Simple strategies for stress

How many times have you taken a phone call or caught up on emails while you’re meant to be enjoying your lunch? Brendan Street, clinical lead, cognitive behavioural therapy, discusses how to let go and focus your attention on one thing at a time.

This article first appeared on Nuffield Health

In a world where we’re constantly on the go and thinking of the end result, we forget to enjoy the everyday things that are meant to bring us pleasure. Constant multitasking means our attention is divided, so we don’t notice when any one thing is giving us pleasure. We don’t take time to enjoy the delicious lunch we prepared because we’re so focused on our to-do lists, and as a result we feel unnecessary stress.

Social researchers have recently found that a regular small pleasure, like eating socially, increases happiness, improving our wellbeing the same amount as doubling our disposable income. Other research supports the importance of relishing small pleasures, finding that people with excellent emotional wellbeing consistently take more time to do this, savouring moments like listening to their child laugh at a joke or watching a beautiful sunset.

This boosts their happiness and in turn improves their resilience – the ability to ‘bounce back’ from a stressful situation. This then leads to increased life satisfaction, which leads to more opportunities to savour small pleasures, which then leads to more happiness. It’s a happiness cycle. 

But how do we start this cycle, and what does it mean to notice or savour small pleasures?

Focus on one activity at a time

Stop for a moment and do just one thing. Close the laptop and just focus on eating the sandwich.

Engage fully in what you’re doing

Notice the feel of the sandwich in your hand. Feel its weight, size and texture. Notice how it feels against your lips and the smell of it. How does it feel as your teeth bite into it? What about the filling? How does it feel in your mouth? Where on your tongue is the taste? Are there different tastes on different parts of your tongue? Is it hot or cold? Spicy or sweet?

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Use as many senses as possible to really notice the activity as if you were doing it for the first time and are required to explain it to someone afterwards.

Enjoy the activity as if it’s the last time you’ll experience it

Research has shown that thinking about an experience as temporary, or as something that will come to an end will increase the enjoyment of it.

Look to the past

You don’t just have to savour positives in the present. Psychological research shows that thinking about past positive events like the birth of a child, your first date or finishing a marathon will also increase happiness. Reminiscing like this with family or friends about past events, particularly where you shared laughter, also results in improved relationship satisfaction.

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