The secret to breaking free from needless stress

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Walking on BYU campus stresses me out.

An extrovert like myself wants to talk to everyone and see familiar faces everywhere I look. With thousands of other students walking around, that just isn’t feasible. Instead, I listen to my music, which is great, but I am isolated and don’t feel stressed because I no longer feel an obligation to talk to people.

I see people pull out their phones when they walk by me because eye contact is uncomfortable, and I generally stare at those people with the most intent.

We have good reason to keep our heads down and get lost in our thoughts, because BYU students have a lot on their minds. Challenging classes, part-time jobs, church callings and the “duty” to date and get married are just a few things that occupy exorbitant amounts of time. It is a lot to live with, and I think that is what most people walk around doing, worrying about that next test or how to find the next date.

Walking, all of a sudden, becomes a chore no one has time for. And I thought walking was supposed to be soothing.

I recently learned about a new kind of way to walk to class, to date and to live. It is thousands of years old and is called mindfulness.

Yeah, I had never heard of it before either. I initially thought, “Are you kidding me? I am mindful of all of my problems!”

That’s not really how it works though. Instead of focusing on everything that is out of our control, mindfulness teaches to live in the moment. For example, while walking across campus, instead of thinking about my upcoming literature test and stressing over it I just think about walking. That’s it. Just walking.

Think about it like our mind is a cup of water. Whatever we pour into that cup we, in turn, have to drink. Stressing about a test that I haven’t even gotten the study guide for yet is like filling my cup with a black, toxic concoction. Prolonging thoughts about this test is like drinking such a poisonous liquid. I am immediately less cheery, feel less social and would rather go home and nap than anything else.

On the other hand, focusing on living in the moment, literally, is like filling the same cup with some refreshing lemonade. The rest of the analogy is self-evident.

You are thinking just like I did, well that sounds great! My life, however, is much too crazy to not worry about things that I can’t control. Try saying that out loud. How’d it sound? Exactly.

So, how to focus on the now? Well, that is the hard part. I do it like this. Each time my foot hits the ground I focus on that footfall, not the next one, and definitely not the one that came before. The only thing that exists in my life is that single footstep; the process is then repeated.

This works perfectly in the dating world. When I hold a girl’s hand instead of thinking about how I can get her to kiss me I just enjoy that singular moment. And if we do kiss I enjoy that singular moment as if that is the only moment. When that girl talks to me, I think about what she is saying in that very moment. If we practiced more mindfulness, relationships would not be so stressful, because we would not be constantly looking to the future.

Simply put, living life each singular moment at a time is mindfulness. It is a freeing ability, and it works, which is why Buddhists have practiced it for millennia.

Of course living mindfully takes lots of practice and real effort. While walking or talking, if you get distracted and lose focus, smile and think, “I am human, and I get distracted.” Then just return to being mindful. Getting frustrated at how unmindful you are is just going backwards.

Another strategy that helps me is gratitude. I think of how grateful I am to have feet that can feel the concrete and propel me forward. I think of how grateful I am to be on a path going to class.

I am no way saying don’t prepare for the future. By all means use present, individual moments to plan for future moments. Just don’t live in those future moments.

If this still sounds like some crazy hippie philosophy, think about this: When you play your favorite sport, draw, play an instrument, talk with a close friend or anything you are passionate about, what happens to your stress and concerns? They disappear. The problem does not go away or get any smaller, but for some reason your state of mind changes from living for the future to living in the moment. Pay attention next time you are doing whatever makes you live in the moment naturally; then try and replicate that feeling in everyday life.

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