Reducing Stress - How Living in the Moment Can Help

Dr. Roger Landry. Dr. Roger Landry

Dr. Roger Landry is a guest author for Senior Living. In this article he looks at how we can keep the peace and serenity that we experience during a vacation all year round. In the process, we can reduce stress by living in the moment.

So, I’m sitting here in the Virgin Islands and I’m feeling … well … Great!

And of course, you’re saying “Well why wouldn’t you? You’re out of the rat race, you’re in a beautiful place, you can sleep in, and your to-do list includes snorkeling.” And you’re correct, but there’s more.

I feel peaceful. I’m sleeping better. I’m noticing things like the wind in the trees, the intense colors of the flowers, that the butterflies begin flying just after sunrise. Basically, I’m feeling alive … and I’ve only been here for a few days! So, I’m wondering, like so many of you do. How can I keep this vacation feeling all year?  Or maybe, how can I deal with all the stress in my daily life?

Keeping the Feeling

First of all, let’s take a look at some of the reasons I might be walking with the vacation swagger.  I’ve given myself permission to forget about time, at least not pay attention to it the way I do back “in the rat race.”  That itself is colossally liberating.

I’m surrounded by Nature and stunning, stop-in-you-tracks beauty that, because of my time liberation, I’m truly seeing.  And the quiet is sometimes deafening

I left most of my “must do’s” back at the gate in my home airport.

  I’ll get back to them when return but for now, they are not here on the island.

I’m eating and drinking now, not rushing through a meal, but sitting, savoring, and having the meal BE the event, not something interspersed between two other more important events.

I’m not “exercising” but I am moving more, naturally.

I’m surrounded mostly be people who are vacationing and move more slowly, are more patient, friendly and want to laugh and take long dinners, and float around in the ocean. They are, as they say, on “island time.”  Yes, there’s a few out there who have a check list of what they have to do to “have done” the Virgin Islands. They make me a little nervous … even I think occasionally, feeling a little guilty … but luckily that feeling passes quickly. I’m doing what I want to do rather than what I think I have to.

Yes, those are all pleasant things, and of course, I’m enjoying them.  But again, there’s more.

A Haunting Familiarity

In our somewhat arrogant view of life and humanity as what we experience now, we miss a far greater contextual and ancient wisdom. We humans have been around a long time; and for ninety-nine percent of that time we lived the lives of hunter-gatherer or agrarian people. Let me say it again … ninety-nine percent. So it is any wonder that the things that tend to be comfortable for us, to be pleasant for us, and to be healthy for us are those things that defined the lives of our ancestors?

It’s not a surprise to me because although societies have developed quickly, especially since the Industrial Revolution, I know our physiology does not. Basically, our basic needs for health, fulfillment, and feeling human, bring up the rear in the race of civilizations: moving naturally, diet of unprocessed food, lifelong learning, strong social network, meaning, purpose and role throughout our lives.

So once again, it’s no surprise that Nature is a psychological and emotional suave to our time-battered selves. That moving naturally like our hunter gatherer ancestors makes us feel so much better. That a day framed by sunrise and sunset rather than hours and minutes is a magnificent release from our self-imposed treadmills. That celebrating and appreciating the company of others instead of criticizing, arguing and competing with them is a ticket back into the human family, and stunningly comforting.

These beautiful life characteristics are our birthright that we have renounced in the name of progress. It’s ironic that the technology and lifestyle we have pursued as a society in order to be more efficient and have more leisure time has only achieved for most, the first goal. The second, more time to live life, has remained allusive, becoming more and more out of reach.

Bringing the Island Home

I’m not a resort manager. I’m not writing all this in order to get you to vacation more in order to escape. My goal is to help you have the “island feel” most of the time; to be less stressed in a frenetic world and thereby enjoy a higher quality of life, health, and a better aging experience.  So here are some recommendations. Take them, leave them, but please, at least, try them. I’ve lived a while, seen a lot crazy stuff, have been stressed, and have achieved much more when I push less and be mindful more. Here’s some tips on dealing with stress, preventing it, managing it, living with it all around you.

Make Time a Tool, Not the Master:  We essentially cannot be stressed if there’s no element of time. When artists and meditators and gardeners are doing their thing, they are free of time, and with that comes a satisfaction, even joy, with life and living. If we use time to organize our lives a bit, but not let it drive us … make you rush around, worry about a to-do list … the future or the past … that is adapting to our modern world while staying true to our species roots. Find what stops your chattering mind and “pencil it in” at least once a day to stop the toxic rush of building stress.

Remember, Happiness and Stress Are Choices:  Really, I’m not just blowing smoke here. We choose to be happy, and researcher Ellen Langer tells us that our brains work to make it happen.  And with stress, nearly all our stress is self-induced. Yes, self-induced by an obsessive focus on negativity and a failure to accept a core truth of life. All things change. When we have life situation that stress us we must fix it or make a plan to fix it; walk away from it altogether; or accept it. All else is madness and an invitation to rot ourselves from within with chronic, corrosive stress.

Go Hunter-Gatherer of Sorts:  Move a lot naturally. A pedometer or Fit Bit can help. Always learn new things. Stay connected to others especially those who inspire, nurture, and empower you. Look for your purpose. Look deep. It’s got to be more than getting your errands done.  What get’s you up in the morning and gives a sense of accomplishment? And ask yourself at least ten or twenty times a day, “Do I feel joyful, at peace, and alive?” Just the asking will bring you back to life as it truly is. NOW. HERE. THIS MOMENT.  
Live Long and Well.

Roger Landry, MD, MPH is the author of Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging.

Continue Reading