Neill Neill, Ph.D.
After supplying your body with oxygen and water, you need "presence" for good stress management. The best practice I have ever found for getting present and then staying present for more of your day is a special kind of walk. I call it the "presence walk." It could turn out to be one of the most important tools in your mental health arsenal.
The presence walk is mechanically the same as any other walk; what is different is what you do with your mind while walking.
You have probably heard lots of different expressions about the importance of being present; for example, "Be here now!" "The point of power is in the present." But do you really understand why presence is so important?
The simple answer is that there is no trauma in the present. When we think of trauma we think of something bad that happened in the past. In other words our minds go out of present time and into the past. When we worry about something stressful or even traumatic that might happen in the future, our minds leave the present and move into the future.
Right now you are having a coffee. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is because your mind on all the things that you have to get done– the future.
So to get your mind off past stresses or worries about the future, here is an exercise that I guarantee will bring you into the present. I’ve been using it personally for twenty years.
Go for a walk of at least 20 minutes. Walk where there are trees if you can. Trees are good because they are big and they are alive. If there are no trees were you live, try to walk where there are other live objects, the bigger the better. Large cacti will work, for example. But use whatever you can.
As you walk let your eyes focus on an individual tree as you approach it. Take in its size, its shape, its color, its texture, and any sounds or smells that come from it. Do not name it; just observe it. When you have it– it should take three or four seconds — let your eyes move to another tree and do the same thing, and then do it again, and again.
Always pick a tree far enough ahead that you never have to break your pace to finish taking it in.
If you continue this for 20 minutes, you will be fully present. The more often you practice the presence walk the more ease you will have in getting into a present time. And besides, you get all the benefits of good walk.
Getting present is key to good stress management. It is important in avoiding the buildup of chronic stress. The presence walk is a basic mental health tool, so use it often.
Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill maintains an active practice on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. He focuses on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic – A Woman’s Survival Guide.