In my last blog post, I discussed how anxiety tends to be future-oriented (i.e., What if-oriented). Anxiety is characterized by our tendency to try to predict, anticipate, and control/prevent the worst possible outcomes (e.g., failure, embarrassment, death, chaos, you name it!). But when we’re so wrapped up in our headspace working to control outcomes that we have limited control over, we disengage from the present, where life is actually happening in real time. In other words, we disengage from living.
When we’re talking about living in the present, what we’re actually talking about here is a concept called “Mindfulness.” The definition of mindfulness is:
Non-judgmental present moment awareness.
That is, mindfulness is the practice of attending to the present moment without judging it or trying to change it, control it, or alter it in anyway. It is simply allowing the present moment to be what it is.
Mindfulness has shown to be helpful for anxiety, depression, sleep, well-being, focus, memory, productivity, and more. We often times take on more suffering when we try to anticipate the future or dwell in the past. Mindfulness offers a direct way to alleviate this suffering and engage with the present where life is actually happening.
Said another way: Mindfulness is living with non-judgmental purpose and intention.
Many people, including myself, find that when they practice mindfulness, they are able to live life more fully and adjust more smoothly to life changes. Mindfulness is a direct way to embrace uncertainty and chaos.
How do we practice mindfulness? Well, there are a variety of ways to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation is the most common way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditations can range in length anywhere between 3 minutes to an hour. I suggest that you start with smaller, shorter meditations and gradually increase them to your desired length. I personally prefer the 3 to 10 minute versions because that’s plenty of time to get the benefit, but some people enjoy longer sessions. You can find free mindfulness meditations on the internet by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Kristin Neff. There are also mindfulness meditation apps, including “The Mindfulness App,” “Calm,” and “Headspace.”
Another way to practice mindfulness is to find concrete things in your present environment that can anchor you to the present.
Your Breath: Using your breath as an anchor is a great way to do this because your breath is always with you. It works by simply taking a moment to notice your breath and the sensations associated with it (e.g., the rise and fall of your belly, the temperature of your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils or mouth).
Sounds: My personal favorite anchor is sound. I take a moment to listen to the sounds I hear in the present (e.g., the air conditioner rumbling, people chatting down the hall, wind, cars driving outside) and this helps me get out of my head and re-anchor to the present moment.
Your 5 Senses: One cool technique is to run through your 5 senses. For instance, what are you feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing in this moment?
3-Point Check: Another technique is the 3-point check: What are you 1) thinking, 2) feeling (physically and emotionally), and 3) doing in this present moment.
These are some small, helpful tools to get the ball rolling, but the real crux of mindfulness is about living with intention and purpose. Sometimes we get so entrapped in our minds that we lose sight of our intentions and purpose. Mindfulness helps us get out of our heads and back on track. What is truly important to you in this moment? Who do you really want to be in this moment? There are thousands of moments in a day. What do you want to do with them?
Mindfulness also helps us practice grace with ourselves because the nature of mindfulness is non-judgmental. Personally, I know there are sometimes when I have got so much going on in my mind that it takes everything in me to stay present and, even then, it can be wavering. There’s no need to get mad at myself for it. That just makes it even more difficult to be present. I just acknowledge it to myself—“Hey, I’m struggling to remain present in this moment (or in this season).” Somehow this validation takes the pressure off and makes it easier to manage.
Being still and present is something that the mind does not do well. It constantly wants to chatter and give commentary to everything we do, but it is not always helpful. Have grace with your mind and choose the commentary that is most helpful and meaningful to you.
I encourage you to try each of these mindfulness exercises this week and identify which ones work best for you in terms of getting out of your mind and back on track with your present values— A fitting task for promoting positive change this new year!
Until next time,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Barlow, D.H., Sauer-Zavala, S., Latin, H.M., Ellard, K.K., Bullis, J.R.,… Cassiello-Robbins, C. (2018). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders: 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.