Stress and the challenge of letting go

I once heard the phrase “stress cannot exist in the present.”

My first reflection on it was, ‘no freaking way that can be true.’

But as I have let that phrase simmer, I am beginning to believe it more and more.

In the present moment, life is not stressful. That’s why when we take a day to ski, or sit at the beach, or go for a hike, stress disappears.  It is easy to let go of the worries of yesterday and tomorrow when we are in those environments. But how do we let go and be present when we are in the whackadoodle of the every day?

About a decade ago, I read this book called Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, which a friend recommended to me. As I read it, I cried. My life definitely fit into the full catastrophe category. I had head pain every single day. I took too many pain killers. I was anxiety-ridden, and I was out of shape.

Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness is by Jon Kabat Zinn. He is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  His premise is that reducing stress is achieved through increased mindfulness. Not through stress management. We are all managing our stress the best we can, but truly, we want to have less stress. But recognizing stress and letting go of the causes is one of life’s biggest challenges. At least for me.

If we think about how we busy ourselves everyday, it is most often with thoughts that rehearse for the future, and thoughts that replay the past. Rehearsing the future. Replaying the past. If we let those two things go, for just a bit, then we have the opportunity to exist in the present where we can only interact with what is happening at that moment. Yes, it might be painful. But the pain simply exists in our body. It might also be joyful. It might give you pause to relate to something or someone differently than you have before. It is simple, but not necessarily easy.

If you’re like me, you might have a dozen or so stories that always play in your head:

  • I fear that the pain might be indicative of something worse that I’m failing to address.
  • I worry what people will think of me if I cancel.
  • I regret not being more focused and saying ridiculous things when my brain fog makes me almost completely unable to track conversations and thoughts.
  • I worry that I am taking too many meds.
  • I feel terrible when my husband has to carry more of the burden.
  • I feel like a failure that it is so challenging for me to follow a routine.

All of those things are “rehearsing” and “replaying.” And it is true that some of these things do happen, or did happen. But truthfully, I do the best I can and the rest has to just happen. And so things happen. The trick is to slow my stories down, give them closure and become aware of the present moments. That is the life-changing possibility.

But how to do it? Ah yes, here’s the journey.

Cultivate awareness of the present.

Take a few minutes of your day to simply sit. Bring yourself back to where you are and what is happening in your body. It could be in the car after you’ve dropped your child off at school, or in the parking lot before you head into the grocery. It could be a minute or two before you start eating dinner or breakfast. It could be for five minutes prior to getting dressed for work. Anytime you can commit to pausing and recognizing where you are in this space of our world is good work.

Give your thoughts closure.

As you find yourself going in rehearse and replay modes, acknowledge what is happening. Thank your mind for helping you out and working so hard. Then focus on breathing. And repeat. This closure is often all the mind needs to move on.

Be patient with yourself.

Worth repeating over and over. Be patient with yourself. To be in the present does not require competing or striving. It does not even require the ability to do actually do it. It simply asks to be done. Patience with yourself is the best practice. Simply recognizing where you at the moment and acknowledging it. Don’t try too hard, there is already too much hard in our lives.

Do yoga.

Yoga helps you be more present in your body. You can observe and let it be. Begin a five-minute yoga practice that encourages you to be in the present moment with your body. Below is a very short sequence that can help get you started.

  • Uttanasasana -- STANDING FORWARD FOLD -- This pose brings a sense of peace when you feel anxious. It can relieve stomach jitters and can ease mental tension.