No matter how predictable your daily routine may be, as a human being you’re always going to face the unexpected. Plans can abruptly change, traffic may be worse than expected, accidents happen, kids get sick, appointments get rescheduled. All of these unanticipated events can act as little mini-stressors… little things that build up throughout the day. Left unattended, they can leave us feeling irritable, cynical, frustrated and argumentative. Over the course of a day, our mood can drop notch by notch, almost with little notice, until we are left feeling spent, tired and down.
These little stressors lead to a “frog in the pot” type effect, where we barely notice the subtle changes in our mood, or the subtle increase in our anxiety, until they’ve taken us over and affected our relationships, concentration, performance and general well-being.
To keep our pot of water from boiling requires us to check in with ourselves and to practice being present for a few moments. It’s quite easy and profoundly simple. The trick is for us to keep up the practice and to remind ourselves to take these healing moments as part of our daily routine. For some, it helps to set an alarm on their cell phone or to jot a reminder down in their planner, or post it notes on a dashboard and by the sink for us to see when we wash our hands. Once our minds get used to the practice of this simple skill, it can become second nature. So what does it take?
This process of “checking in with yourself” need only take a few minutes. Initially, you may start with just 1-3 minutes of “checking in” a few times throughout the day. Everyone is different, so you should find what works best for you and feels most comfortable. You may consider “checking in” every 2 hours to begin with.
All it takes is to momentarily (1-3 minutes) orient yourself to what’s going on right here and right now. Take a look around and be present. Notice only that which is immediately relevant to you. Take a break from what you’re doing and see what it feels like to be in your body. Do you notice any discomfort or painful sensations? How is your posture? Are you bent over your keyboard with your nose against the glaring computer screen? What thoughts have you been lost in? What worrisome future have you envisioned? Is it relevant to what’s going on RIGHT NOW? See the world moving as it does all around you, always constantly changing as you are constantly changing, no longer the person you were yesterday and not yet the person you’ll be tomorrow. Put things in perspective. Consider the big picture. In 10 years, will these worries be so significant? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. The truth is we just don’t know; and what does worrying do to fix it anyhow? Notice any tension in your face, in your neck, in your back. Is your jaw clenched? Are your eyebrows furrowing? Let them relax themselves with ease. Before you return to whatever it was you were intensely occupied with, or perhaps incredibly bored with, or enthralled with, or despairing over… let yourself have a good long deep breath in and out. As you exhale, let a little more tension out, and get back to your day.