9 Smart Ways to Pause and Be PresentTaking a minute to slow down and collect yourself can have major mental health benefits.
There’s a reason we’re constantly being told to “be present.” Doing so can get us out of our heads, ground us in reality, and help us to embrace whatever moment we’re in. But actually putting the concept into practice? Easier said than done! We could probably all benefit from learning a few go-to grounding exercises and doing them on the regular. Whether you’re a professional athlete about to take the field in the biggest women’s soccer tournament in the world or you’re hyping yourself up for whatever big moment is in front of you, the power of pausing and staying in the present is real.
“When we're not in the present, the mind can go down these rabbit holes of catastrophic thinking, anxiety, worry, and rumination, which makes us feel very helpless because we can't change things in the past or future,” says licensed psychologist Jenny Wang, PhD, a member of the Wondermind Advisory Committee. “Being present is such a critical piece of mental wellness because if you can’t stay in the present, you can’t think clearly enough about the questions that life is asking of you right now, and how to [act on them].”
So whether you’re in the middle of a hectic morning routine, about to give a presentation at work, or getting ready to take part in a one-of-a-kind experience, taking a pause can help clear your head, organize your thoughts, and reenergize you to take on whatever tasks lie ahead (even if it’s just tackling that ever-growing pile of clothes on your bedroom chair). Here are Dr. Wang’s best techniques to pause and be present—wherever you are..
1. Focus on the five senses.
If the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone (we’re guilty too), you’ve already pulled yourself out of the present moment. “So much of our current lives and how we relate to technology is dissociative in nature,” says Dr. Wang. Often, we scroll on our phones to avoid a negative emotion, like not wanting to get ready for work when we’ve underslept or angsting about a project we have to finish that day. Other times, we’re simply bored and understimulated. But using our phones to distract from these feelings is just a short-term fix.
To ground yourself in the here and now from the minute you wake up, she recommends pausing to focus on your five senses. How do the bedsheets feel on your skin? How does the sunlight look pouring through your window? What can you hear, smell, or taste? You can return to this technique throughout the day whenever you need to reconnect with the present.
2. Start a morning ritual.
Mornings tend to be one of the most hectic times of day, making them the perfect moment to take a pause. Whether you’re rushing off to a commute or simply opening up your laptop to start the workday, implementing a morning ritual can help you live in the moment (rather than stressing about what’s going to happen in your 2 p.m. meeting) and set boundaries between life and work.
One of Dr. Wang’s favorite suggestions is to incorporate scent, like lighting a candle before you get ready in the morning. “That sensory experience can help cue this notion of wakefulness,” she explains. But, for busier mornings, it can be as simple as honing in on the feeling of washing your face, the way the makeup brush feels on your face, or the taste of your morning fuel-up beverage. “No matter what you’re doing, can you be fully there?” says Dr. Wang.
3. Put pauses on the calendar.
For athletes, a training routine with built-in moments for physical and mental rest is crucial. But even if you don’t have the schedule of a footballer, putting intentional pauses in your routine is valuable.
One of the best ways to remember to stay present during a busy week is to actually build reminders into your calendar. Dr. Wang recommends putting pauses on your calendar, reserving 5 to 10 minutes between meetings for yourself to reconnect with your body by doing some deep belly breathing or getting up to stretch. “A lot of our day is very physically stagnant, and when that happens, it actually creates this numbing or freezing response because there's no movement flowing through the body,” she says. Pro-tip: To make this easier, try setting all of your meetings to 25 minutes instead of 30 (or 55 instead of 60).
4. Take breaks outside.
Whether you’re taking a break from work or find yourself ruminating over something embarrassing that happened on the weekend, getting outside is a great way to bring yourself back to the present moment. “We make a lot of effort to stay homeostatic and comfortable these days, which can numb us to sensory experience,” explains Dr. Wang. Getting outside and engaging with the world around us, however, can help to heighten our senses and keep us focused on what’s right in front of us.
If you have access to a field or a body of water, Dr. Wang recommends taking your shoes off to feel the grass or the cold water on your toes. For city dwellers, simply listening to all of the different sounds or the way the wind feels on your face can have the same effect.
5. Name that emotion.
When we’re in the midst of a stressful situation, like a conflict with a friend or partner, it can be especially hard to pause and organize our thoughts. Whether you’re an athlete who needs to calm themselves down in the middle of the game or a fan bubbling up with pride and anticipation as you’re watching an important match, feeling all of these feelings at once can be overwhelming and distracting.
To help you get present in tense moments like these, Dr. Wang recommends activating what’s called your observing ego—the ability to step outside of yourself and watch what’s happening more objectively. You might think to yourself, Whoa, I am very angry right now. I can see myself and my body getting increasingly more agitated. Doing so helps to create space between you and whatever emotion you’re feeling, reminding you that you (rather than the anger itself) have control over the situation and what you do next.
6. Check in with someone you love.
When we’re feeling anxious about something, our nervous system can become overactive because our body feels unsafe in some way. Our hearts race, we feel hot and sweaty, our voices shake, and so on. Whether it’s a work presentation or the final minutes of a soccer game that’s got you stressing, Dr. Wang recommends taking a moment to check in with someone you love. “Being in the felt presence of another human being is particularly grounding,” she says. Not only is it helpful to get your fears off your chest, but our loved ones can help to remind us what we’re capable of and reassure us that we’ll be OK.
7. Connect with your body.
If you find yourself in the midst of a thought spiral that seemingly has no end, chances are you’re not living in the present. We tend to obsess over things that happened in the past or that might happen in the future and one of the best ways to shake these thoughts off and ground ourselves in the present is to reconnect with our body. “Movement is an inherently healing process, and can help us move our stress response out of the body,” says Dr. Wang.
Taking an exercise class or going for a run is a great way to get out of your head and into your body, but even the simple act of going for a walk can do the trick. Moving in whatever way feels good to you is key—and remembering to take pauses and hydrate with a Powerade. For days when you’re short on time, pausing for a short meditation or breathing exercise can also help refocus you on the present moment.
8. Write out your worries.
One of the hardest times to be present is also one of the most important: when we’re lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep. Rather than focusing on how nice it feels to sink into our beds after a busy day, we tend to get caught up stressing about what’s happening tomorrow. If this sounds familiar, try keeping a notepad next to your bed so you can write down whatever’s on your mind as it pops up, even if it’s as simple as needing to remember to run an errand the next day.
“The notepad gives you a very tangible way to get [those thoughts] out there,” says Dr. Wang. “You can tell yourself, ‘I've written it down so I don't need to keep ruminating over it.’”
9. Identify your feelings in celebratory moments.
We’ve been wired to move through life quickly, with our eyes always turned to the next phase. This can be helpful in difficult times but it also causes us to rush through some of the happiest moments of our lives, be it a birthday, wedding, or once-in-a-lifetime sporting event. The start of a much-anticipated competition, the thrill of finally seeing your team in action, the euphoria of winning—these are moments you truly want to be present for. “It’s really important that you’re able to savor those core memories,” says Dr. Wang.
To make the most of these moments, she suggests tuning into your internal experience and trying to identify what you’re feeling. Is it gratitude, excitement, or thrill? Perhaps a sense of warmth and connection? “The term ‘good’ is such a broad, brushstroke word, so can you put more specific language to the core memory which then gives it more permanence?” asks Dr. Wang. Since these celebratory moments are often busy, you can also ask a friend in advance to remind you to pause and take it all in.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.