How to Relieve Stress through Being Present
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We all do it. We dwell on our past, and we worry about the future. Our actions never seem good enough; we relive embarrassment, heartbreak, and anger-fueled events, over and over again, trying to think of how we could have acted differently. And if mentally trying to change past events isn’t challenging enough, our minds also try to control future events. We let anticipation, fear, and doubt overshadow reality. With so much thinking about the past and future, when do you think about today? Many of us don’t.
Why We Over-Think
It’s perfectly logical—we think about the past and future as ways to improve our lives. It’s important to learn from past mistakes. Learning, adapting, and evolving are some of the brain’s basic functions. Without reflection, we do not experience personal growth. This knowledge then aids us when we need to make decisions; we can apply these lessons to ensure success in the future.
But somewhere along the line, our minds take over our lives. Instead of reflecting and planning, we stew, brood, mull, and ruminate in an unhealthy way. People worry about not accomplishing enough. They constantly compare their lives to others. They worry about not making enough money, not living a life full of passion, not choosing the right career, not being good enough for their children, parents, or spouses, and the list goes on and on. There is a lot of negativity in this list. It’s no wonder the mind can’t keep up.
Why Constant Worry is Crippling You
The brain will serve its purpose until it finds a solution or fixes a problem. If it is constantly concerned about changing the unchangeable, then what is happening during your present life? Incessant thoughts about the past or future make it impossible to live your life now. We can miss out on valuable conversations with loved ones. We miss the beauty of a moment, a sensation that may nurture our development. We lose intimate connections with our children and spouses. We make mistakes at work. Or worst of all, we make dangerous choices, because our brains are too tired to be wary.
Decision fatigue is a psychological term used to describe mental exhaustion from constant decision-making. We’re always trying to choose the right path, even if the choice is small (should I take the highway to work?). Decision fatigue is a part of your self-consciousness. The more you worry about the small stuff or about making mistakes, the more crippled you will be. The results could turn into burnout, anxiety, or depression.
Not only does over-thinking prevent you from making appropriate decisions in the present or enjoying your life now, but negativity begets negativity. The more critical your thought processes, the less productive you will be. These thoughts are clutter, and they are not constructive. Instead of feeding your need for personal growth and insight, you are allowing your mind to deposit garbage anywhere it chooses. You are polluting yourself.
How to Own Your Mind through Mindfulness
The only way to quiet the mind is to take your rightful place as its owner. Self-development should be the main objective of every person, but without conscious acts and responsibility, we will remain stagnant. When this happens, we not only hurt ourselves, but we cause damage to relationships—both personal and professional—and impede progress.
· The first thing you should do is acknowledge that you over-think. This is not unique to you or only a few people; every human does it. However, to take control of your mind, you need to identify the instances when you are allowing your thoughts to consume your presence.
· Next, create strategies to quiet your mind. Focus on something else: deep breathing, get up and stretch, write down your thoughts, pray or meditate, or create personal mantras. When I find myself thinking about my to-do list, instead of enjoying my children’s youth, I say to myself, live now. It’s strange but those two words immediately quiet my mind and squelch my anxieties.
· Choose less often. By adopting routines and rituals you can help prevent decision fatigue. If you are always concerned about which route to work is best, just take the same one every day. Use the same grocery list every week if making dinner choices cripples you. These actions may not bring much excitement to your life, but the less you have to choose, the more prepared your brain will be when it has to make serious and consequential decisions.
· Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of living, it is not an immediate tool to use when your mind is racing. By practicing mindfulness, you will create habits that allow you to enjoy your life in the present. It only takes a few weeks to create a new habit, so give it a try.
- Stop multi-tasking
- Be deliberate in your actions (no auto-pilot)
- Slow down and give yourself time in between activities
- Don’t fill your day with activities just to feel productive; doing “nothing” is productive
- When you catch yourself in the past or future, focus on now
- Listen to others and music with intent
- Enjoy your sensations—focus on tasting food, smelling flowers, absorbing a warm touch
- Meditate: Practice sitting still and focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders, redirect it to breathing (but don’t chastise yourself for thinking).
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Babauta, L. (2015). 10 Steps to Mindfulness. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from http://www.rd.com/slideshows/10-steps-to-mindfulness/#slideshow=slide1
Moeller Gorman, R. (2013, October). You're Overthinking It! Tips to Stress Less. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/mind-body/stress/stop-overthinking/
Neff, K. (2014, September 9). 8 Ways to Stop Over-Thinking and Find Peace in the Present Moment. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from http://themindunleashed.org/2014/09/8-ways-stop-thinking-find-peace.html