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 within themselves to improve in different areas of life such as stress, relationship, work, and trauma.
While these areas might seem different at first, often what helps my clients get “unstuck” share a commonality – and that is presence.
C’mon, stay with me. I can already hear the snoring coming my way. Zzzz.I know. I get it. Presence can do with some sexy PR.
It’s not yet in the same class as trending terms like “self-love,” “self-care,” or “boundaries” in mainstream culture.
But in other circles, presence is e v e r y t h i n g, 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, or promote wellbeing without being present.
Let me explain.
Being present can create major shifts in any area of your life.
But for now, let’s just 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 it’s an important contributor to our overall wellbeing – what I find keeps people up at night are often rooted in emotional, mental and spiritual stress.
What does emotional, mental and spiritual stress look like?
Emotional stress are things like:
- Being unaware or ill-equipped to handle of one’s emotions
- Bypassing, or not allowing oneself to feel emotions
- Denying, escaping or numbing one’s emotions
Mental stress are things like:
- Worrying about future “what if” scenarios
- Replaying feelings of resentment, regret or shame about the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” from the past
- Getting stuck on a problem without clear solutions
Spiritual stress 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
I’m here to tell you that the one shared commonality with these distressing experiences is not being present in the here and now.
Research shows that 47% of adults are either living 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 Emotion
Step 1: Be aware of your emotion – you can’t do anything about something that 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 is “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 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 emotion is the language of our body. Just like thoughts are the language of our mind. So your emotions exist for a reason. Sit with it and listen to the message that your body is sending you. Our emotions usually tell us two things – it lets 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 these 5 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 for yourself (for more on feeling your emotions read this).
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 you want to do (at least for me).
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.
It’s true that sometimes you just 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 just 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 occasional mistaken 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 – 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 (read this for more on modern-day stress). 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. Most 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.
Two Reminders to be Present With Your Mind
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 on the present is to focus on your breath. Because the breath only ever happens in the present.
2. Another nice reminder is to think about your brain much like you think about other organs in your body. You are the being observing your thoughts. Your thoughts are created by your brain. Just like bile is created by your liver, and your heart pumps blood, The job of your brain is to create thoughts. But you are not your thoughts. Much like, you’re not bile nor blood.
When I worked in the corporate world, I was surrounded by people who experienced a lot of this type of stress in addition to 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 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.
Two Exercises to Be Spiritually Present
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 above for the 5 steps)
- 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 is going to agree with your values and you might lose support. But the support you gain will be your spiritual tribe
2. Another way to create 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 5 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 just sit quietly.
Great “productivity” happens when we’re still.
- We recharge
- We create space for our brain 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 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.