1, my anxiety gets ramped up when I live in the future. My mind races with all of the possibilities that come with a decision; it’s like going through a choose-your-own-adventure book but ten times worse. Ultimately, I cannot control the future no matter how much I worry about it.
- Not accepting the present takes me away from the present. When I strive to be different in some way or to change something in my life, I am neither living in the moment nor accepting who I am. My desire for change upped my depression and anxiety and caused emotional and mental turmoil. It was only when I started therapy and looked at why I had a desire for change that I could address it and be a little more at peace.
- Productivity is overrated. I am in no way encouraging idleness, but our go-go-go lifestyle really does more harm than good. I used to feel such a sense of accomplishment when I was very productive during the day and could check off all of the items on my to-do list. There was even an extra boost of pride when something unexpected was thrown my way and I could handle it without issue. But what happened along the way was that I forgot to enjoy life, and, in reality, relaxing, resting, and recovery is productive too.
- Searching for a “life purpose” sets the stakes too high. I have always admired those people who live big lives with a purpose. They run animal sanctuaries or they advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, but, no matter what they decide to pursue, there is meaning there. I sought a sense of purpose, but, like with the need for productivity and not accepting the present, I was removed from the “now”. When I stopped thinking in such grandiose terms, I was able to find the tiny pleasures in life. It’s okay to get out of bed only because I want to finish that book. Why? Because there is purpose in doing something that brings me pleasure.
So, how else do I live in the present? Although I was highly skeptical of meditation when I first started it, I have come to see its benefits. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal, so even taking a few minutes to notice the sensation of rubbing my fingers on my thighs or actually listening to the sounds around me helps me be in the moment. And after practicing this for a while, I was able to actually slow myself down in general and appreciate that piece of cake or the sun shining on my face.
I also channel my tattoo artist, Advance.2 He’s always so chill and relaxed, like nothing can throw him, so when I find myself obsessing about the past or stressing about the future, I ask myself “What would Advance do?”3 When I do this on a regular basis, I find myself enjoying life a little bit more.
Now I that I actively work on living in the present, I am better able to let things go and be the cliché “stop and smell the roses”…and because that’s what Advance would do.
What steps do you take to try to live in the present? Please share in the comment section below.
1And I am awesome!
2Other tattoo artists have been recommended to me, but he was my first and I’ve decided that he’s the only man who can touch me that way.
3I also will sometimes ask myself “What would Bruce Lee do?” when I’m at the gym. Both of these are references to “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. This movie is far from mature, but it’s the only movie I’ve seen that made my cheeks hurt from laughing!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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