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Learning to Downshift: How I Stopped Stressing and Found Happy

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Learning to Downshift

It's not just the tyranny of the to-do list, as Seixas calls it, that's burying me. Nor is it the sheer volume of things I do, but the way in which I do them that has me out of breath. "Slower might not be the right word," Seixas says. Being present is. "When we're really fully present, it can naturally slow us down."

"Presentness," Seixas adds, also speeds up our ability to experience life: "If you're doing one thing, but in your mind you're off somewhere else doing another thing, you don't get that complete experience because you're not really 'there.' You can't smell the roses if you're multitasking." When you think about it, can you remember the last time you did anything -- from grocery shopping to gardening -- without devoting at least half of that activity to planning or stressing over something else entirely? It may seem more efficient (how much effort does it take to check items off your shopping list, really?), but at the end of the day, according to Seixas, your mind is frazzled from being scattered.

Finding focus through exercise is a great way to start downshifting. Instead of getting in the car, sitting in traffic, and spending 20 minutes driving to the gym so we can throw on our iPod and crank out a wham-bam sweat session on the treadmill, Seixas suggests heading outside for a run in the woods (or park or streets). Without requiring any greater time commitment (probably less), your workout routine will go from frenetic to full-body. "Exercising outdoors can help you become more present," she says. "Your attention is fully there, and that can have an amazingly renewing effect."

As a corollary, says Roger Cole, PhD, a research psychobiologist at Synchrony Applied Health Sciences in Del Mar, California, and a yoga instructor, the more you can focus on the rewards of an activity while you are doing it (as opposed to what it'll get you later), the more fulfilling each item on your to-do list becomes. Almost everything -- be it cooking, exercising, or home improving -- has in-the-moment payoffs we tend to overlook. "A walk or run through the woods gives you fresh air, natural beauty, and a chance to be alone for 30 minutes," Cole says. "That in itself should be an incentive for doing it, not just because your butt will look better in jeans. It's about reaping the reward now instead of later."

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