Staying present helps you sit with thoughts and experience them rather than getting overwhelmed.
My life sometimes feels like a roller coaster. One minute, I’m talking with my coworker; the next, I’m staring out the window wondering what day it is. A pile of work is sitting on my desk, my thoughts spinning in a spiral all around my head. It feels like my mind is floating away from my body. Sound familiar?
Staying present can greatly help introverts, especially introverts with a tendency toward anxious thoughts and overthinking.
Here are some ways to stay in the present moment, and utilize the hidden superpowers in our introvert brains to the best of our introvert abilities.
How to Get (and Stay) Present as an Introvert
1. Meditate first thing in the morning to set the precedent for your day.
Meditation can help reduce anxious thoughts and put you more in touch with your body. I used to get overwhelmed by the thought of meditation, mainly because it was yet another time commitment. But the more I meditate, the more I realize my thoughts are quite substantial, and the more aware that I’m able to deal with a very excitable, loud brain.
I think of meditation as a practice for being in my head, for sitting with thoughts and experiencing them rather than getting overwhelmed. Practicing meditation in the morning, before the hustle and bustle of the day has had time to manifest as busy thoughts in my mind, is particularly beneficial. If you’re an introvert who struggles to focus, meditation can help, I swear!
To start, find a quiet place to sit. I usually sit cross-legged on my bed, but a chair can work, as well. It’s helpful to meditate in the morning, as the effects can last all day.
Set a timer (five minutes is great to start), close your eyes, and unclench your jaw. Breathe in and out. Every time you inhale, think I inhale. Every time you exhale, think I exhale. When you notice a thought come into your mind (and you surely will), guide your attention back to inhale, exhale. Practicing this awareness of breathing and letting thoughts flow through your brain without getting caught up in them prepares you to let go of tricky or anxious thoughts when they come up during the day.
2. Make a three-step checklist vs. an overwhelming to-do list.
I find that regular to-do lists don’t work well for me. I write out what I need to do, get totally overwhelmed, and then pick up my ukulele and start doing pretty much anything and everything other than what I wrote down.
As an introvert familiar with feeling overwhelmed, I find breaking my to-do list into smaller, “do-able” chunks really helps. I use a two-column system. On the right, I write out all the things I need to do: laundry, grading, finish that book, send some emails…
On the left-hand side, I write down exactly three things from the first list. These are the things I need to accomplish, and the only things I’ll let myself think about. Before I can add anything else, I have to finish one of the three things. This helps keep me grounded and focused on important tasks without the overwhelm of having to do every single thing on my list. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I’ve finished something.
3. Try grounding techniques through tangible touch.
When I start to feel anxious, it can feel like my body is floating away from me. Bringing your awareness back to your physical body — and what it feels like to be in this body in this moment — can help. Here are a few grounding techniques to try:
- Touch each finger, one at a time, to the tip of your thumb (which I learned in a yoga class years ago). Notice what it feels like to do that. This is a physical action similar to several yogic hand mudras, which can also be helpful to try for various purposes from energizing to focusing. Focusing on doing something with your hands can be especially helpful if you’re prone to fiddling or picking at your fingernails, because it utilizes the sense of touch to ground you in your body.
- Using a fidget toy, like a small ball or marble, can help. Busy hands can give way to space for thoughts.
- Keep an orange in your freezer — when you start to notice your thoughts flying in all directions, pull it out, hold it, and smell it. (A friend learned this trick from her therapist, and I love it!) The combination of cold tactile touch, combined with the citrus smell, can help bring your focus back to your senses. Here are some more ideas for grounding techniques that utilize the five senses.
4. Utilize the five senses, what you hear, feel, see, smell, and taste.
One of my favorite meditations is a five-sense meditation. There’s a great guided one here. Staying in touch with your senses — what you hear, feel, see, smell, taste — can help ground you. This is especially true if you’re feeling overwhelmed, as it allows you to break the world down into digestible “chunks” of stimuli.
This is also a great mindfulness practice you can do during the day, even if you’re in a noisy space. Think to yourself: For the next five breaths, I will focus only on the sounds I hear. Next, move on to focusing on what you see, then what you smell, what you taste, and what you feel. Practicing this can keep you centered on the present moment rather than overwhelmed by it all.
5. Commit to a five-minute clean-up at the beginning and end of the day.
My desk is my safe haven, where I do my best work and my best thinking. It’s my beautiful little introvert alcove. Unfortunately, it’s also a repository for everything I don’t want in my life. Notebooks, junk mail, overdue library books… uh-oh.
Frankly, it’s probably true that most people could benefit from more organization. But for introverts, who can get easily overwhelmed by their environment, having an organized, neat, and visually clutter-free workspace is essential.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I sometimes get overwhelmed by organizing (read: I avoid cleaning up) because I know it has a tendency to take a long time. But even a five-minute cleanup can help you organize your space, and with that, organize your thoughts. Grab a recycling bin, folder organizer, and feather duster, and commit to creating a clean, organized space for you and your thoughts. It’s helpful to take exactly five minutes (no more) at both the beginning and end of the day, in order to make sure you have an organized space where you can really let your thoughts roam.
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6. Schedule breaks for standing up and stretching.
If you’re anything like me, sitting still is, well, not a favorite activity. If you find your mind wanders towards procrastination when you have to sit and focus, try setting a timer. Work for about 20-30 minutes, then stand up and take a quick walk. Even just one or two minutes to move around can be helpful.
Standing, walking, and/or stretching is so important. It will get blood flow back into your body, can help with concentration, and can also give an incentive to get through projects rather than putting them off. Remind yourself: I only have to focus for 20 minutes. I can do anything for just 20 minutes.
7. Find a positive affirmation as your time-to-get-present mantra.
Find a positive word or phrase that you relate to. For example: I’ve got this. Thinking is my superpower. I can redirect my anxious thoughts. (More ideas here!) When you notice yourself drifting into overthinking or a panicky headspace, repeat this mantra to yourself: I’ve got this.
The more you affirm your abilities, the easier it gets to steer your thoughts toward positivity, productivity, and the present moment. You can also write an affirming mantra out on a sticky note to leave on your desk or laptop as a physical reminder.
8. Practice breath work — the deeper the breath, the better.
Regardless of whether or not you’re aware of it, you’re breathing all day. Think about the way you breathe when you’re feeling anxious. Fast and choppy, right? The pace of your breathing can mirror the pace of your thoughts.
But when you make it a point to think about how you’re breathing, you’re more likely to notice that fast, choppy anxiety-induced breathing, and then calm it down.
Practicing breathing slowly and steadily will help you when you’re under stress and can bring your mind back into your body. If you can notice the air entering and exiting your body, it has a calming effect, can help with mindfulness, and can help bring you back into the present moment.
For instance, with belly breathing, University of Michigan Health recommends you:
- Sit or lie down
- Put one hand on your belly (below the ribs) and the other on your chest
- Breathe deeply through your nose and allow your belly to push your hand out (not allowing your chest to move)
- Purse your lips and breathe out; the hand on your belly will go in (use it to push the air out)
- Repeat 3-10 times (don’t rush)
9. Get outside and breathe in some fresh air.
Research shows that nature can have a therapeutic effect, and I couldn’t agree more. The outdoors offers a lot of sensory details to introverts — textures in plants and tree bark, scents of pine needles or salty air from the ocean, and noises like crickets, birds, or even just the wind through the air. Whether you lie down in the grass or put your feet in a stream of water, connecting with your environment will help you focus on that instead of whatever’s going on in your head. Focusing on a plant or another natural feature — the ocean, a stream, a blade of grass — can act like a grounding technique that helps quiet and direct your thoughts. Being outside, particularly breathing fresh air, can actually raise the oxygen levels in your brain, boosting serotonin levels and your mood.
Although trying to stay present takes some work — especially in these tumultuous times we’re living in — it does get easier with time. And the focus and calm you’ll have as a result is completely worth it. You’ll see.
My fellow introverts, how do you stay present? Feel free to share in the comments below!
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