Keep Calm and Be Present
by: Janice Stinson, LPC.
“Calgon, take me away!” Does anyone remember this commercial? I know I am betraying my age, but in the 1970s and 80s there was a commercial or two featuring a stressed out woman (wife, mother, employee) who was swept away to her oasis of tranquility by…well…bubble bath. I’m sure that Calgon was a nice product, but to be honest, I haven’t sought it to cure my woes of being overwhelmed.
So, how do you escape? Or is this the right question at all? Escaping stress sounds like a nice idea, a quick fix, but it is realistic, or even good for us? And what message do I send my spouse, kids, and loved ones when I say, “Ugh! I need a vacation?!” Okay, I relish vacations and even bubble baths. Self-care and refreshment are so important. But on a day-to-day basis, how does one manage the stress of the many demands of life? Let’s take a look at one aspect.
“One thing at a time!” Perhaps you have shouted this in a moment of feeling overwhelmed and insufficient. Well, it’s not such a bad idea, is it? Overwhelm can be a product of the concept everything at once. The antithesis of attempting to process everything at once (ie making dinner, planning for tomorrow, thinking through that incident that’s still bothering you from last week, figuring out how you will get your taxes done on time, reminding yourself to sign the kids up for the special event…) is to focus on one thing at a time.
Let me get more specific. Being present…focusing on what is before you…one sense at a time…the smell, the sight, the sound, the taste, the feel…calms us down. We are then more able to convey the value we place on the thing with which we choose to engage (i.e. the person in front of us, the task before us.)
Go ahead…close your eyes and listen for 30 seconds. Do you hear it? The sounds of busy feet, whines, laughter, pots and pans, crunches, typing, machines, the dryer clunking, the dog barking, the clock ticking…the sounds of life. Listen a little closer. Refrain from constricting your muscles or attempting to control the sounds for now. Just acknowledge them. When your mind wanders, just notice it and bring it back to sounds. Notice the volume, rhythms, pitches…the sounds of the precious present. It’s a wonderful time of year to step outside and try this out. The robins will sing you a tune.
Or pick another sense and just be present with it. When your mind wanders or begins to judge, escort it back to the sense you chose. Instead of escaping to relax, try being more present. Go ahead. Just take a few seconds…or minutes if time allows.
There are times to productively consider the past, and to plan for the future, but living in either robs us of the precious present. When my brain is processing many things, it’s difficult to respond to my child’s request without conveying that he or she is a bother, rather than a precious being. When I am contemplating what was said in the meeting earlier today, it is easy to convey to my husband that his companionship is expendable, rather than chosen and cherished.
Give it a try. In what relationship or busy time of day do you want to practice being more present today? You can complete your tasks in overwhelm mode and risk conveying unloving messages, or you can practice being present by taking a moment to focus on one thing at a time. For a bonus, listen to the sounds of this beautiful music and consider the words of love from the Father’s presence. And here is a beautiful book for all ages about the precious present.
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (ESV)