The pleasures of summer are close: oceans, ice cream, time to hang out. But sometimes we carry our stress right into our downtime and our worries about the future keep us from loving the present.

Can’t switch off? Conscious of what you need to get done? A relentless swarm of thoughts can make you stressed, no matter how relaxing your situation “should” be. It can prevent you from chilling out or making progress on a project.

If your summer is at risk of being sabotaged by stress and worry, try a mindfulness intervention.

How this works and what to do

Stella, a student, described how she kept getting stuck. “I hate this; I’m never going to get this done,” she would think, staring at her computer. “I’ll probably fail the class and won’t be able to graduate on time.”

While Stella was lost in fear about the future, what was happening in the moment? She was sitting in an upholstered chair, in comfy clothes, not experiencing pain or hunger. Her actual situation was not physically uncomfortable or dangerous, and yet she felt miserable.

After Stella began practicing mindfulness—the skill of non-judgmental, present-moment awareness—she found it easier to write her papers. When she noticed her mind catastrophizing, she focused on immediate physical sensations, like the feel of her breath and her fingers tapping the keyboard. This brought her attention back to the present. Her fears about the future receded, making room for her creativity.

If your summer is at risk of being sabotaged by stress and worry, see if you can direct your attention toward your physical sensations, as Stella did. Try this:

  1. Stop whatever you’re doing and check in with your senses.
  2. Look around. Name five things you can see.
  3. Listen carefully. Name five things you can hear.
  4. Notice the sensation of touch. Name five things you can feel touching your skin (a breeze on your face, your socks on your feet).
  5. What about taste and smell? You may not be able to come up with five flavors or aromas, but see what’s there.

Build lifelong skills with Koru Mindfulness.

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Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).