30 Ways to Be More Present When Life Feels Overwhelming

Itxy Lopez

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Do you ever think about how great it’d be if you could escape all the noise? Social media. News. YouTube. Netflix. Jealousy. Fear. Stress.

It sounds freeing, but it’s unrealistic. You’re (most likely) not going to get rid of your phone or cancel your subscriptions. Like it or hate it, this is our life.

It might feel impossible to get a moment to yourself and quiet your mind, but you can slow down time and claim back your sanity.

Here are thirty ways that my friend Emily Wilcox and I have discovered to stop rushing through life.

  1. Play with a kid, like a kid. Chase your nephew down with a lightsaber. Play tag with your cousin, but aim for your shadows on the concrete. You know how kids run and scream while you chase them as if they’re genuinely afraid of you? Do the same. Exaggerate what you feel. Fall to the ground dramatically. Laugh as loud as they do. A moment doesn’t actually have to be slow to feel slow.
  2. Hold someone’s hand. Your girlfriend’s. Your best friend’s. Your mom’s. Tether yourself to them and to reality.
  3. Stand outside and listen to the wind. Pace your backyard even if it’s small or lay on a blanket in the grass. Listen to the way the wind ruffles the leaves in the trees and how those fallen leaves scratch the concrete like chalk as they travel. Close your eyes and listen to the chirping birds, the music coming from the neighbor’s house, the kids laughing on the street. Cease the moment.
  4. Listen to music that makes your soul soar. The thing about music is that it won’t just ease your mind and slow down time — it’ll enhance the world around you. Everything feels more intense, bigger, and yet, easier. It’s hard to worry about time when you’re flying across the sky.
  5. Talk to someone you love. You can manipulate time when you talk to your crush or your best friend that you don’t get to see often. You’ll blink and two hours will go by, but the entire time you were laughing at things that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, time will feel slow. Those two hours won’t feel like enough.
  6. Wake up at 6 a.m. In all fairness, I don’t wake up at six because I want to — my body naturally does it. If you’re not already an early-riser, try it for just one morning. Hours later, when you look at the clock and realize it’s barely ten, you’ll feel great knowing that you’ve already showered and worked, or had breakfast with a friend. The day will feel longer, and now you have more opportunities for more joy.
  7. Eat by yourself. Sit with your thoughts and daydreams. Don’t read a book. Don’t scroll through your phone. Don’t put on a podcast. Just eat. Close your eyes and chew slowly. Taste everything. We’re always in a rush or glued to our phones, and eating has become a passive habit for lots of people. But damn — food is good. Warp time by enjoying your meal.
  8. Read––but only read. Don’t make coffee or tea. Put the highlighter down. Don’t check the time before you start reading or glance at the clock while you do. Just get lost in your story. When do you stop? When you get to a page and can’t concentrate anymore — whether that’s an hour or three later. You’ll live an entire lifetime. Time will feel extra weird.
  9. Watch the sunset. Once the sky starts turning into different shades, find an empty bench at the park and watch the sunset. Don’t leave until it’s completely disappeared from the horizon. Not only will time feel slow, but you’ll also feel relaxed and peaceful.
  10. Build a puzzle. A 1,000-piece puzzle. It’ll take you a while, but when you do it in the quiet — or maybe with a chill playlist in the background — it demands your attention. You’ll be so focused on finding the correct piece and image, everything else will disappear.
  11. Sit in the car with a friend. What is it about sitting in a car with a friend that always feels so intimate, quiet, and safe? Park in front of a pretty view, and talk about your favorite tv shows and biggest fears. Or show each other some songs while you wait for your movie to start. Stay trapped in a little bubble that time would never dare touch.
  12. Write a song. It doesn’t have to be a good one. Just makes the words rhyme, come up with a decent melody, and then keep it locked in your journal forever. Don’t worry about showing it to anyone or making it good. Do it for yourself, as long as it takes.
  13. Skateboard. Seriously. You’re never too old to learn. You don’t have to jump off curbs or do an ollie (I don’t know how to do that). Just learn to ride it, and cruise around beaches and parks. It’s my favorite. You’ll feel like you’re floating.
  14. Get a tattoo. When you’re getting a tattoo, you have no choice but to be there. Fully. You just have to embrace the pain (if you even feel it — not everyone does). Just breathe and think or talk to the artist. The fact that there’s a needle in your arm makes it difficult to think about anything else.
  15. Talk to your grandparents. Whenever my grandma tells me stories about her past, I just sit there, enraptured, trapped in a past that wasn’t my own. Want to screw up your view of time? Try to imagine your grandparents at your age, running around with a bunch of kids. Try to see them as they were, and it’ll change your perception of the present time.
  16. Talk to somebody 8 hours behind you. Make a friend in the past. If you live in Edinburgh, find somebody who lives in California and chatter away. There is no more efficient way to hare straight past the tortoise of time than to harness a timezone and keep it there.
  17. Find a shoreline. Sit somewhere where there’s water, tuck your phone into your butt pocket and just exist. Listen to the waves lap at the rocks. Slip your feet into the present moment and paddle in it a little. If you stare at the ocean for a while, I promise you: time stands still right beside you, its hand in yours.
  18. Kiss a girl. I’ve kissed boys. I’ve kissed girls. Each has its perks. But when you kiss a girl, it’s just sweeter, softer, tinged with some fruit-flavoured lip balm. Have you ever kissed your best pal? Or a poster image of Kristen Stewart? I’ve done only one of those and let me tell you, time stops when you’re lip-locked. Sadly I’m cursed into having an affinity for boys — but I’ll peck a gal whenever I get the chance.
  19. Always have a good drink beside you. Sucky things just suck less when you’ve got a glass of cherry Pepsi fizzing on the tabletop. Stressful activities are eased with just one sip of a creamy peanut butter milkshake. Days don’t even begin until you’ve knocked back a cuppa, right? Think of the most present you’ve ever been — sat lakeside in France with your feet dangling off the pontoon? Oh wow, what a coincidence, me too. Doesn’t time feel like it’s halted completely when you’ve got a glass of fresh lemonade in hand? Ah *burps* bliss.
  20. Read back through old journal entries. Or Facebook posts. Or schoolwork from when you were nine. Whatever you fancy, just lay your eyes on the literary imprint of the past for a second. See how far you’ve come? How you’ve grown? Who you are now? Slow down time by staring back into it with pride.
  21. Make a dinner that requires more than just a microwave. Ready meals. Fast food. Quick delivery. I love it friggin’ all. But that’s not slowing down time — that’s just saving it. Here, we want to savour it. So make a meal from scratch with all your favourite ingredients. Something that needs baking, sauteing, frying, chargrilling, freezing overnight to marinate. Let time brew for a while.
  22. Be lonely. Sounds counter-intuitive and slightly bloody sad, but alone time is necessary. And when we’ve sufficiently refuelled on our self-staycation, it’s in those moments when the loneliness sets in that time seems to drag. We’re trapped in this purgatory between having spent some quality hours with our own self and now waiting to return back to civilisation. We’re stuck on the road, and time just doesn’t seem to exist when in traffic, right? And hey. Loneliness isn’t a bad thing, just a reminder of who we have waiting for us at home. They’re worth waiting for right back.
  23. Send a voice note. Update your friends on your day. List the items you want your mom to grab from the supermarket. Practise your singing and send it to yourself (and regret it immediately after). Use your vocal cords to immortalise the moment. You’re capturing time right there on your iPhone to return back to whenever you need a second to hear into the past.
  24. Arrange something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to set the date for your wedding to a fella who doesn’t exist within your reality just yet. It can be anything. Plan a holiday to Venice. Order a mini-fridge. Or book a table at that new dessert shop down the road. And then: don’t allow yourself to do this Fun Thing™ without having at least completed one chore, one task, one item on your to-do list first. Time flies when you’re having fun, but time stills completely when you’re doing that crappy thing you need to get done before the fun can truly begin.
  25. Go to the toilet without your phone. That’s an entire chicken korma trying to work its way through you. It could be a while. Don’t try and pass the time by watching Vampire Diaries Tiktoks. Don’t even read the shampoo bottle. Ditch your phone in the other room, whip down your pants, and just be. Be you. Just pee. And then p —
  26. Pluck a potato waffle out the toaster with your fingers. That’s right. Do something dangerous. Not life-threatening (we’re trying to slow your time, not end it), but thrilling. Something that feels a little precarious, requires a little caution and makes your insides twitch a little. Walk along a road with no pavement. Solder something. Climb Mount Snowdon. Or simpler things, you know — like standing on the back of the sofa to dust the ceiling. Danger, excitement — it’s everywhere. Find some. Try it. These kinds of activities demand your full attention. Nothing else can infiltrate your focus, so time will have to just wait outside.
  27. Down a pint of water. For something that literally sustains our survival, we as a species are not massive fans of drinking as much water as we should. Well now’s your chance. Fill up a glass and knock it all back in one go. It’ll feel like six forevers have elapsed, but when you glance back at the clock, only thirteen seconds will have passed. I guess time, like light, distorts when wet.
  28. Get uncomfortable. Wear a thong. Tie your laces too loose. Leave the label in your top that itches your back. Hold in your pee. Don’t plaster up that blister. Sip at your tea even though it’s still too hot. Go on a first date with somebody you don’t really like. Take a cold shower. Order the spiciest jalfrezi. Sleep without a pillow. Leave your phone on 5% battery. Turn the TV volume up too loud. Open that message and don’t reply. Send a bad-angled selfie to somebody you fancy. Tell them you fancy them. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Though it sounds like a bad time, it’s actually just a stopper of time. Whilst you’re busy becoming more resilient to life, time is frozen on the sidelines watching you in awe.
  29. Get intoxicated. Or high. Or naturally over-excitable. Whatever it is you do to initiate your overzealous self — do it. Because nothing else exists when you’re hyperaware of your surroundings, your senses, or the present moment. Not even time.
  30. Fall in love with a friend. Platonic love, romantic love, eternal love. Love is love, right? Whatever genre you choose, slip on those rose-tinted goggles and dive in headfirst. Love is vicious, silky, all-consuming. It transcends time completely. Have you ever met somebody, known them for half a year, and yet you’ve already loved them for entire lifetimes? Tomorrow you might meet your foreverperson. If you want to slow down time, stop it, or exist entirely outside of it, it’s simple. Just find somebody to love. And love them in full.

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San Diego County, CA
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