5 Presence Hacks for Stress & Anxiety

Relax your heart until you are actually face-to-face with the exact place where it hurts. Stay open and receptive so you can be present right where the tension is. You must be willing to be present right at the place of the tightness and pain, and then relax and go even deeper. This is very deep growth and transformation. But you will not want to do this. You will feel tremendous resistance to doing this, and that’s what makes it so powerful. As you relax and feel the resistance, the heart will want to pull away, to close, to protect, and to defend itself. Keep relaxing. Relax your shoulders and relax your heart. Let go and give room for the pain to pass through you. It’s just energy. Just see it as energy and let it go.

― Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

If I know one cure-all for life’s many ailments, whether it’s stress, heartache, fear, or exhaustion – it’s presence. Why is it so powerful to pull us back to what is true? Because it’s the only thing that’s true.

Think about it – when you can trace your suffering back to your thoughts or a story in your mind, you’ve got your answer: suffering is a delusion. When we aren’t present with what’s really going on, we suffer! When we squish it down, cover it over, we shut our hearts off. When we turn our hearts off to pain, we also turn them off to love.

The quality of presence is love. So turning toward presence – especially when we’re suffering and identifying with the suffering (e.g. “This is my fault. I feel bad, therefore I am bad. I did something wrong, and I deserve this.”), is a radical act of self-compassion.

And that’s why it’s so effing hard!

So let’s hack it. 5 shortcuts to presence have proven super helpful to me whenever I’m stuck in a shame spiral, feeling completely disconnected from my higher self, or for when I can recognize I’m in a delusion.

Recognizing we’re in a delusion can be the hardest part. But if you’re suffering – take a step back and ask yourself:

  1. What is the story I’m believing right now?
  2. Could it be possible that my thoughts are real but not true?
  3. Whose voice is it that I’m hearing in my head?
  4. Am I resisting presence, wisdom, or some higher truth in this moment?

Once you recognize you’re in a delusion, choose to consciously turn towards presence with these 5 simple hacks:

1. Breath Games

Breath games are my absolute favorite way to return to presence. You could call it “breathing”, but how boring is that? We’re always breathing – the key is to do it consciously.

Breathing is accessible as long as there is breath in your lungs – no one can take it from you. That simple power can help embolden you to take control of the rest of your experience.

Breathing deeply signals to your brain that it’s time to relax, as when you are sleeping. You can reverse-engineer this sensation in the body at any time through the power and control of your breath.

Begin by noticing the quality of your breath. Is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Painful, pleasurable, or neutral? Where do you notice it in the body – is it in your lungs, chest, throat, belly, or under the nostrils?

Take a deep breath in, filling your lungs completely. Imagine you are filling them top to bottom, left to right, backwards and forwards. Now, notice the space between inhaling and exhaling. Finally, exhale the breath completely noticing your lungs emptying, the way you noticed them filling.

Repeat this deep breathing 3 more times, then let your breath return to normal. What do you notice already?

Next, practice 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in to the count of four, hold to the count of seven, and extend your exhale to the count of eight. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, this breath technique may help with reducing anxiety, falling asleep, managing cravings, and controlling or reducing anger responses (source).

Sometimes, when I can’t remember the exact counts for each, I simply make my exhale twice as long as my inhale with a gap in between. This breath always helps me come back to presence. When my mind is focused on the count, everything else just falls away.

Another technique I adore is alternate nostril breathing. Make your hand into a “hang loose” gesture, with your thumb and pinky extended. Sitting in a meditative pose with your eyes closed, begin breathing deeply in and out. Place your thumb on your right nostril and breathe in through your left. Now, remove your thumb and plug your left nostril with your pinky. Exhale. Inhale again through your left nostril, then switch so that your thumb is plugging your right nostril again. You will always inhale through the same nostril which you just exhaled through before switching fingers, keeping your hand in the “hang loose” pose throughout.

This breathing technique slows the amount of air coming in and out of the lungs, which can help you naturally extend the breath. Plus, you’re very intensely focused on the technique, which can help quiet all other mental noise.

2. Aromatherapy

Another instantaneous way to hack into the present moment is your olfactory senses! Did you know that your olfactory glands in your brain are tied to your central nervous system in such a special, ancient way? This is why smell is the strongest sense associated with memory.

How it works: Our olfactory bulb sensors are actually part of the brain, and send messages directly to the most primitive brain centers where they influence emotions and memories, and “Higher” centers where they can affect conscious thought. In fact, this is the only place where our central nervous system is directly exposed to our environment (source). Pretty cool, huh?

I love keeping essential oils in my bag, so I can take a whiff of lavender or rosemary when I’m feeling anxious. I also keep peppermint on hand for its anti-inflammatory powers in case anyone is feeling muscle aches or cramps.

Lighting a candle instantly sanctifies a space, don’t you think?

Sometimes I simply brew some herbs or spices on my stove top to add some much needed humidity and aromatherapy to my desert home.

Beyond the day-to-day functional aromatherapy, burning incense is a beautiful way to step into sacred self-care ritual. Whether you’re meditating, doing at-home yoga, or chanting a kirtan, light some incense beforehand and see how it anchors and grounds your ritual!

3. Mantra

Mantra comes and goes for me. There are times in my life I can trace back to a specific mantra, and there are seasons where this just wasn’t in my practice. It is currently a part of my morning ritual – just after finishing my meditation, I sit on my yoga mat with my half-cold coffee in hand and ask myself, “What wisdom will I need to be reminded of today, that I can access right now?”

When I’m still halfway in that quiet and Divine space of meditation, mantras have a way of just coming to me. Yet another example of how the power of intention and receptive energy can be all it takes to manifest what we seek.

I find my mantra throughout the day, nourishing me, anchoring me and protecting me from some pretty dark delusions. It’s not always the sole solution, but usually it’s enough to bring me back to earth. For example, I had an embodied experience of primal fear the other day. Because of my mantra practice, my impulse was to place my hand on my heart and say to myself, “I am safe. I am loved. I am safe. I am loved.” Just like that. Over and over.

Let me tell you – my felt experience instantly shifted from one of fight or flight to a more present, receptive, calm state (hello, parasympathetic nervous system!).

It may sound corny or woo woo, but being able to tell yourself what you most need to hear is the incredibly powerful. It instantly transports you back to presence. You tend to believe the things you tell yourself (inner critic, anyone?). And – like the breath – it’s always accessible to you.

Think about that: Whatever you most need to hear is always just a mantra away. Adopt a mantra for your hour, day, week, year, and/or your entire life. Say it in your head or say it aloud – it makes no difference. Write it down and stick it on your mirror, your steering wheel, your cat. Play with mantra, and see how your relationship to presence and to yourself begins to shift.

4. Routine Hooks

Routine hooks are my new favorite thing! My sister reminded me that Eckhart Tolle writes about how brushing our teeth can be a good container for presence. We do it everyday, hopefully a couple times a day, but how quickly do we check out during this routine activity!

“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.”

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

This got me thinking about the subreddit, “Shower Thoughts”. The basic premise is that people have their best thoughts in the shower. It’s a magical, mystical place where we spend 5 or 20 minutes each day, and we do it so robotically that our brains can be entirely devoted to “more productive things.”

Oh, doesn’t our ego just love that?! The instant transport from the present moment to some place where we feel we are really needed – solving some problem, practicing for some inevitable conflict, or planning some ideal fantasy.

But, like Eckhart says, the present moment is literally all we have. It’s all we’re guaranteed. So let’s start using routine activity to jar us back to the present moment. You can do it in the shower, when you’re driving, brushing your teeth, watering your plants, going up or down the stairs, riding the elevator, waiting in the checkout line – anywhere!

You don’t have to try and be perfectly present 24/7, but it can be helpful to associate one of these everyday activities as a trigger for presence. I’m committing to breathing and anchoring in presence while I brush my teeth. At least my toothbrush has a two-minute timer, so this should be relatively simple!

5. Body Scan

Who is our constant companion, no matter where we go or how much time passes? Who can guarantee they will be there when all others fail us? Our beautiful bodies!

I believe the body is a portal to a Divine experience of love, presence, gratitude, ease, and even pleasure.

My go-to falling asleep trick is to do a body scan. It also works wonders for shaking me back into the present moment whenever I notice my attention wandering.

Simply start with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes if possible. Breathe. Feel your feet, and the supportive ground beneath them. Let that energy travel upward into your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, buttocks, low back, belly, solar plexus, chest, upper back, shoulders, neck, upper arms, forearms, wrists, hands, fingers, face, crown of the head.

Learning to inhabit each body part on its own and as part of a connected whole is a skill you can develop. It will help you immensely with anxiety attacks, insomnia, fear and depression.

Another technique is to find a space that feels neutral in your body and focus on it. After some time, find a place that feels pleasurable and focus on it. Whether neutral or pleasurable, imagine the sensation growing and expanding throughout your whole body. Allow this process several minutes.

Ever-Present Presence

Presence is SO important in the fight against overwhelm, anxiety and even attention deficiency. It is all too easy for me to flip on a podcast and zone out at the end of a long day. Our brains love the feeling of learning something new! But presence benefits us in everlasting ways, it’s just harder to cultivate and feel the immediate benefits, at first.

This work gets easier, I promise. For me, it ebbs and flows. It is a lifelong journey. There are seasons where I’m completely feeling my presence – vibing with the shimmery sensations during a body scan or tearing up with wordless wisdom emanating from within.

The good news is – Presence is always available to you. You just have to consciously decide to turn toward it. Luckily, these 5 hacks have got you covered!

I’d love to hear from you, Dear One! What is your favorite way to connect with presence? Have you tried any of these 5 hacks, and which one worked best for you?

Be well & take gentle self-care, my loves! And enjoy Valentine’s Day Week – don’t forget to be your own Valentine & soul mate first. If you need help, I’ve created a 12-week program to coach you through just that.

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I started Luminous Leanings to share my passions of meditation & self-care. As a self-care coach, I'm really just a holder! I hold space for busy people on their self-care journey. Then I hold them accountable as they integrate self-care into their lives. If you want to develop more self-compassion, but aren't sure where to start, you've come to the right place. Be sure to check out my guided meditations & journal freebies, & sign up for the Letter to keep in touch. You don't have to self-care alone - I'm in your corner!

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