Have you noticed that anxiety takes you out of the present moment and way off into the future? Your mind can run away with worst case scenarios and things you need to do a month or even a year from now. One thought leads to another and in a valiant effort to calm your anxiety you might even try to make a plan to address the worst case scenarios that might occur down a year from now.
Along with those thoughts might come all the familiar anxious feelings in the body like feeling keyed up, tension in your neck and shoulders, headaches, racing heart. Or maybe you’re so in your head that you’re not even aware of what’s happening in your body.
It’s really tempting to let your mind run away into the future or to find solutions to these future problems. It’s the natural progression of anxiety.
Why Would I want to Stay in the Present with Anxiety?
Can you imagine staying in the present with your anxiety? Initially, you might find this to be counterintuitive and hard to do because the sensations can feel intense. It makes sense to want to move away from them. But the benefits to staying in the present ultimately outweigh the pull to run off into the future:
Worrying about future events that are not occurring in the present only heightens your anxiety right now, and strengthens your tendency to feel anxious. When you stay present, you can just deal with the current situation, which is that you feel anxious right now.
You can start to soothe your current symptoms of anxiety if you stay in the present with them (more about this later). By doing this, you are much more powerful to effect changes in your life once you calm down.
The present is what we have so isn’t it best to live life fully present?
Consider Just One Idea to Cultivating your Presence
You might say this is easier said than done when you’re in the grips of anxiety. And I agree. It takes some practice and retraining of your natural tendency. But I would just ask you to consider just one idea at this time:
How can slow down and notice the sensations and feelings of anxiety in the present moment? These can be sensory experiences in the body or emotions.
When the anxious thoughts and feelings come on, say when you first awaken in the morning, can you lay in bed and just notice the experience you have of anxiety? As opposed to running away with your to-do list for the day. Perhaps you notice there’s a tense, knotted sensation in your stomach. Perhaps you notice your heart is racing and your breathing is shallow in your upper chest. Perhaps you notice a feeling of dread and fear about the day ahead. Maybe you make note of cold feet and tension in your upper back and neck. Or a feeling of sadness and you may not even know what it’s about. You might notice panicked or trapped feelings.
A shift of attention is all it takes
Just slowing down and directing your attention with compassion towards these inner experiences for a few moments is enough to start to change things. There’s nothing that needs to be solved at this time or figured out. You don’t need to analyze or make sense of anything you feel. The shift occurs simply with the redirection of your attention and by gathering your attention from the future back into the present moment.
It is simple and yet it can be challenging. For support, don’t hesitate to reach out to your support network or to contact a therapist.