“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” ~ Martha Graham, American dancer, teacher and choreographer
As a coach, I help people reconnect and gain clarity to improve in different areas of life, such as stress, relationship, work, and trauma.
While these areas might seem different at first, often those that help my clients get unstuck share a commonality, and that is presented.
Presence can do with some sexy PR.
It’s not yet in the same class as trending terms like self-love, self-care, or mainstream culture boundaries.
But in other circles, presence is everything and has been for centuries.
And I’m certain that as long as concepts like self-love, self-care, and boundaries continue to spread, presence will increase in popularity and get the attention it deserves because it’s hard to do any of those former three promote well-being without being present.
Being present can create major shifts in any area of your life. But for now, let’s focus on one: stress.
Everyone can relate to stress.
Stress is a broad catch-all term that includes a lot of different experiences and causes.
There is physical & environmental, emotional, mental, and spiritual stress.
While we all experience physical and environmental stress and an important contributor to our overall well-being, what I find keeps people up at night is often rooted in emotional, mental, and spiritual stress.
What does emotional, mental, and spiritual stress look like?
Emotional stressors are things like:
- Being unaware of or ill-equipped to handle one’s emotions
- Bypassing or not allowing oneself to feel emotions
- Denying, escaping, or numbing one’s emotions
Mental stressors are things like:
- Worrying about the future what-if scenarios
- Replaying feelings of resentment, regret, or shame about the woulda, coulda, shoulda from the past
- Getting stuck on a problem without clear solutions
Spiritual stressors are things like:
- Not being seen or celebrated for one’s true self.
- Living an inauthentic life
- Sacrificing or trading personal values for other gains
The one shared commonality between these distressing experiences is not present in the here and now.
Research shows that 47% of adults are either living in the past or the future. That means about half of us are living an unconscious life.
But it’s also the reason why so many of us are unhappy and dissatisfied with our day-to-day grind.
When it comes to our emotions, what we resist persists.
So, if you’re resisting feeling the pain, or the heartache or the shame or the anger, or the sadness, you’ll find that it will grow with time.
Unfelt feelings do not go away on their own. It might morph into another emotion (for example, sadness might turn into anger), or it might manifest as something else in your body (anger might turn into ulcers or TMJ).
But it doesn’t leave your body until you fully experience the emotion and hear the message that your body is sending you.
5 Steps to be Present with Your Emotions
Step 1: Be aware of your emotion: You can’t do anything about something you’re unaware of.
Step 2: Identify your emotion: Most of us misidentify what we’re actually feeling. We’ll say things like I feel like you don’t care when we really mean. When you did X, I felt sad. You see, You don’t care isn’t an emotion; it’s an interpretation.
Step 3: Sit and feel your emotion: This is an important step that you can do alone, but often helpful when done with a trained professional. Here you want to tap into what you’re feeling, where you’re feeling it in your body, and sit and observe it.
Step 4: Let insights surface: Our emotions constitute our body’s language, just like thoughts are the language of our mind. So your emotions exist for a reason. Sit with them, and listen to the message that your body is sending you. Our emotions usually tell us one of two things; they let us know who we need to build relationships with or what actions to take.
Step 5: Meet your own needs: Usually, there is an unmet need when you feel emotional. When you identify the unmet need, you’re then able to give yourself what you need.
Go through the above five steps when you feel emotional, off, or triggered.
Connecting with yourself by checking in on how you’re feeling is one of the most compassionate things you can do yourself.
As you might suspect, it isn’t easy to be 100% present, especially when you’re not feeling awesome. In fact, it’s damn right hard and probably the last thing you want to do.
Many of us take the escapism route when we’re not feeling our best. This means you ask yourself, “What can I do right now to escape from feeling crappy?” The answer to that question depends on what you prefer: eating, shopping, TV, social media, gossip, running, cleaning, work, sex, booze, drugs, art, music, video games.
Anything you enjoy can become your escape from feeling your emotions.
Sometimes you indeed need to take a pause and revisit your emotions when you’re ready. But most of us are really good at hitting Pause but not so good about revisiting what’s been paused. And what we resist will persist.
I admit escapism is fun. It’s necessary sometimes. It might even be productive.
I get it. I do it. And you can continue to do it if you like, but be aware of your decision.
There’s nothing more dangerous than making a choice when you didn’t know you had one.
Mental stress is what modern humans are really good at creating.
This is because our brain is wired for negative bias, which means we’re better at seeing what’s wrong or what could go wrong versus what’s going right.
This was one of our brilliant survival features that kept our ancestors alive. It paid off to occasionally mistake a rope for a snake than the other way around, right?
But we’ve inherited this powerful survival response when our environment’s changed drastically.
Whereas our ancestors had only a few things that kept them up at night, including food, shelter, enemies, animals, and the likes, it’s different for us.
In the modern world, our list of things to worry about are endless. This means our brains are working overtime thinking of possible scenarios that could harm us then just as quickly launch into thoughts on defending against that danger, almost all of it hypothetical.
This is essentially what’s happening when you’re worrying. And it creates a lot of anxiety for many people.
So, if you fall into this camp and are experiencing a lot of mental stress, be comforted by that your brain is trying to keep you safe from harm and generating thoughts as an act of love to help you survive.
However, you need to help it help you.
2 Reminders to be Present With Your Mind
Reminder 1: Notice when you’re reliving the past or worrying about the future, and gently guide yourself back to the present. It’s only in the present that you can influence the outcome. There are many ways to ground yourself to the present. One simple and effective way to anchor the present is to focus on your breath because the breath only ever happens in the present.
Reminder 2: Another nice reminder is to think about your brain, much like you think about other organs in your body. You are observing your thoughts. Your brain creates your thoughts. Just like your liver creates bile, and your heart pumps blood, The job of your brain is to create thoughts, but you are not your thoughts, just as you’re neither bile nor blood.
When I worked in the corporate world, I was surrounded by people who experienced a lot of this type of stress and the other types of stress, including yours truly.
I suspect that when people’s professional code prevents them from feeling or expressing true beliefs and emotions, it’s easy to deny that anything’s wrong.
Be it at work or outside of work, the longer you’re in the dark about your truth, the more stressed out you’ll get.
What does the suppression of your spirit look like?
- You can’t express your true opinions without negative consequences.
- You have to change your values, beliefs, or expression of yourself to be accepted or acknowledged.
- You’re forced to disconnect from a part of yourself to survive.
Everything is connected. So when we’re emotionally and mentally stressed out, it often naturally impacts our spirit as well.
2 Exercises to Be Spiritually Present
Exercise 1: If you’re in an environment that encourages you to suppress your truth for the convenience or benefit of others, here’s what you can do to take back that power:
- Be present with your emotions (see 5 Steps to be Present with Your Emotions above)
- Ask yourself, what personal values are you being asked to give up.
- Consider if there is a way to accomplish the end goal while keeping true to your values.
- Communicate and share your values and thoughts with those around you
- Recognize that not everyone will agree with your values, and you might lose support, but the support you gain will be from your spiritual tribe.
Exercise 2: Another way to create a spiritual presence is to carve out time for a moment of stillness in your day. Modern living can be so busy where the chatter is endless. When it’s hard to tap into your spiritual core through the noise, deliberately become quiet and still. This, without a doubt, always brings me back to my center.
Here’s what you do:
Sit quietly. Start with five minutes a day, and increase the time to what feels right for you over a few weeks (currently, I meditate 20 minutes a day).
You can meditate or sit quietly.
Great productivity happens when we’re still.
- We recharge
- We create space for our brains to solve problems.
- We download insights
Look at how much presence impacts your life relating to just stress alone, and we’ve only scratched the surface!
It’s undeniable that presence is so important in all areas of our life.
Especially if you’re practicing self-love, self-care, and creating boundaries, you need to be present to your feelings and your environment because it’s hard to console yourself when you’re not tapped into your emotions or determine how you need to replenish yourself if you can’t see how energetically full or empty your pitcher is, or how to say Yes or No to people and situations when you’re not sure what’s really important to you.
Try it out: be present and see how that shifts everything that you do.
Ruth Kao Barr is the founder of My Breathing Mind — mental & emotional well-being coaching. She helps busy people clear the noise and reconnect with the self to experience a more meaningful life. She regularly publishes well-being tips and mini-blogs on Instagram.