Living in the present

Those of us who are anxious or depressed (or miserable for whatever reason) tend to spend a lot of time in the past and in the future and not so much in the present.  If you apply my wave analogy (see my last post) to this, what do we know about the past?  Everything that is in the past falls in the category of things we can’t control.  Similarly, much of what is the future falls into the category of things we can’t control (and it isn’t here yet so we can’t control it yet anyway).  So that leaves us with the present.

Your life is a series of present moments and you can either be there for them or not—they are on a use it or lose it basis—you will not get them back.

The more you can focus on the present, the less room you leave for depression from the past and anxiety for the future and the more relaxed you will be.

The practice of mindfulness is the practice of being fully present – it is inherently relaxing—therefore again a good way to combat anxiety or other distress, is to be in the present. This is a practice that has been around for thousands of years.

Let me give you an example that may illustrate how you can bring mindfulness into your day to day life.  Let’s imagine that I am multi-tasking like many mothers do.  Let’s say I am helping my kids with their homework, checking my email, doing a load of laundry and starting to get dinner ready.  While I am doing all of that, I am hungry so I have an orange on my kitchen counter and every once in a while I pop a section into my mouth.  At some point I go to reach for my orange and it’s not there.  I look all over thinking I may have left it in the laundry room and soon realize I must have eaten it.  I didn’t notice because I was paying too much attention to other things and I didn’t have enough left for my orange, and it is too bad for me, because it was probably delicious.

If instead I decided to eat my orange mindfully (now I am not necessarily suggesting you go this far, this is just an example) I would notice everything about that experience.  I would notice if the orange felt cool in my hands, I would notice the color of the orange, is it bumpy or smooth?  I would break the peel and would notice the smell of citrus and the stickiness on my hands. When I eat it, I would notice if it was sweet or sour, juicy or dry…When I was done eating the orange I promise you two things would be different: 1) I would be more relaxed and 2) I would not forget eating that orange.

If you can bring a little of this into your daily life, you tend to enjoy and appreciate the moments of your life more and you have less room for rumination about the past or anxiety about the future.

  • Use your anxiety or depressive or angry ruminations as a cue that you need to be more mindful.

Living in the present does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or plan for the future—it just means focus on the present.

While this is easier said than done, no one else can do it for you and if you don’t, you will only be wrecking your own “day at the beach.”

  1. Alan

    Very insightful, yet how does one recognize, in the present one’s angry ruminations?

    • drbettina

      That’s the trick, you have to learn to catch yourself!
      Are you the Alan Watkins I know from Irvine?

      • Alan

        I’m not sure I want to divulge that information on your blog, if I am seeking psychological insight. Just kidding, but seriously how do you catch yourself in the present? It is easy to do after the fact or looking back on it.

        • drbettina

          I don’t think there is a magic answer. I think you just have to use your feelings as a cue. If you are angry and you find yourself ruminating then you just have to practice catching yourself in the act and find something in the present to focus on. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that your ruminations will not change anything and are only making you miserable and find something else to focus on. This definitely falls into the “easier said than done, but worth the effort” category!

  2. Alan

    ok so I caught myself ruminating as I was out mountain biking this past weekend. I stopped and focused on the color in the trees, the trail and the river and I will have to admit, it worked!

    • drbettina

      Good for you! I am sure it was much more enjoyable to appreciate the beauty around you than to ruminate! The more you practice the easier it gets, though there will always be times it is a challenge or that you will have to repeatedly catch yourself. 😉

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