Ever since Lucas has passed I’ve been mulling over the lessons that he taught me on how to be more present during my daily living. These are 8 tips that have helped me be more present–and less anxious–during my day.
- Watch the sunrise. Lucas was a crepuscular being. He would be up before the sunrise. There is something depressing about getting up in the morning when the sun is already out. I’ve noticed that in getting up before dawn, I can listen to the evening crickets getting ready for bed and the crepuscular birds waking up with their morning song. Watching the sun rise with a cup of coffee gives me a feeling of power over my day, because I am watching the day start and the day is not watching me start. I can rejoice in the sounds of Nature and the beautiful sky colors of dawn. I can also rest easy in knowing that I won’t be rushing or be late to an appointment or class. I can rest easy in knowing that I can take my time in getting ready, which is very good, since I’m not a morning person and I’m notoriously slow in getting ready. I feel like I am in control of my day instead of the day being in control of me.
- Don’t check social media, news or your email; instead, write in a journal. If you get up and the first thing you reach for is your phone to consume social media, or to check your email, or to check the news, your day is off to a bad start. Many studies have shown that consuming social media leads to depression, and the news lately on upsetting topics such as climate change and Brexit, will not put you in the right mood for your day. Instead opt to keep a journal and write what writer Julia Cameron calls your “morning pages.” Cameron suggests three pages, but I must confess sometimes I fall short of this goal. But the overall goal is to capture the last vestiges of a dream, dump your thoughts for the day ahead, jot ideas for future writing projects, get troublesome emotions out and on paper, where they look less scary. Don’t edit yourself. Just write whatever’s in your head, and if that’s only half a page, that’s ok. If it’s more, even better, but the overall goal is to do a mind dump of your thoughts. You’re not here to impress anyone, so let me repeat, do not edit yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much your mind and soul are holding onto when you wake up in the morning.
- Gratitude journal. In addition to your morning pages, make sure to keep a gratitude journal. Write three things you’re grateful for in the morning, even if they’re the smallest of things. When I was living back in Cambridge, my gratitude journal would read something like this: 1) Thankful that I got up early and didn’t oversleep; 2) Thankful for my roommates; 3) Thankful for my friends on Twitter. Or, during hard days: 1) Thankful for the bird singing outside my window; 2) Thankful for the morning rain; 3) Thankful for a quick conversation I had with my mentor on the previous day. Being grateful puts you in a good mood and it makes you cognizant of even the smallest things around you that are working in your favor. You’ll notice what I mean the more you do it. Also, make sure you do this at night, right before you go to bed too, so that you can take stock of what went right in your day. It goes without saying that writing in your journal at night also reaps some great benefits, too.
- Gentle exercise. I like to do yoga and lift weights in the morning for many reasons. I suffer from a lot of anxiety and doing yoga allows me to re-focus my attention from myself and my emotions to my body. Once that re-focus takes place, my mind is concentrated on just that and my anxiety dissipates. I also like to lift weights because as I’ve been aging, I’ve been noticing a loss of muscle tone in my arms. The lifting of weights allows me to tone my arm muscles and bring definition to my arms. And again, it allows my mind to re-focus on my body and again, once that takes place I have to concentrate on making sure I lift the weights correctly and I can’t afford to think about things that worry me. I can’t afford to get distracted by anxiety, otherwise I will do the yoga wrong or hurt myself while lifting weights.
- Early morning walk. This one I learned from Lucas. Going for an early morning walk, without earphones, allows me to concentrate on the sounds and sights of Nature. My walks are meditations. I make sure to notice and take in everything around me. I feel very close to Lucas when I walk because I am noticing the things that he taught me to notice: birds, insects, snails, other dogs, scat, flowers, and City sounds. Walking also helps me think through projects and homework assignments, and I arrive at ideas or answers I wouldn’t have arrived at if I had been studying at home or at the library.
- In the evenings, clear clutter from your day and leave your desk clean and tidy for the next day. If you wake up to an untidy desk, I will assure you will be in a bad mood immediately. With no space to write your morning pages, with receipts laying strewn about, with unnecessary objects taking up space, you will be in a bad mood. There is nothing better than waking up to a clean desk with no papers. Just your journal waiting for you, with a pen.
- In the evenings, leave the dishes clean and leave your coffeemaker ready. This is just like leaving the desk clean. If you wake up to dirty dishes, you’ll be in a bad mood. Make sure that all of your dishes are clean when you’re done with your day. Also, leave your coffeemaker ready for the next morning, especially if you’re like me and you’re not a morning person. I have an Italian mokkapot, and I like to leave it set with water and the ground coffee inside it so that all I have to do in the morning is set it on the stove, and I’m set. I also like to leave my coffeecup and saucer out with two sugar cubes and ready to be used. It gives the appearance that an imaginary butler came in during the night and set up your breakfast coffee for the morning.
8. Go to bed at night at the same time, every night, including weekends. This tip is really for us anxiety sufferers. If your sleep schedule is haphazard and you go to bed at different times every night, I can assure you that you won’t be able to get up in the morning to watch the sunrise, and you’ll be rushing to work. Also, getting the same hours of sleep every night has a lot of benefits: it keeps you from gaining weight, it does wonders for your skin, and you wake up well rested and not groggy. Waking up groggy is the worst and it puts me in a bad mood immediately because it takes a lot of energy for me to drag myself around and get myself ready. If you’re new to this, I suggest you put an alarm on your phone for the same time every night that alerts you that bedtime is coming. That way you can start with your evening ritual: your nightly journal pages, washing your face and brushing your teeth, applying facial moisturizer, cleaning your desk and washing your dishes, and so on. The last thing you should do before going to bed is writing three things you’re grateful for. These things that we are grateful for should be the bookends to your day.