Jumping Hurdles: Staying present

Something about going home for a break is always healing for me. Every time I return to the snowcapped mountains of my hometown, I find myself more centered, grounded and all-around calmer. Being away from the hustle and bustle of school, work and the constant activity at Tufts made me realize just how unfocused I’ve felt this semester and how important it is to A) take space and breaks, and B) stay present and grateful.

One thing I’ve learned during my time at Tufts is that mindset is everything. Working on cultivating a positive outlook can be very helpful when faced with impending deadlines, assignments and hectic social schedules. It’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of stress, anxiety and negativity, so actively working on an optimistic mindset is a small but effective way to combat this. In my experience, one way to do this is by focusing on the present moment and practicing gratitude. But how exactly does one “practice gratitude?” What does it mean to be present?

Someone once told me that practicing gratitude is like working out a muscle. Each time you work on being grateful, you flex the so-called “gratitude muscle,” and slowly but surely it gets stronger, and feeling grateful becomes much easier. When I wake up in the morning, I like to think of one thing I’m grateful for in my life, and when I go to sleep, I think of one thing that happened in my day that I was grateful for. This daily ritual of thankfulness and humbleness has shifted my outlook on life from stressed and negative to positive and content.

Staying present is trickier, since I often find myself anxious about the future or thinking back on something I did that embarrassed me. To me, being present means living each moment with purpose and mindfulness. It means taking each day as its own wonderful occasion. That does not mean refusing to think about the future or the past, but rather letting go of worries about what is to come or what has already gone. Being present is coupled with being grateful — having gratitude for each passing moment that you exist and live.

Working on these two things has transformed my approach to life and stress management. I’m able to take a normally frustrating situation and work through it without feeling bogged down with helplessness. Of course, it is natural to still feel emotions like anger and sadness, but by working on one’s mindset, it’s easier to acknowledge those emotions and let them pass, as opposed to dwelling on them.

Changing one’s mindset isn’t easy, and in the beginning it takes work to actively change one’s thought process and habitual attitudes. However, it becomes easier over time, and it can be so helpful. Working on my thought process and my mindset have helped me manage an anxiety disorder and has transformed my college experience. After all, college is tough, and it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed. But you are far from helpless, and sometimes all it takes is a little change in attitude.