“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath” Amit Ray
Research conducted by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University shows that people spend almost half of their waking hours doing one thing while thinking about something else.
So what? You might ask. Is it such a big deal?
And the answer is yes, because the study also concluded that when our minds wander, this makes us more unhappy than if we’re concentrating on the present moment…even if what’s happening right now is unpleasant.
If that doesn’t sound quite right to you, Killingsworth and Gilbert showed that going over the pros and cons of a difficult situation again and again actually exacerbates stress.
When we don’t live in the moment, we tend to ruminate about the awfulness of the situation and get dragged into anxious or angry thoughts about what’s going on. It’s painful. I hate this. This isn’t fair. It’s all her fault and so on. So as well as dealing with the stress of the situation, our judgment about what’s happening ladles on still more stress.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
If we can live in the moment, where all our thoughts, feelings and senses are focused on what’s happening right now, it reduces the level of stress we have to cope with.
It also means that when we’re doing something enjoyable, we’ll relish the moment far more if we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by something unpleasant that happened last week. Or something stressful that we’ve got to deal with next week.
According to Psychology Today mindful people – those who live in the moment – are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic and more secure, as well as having higher self-esteem. As you can see, the benefits speak for themselves.
Take Control of Your Thoughts
Our thoughts are the single most important barrier that stop us from living in the moment.
Research sources vary about how many thoughts we have in the course of the day. What’s clear though, is that it’s in the order of tens of thousands.
Can you believe it? Tens of thousands of thoughts in a single day!
In the light of this revelation, it’s not surprising that we all have difficulty staying focused on the present.
If you’ve ever tried to make your mind go blank to stop yourself from thinking about something that’s worrying you, you’ll know it’s impossible to think about nothing. And if you’ve ever said to yourself, I’m not going to think about whatever’s really bothering me, you’ll know that within a few minutes – if not seconds – you’re thinking about the very thing you don’t want to think about.
It’s part of the human condition.
So, what we need are some simple techniques to bring our mind back to the present.
Live in the Moment
When you live in the moment, all your thoughts, feelings and senses are consciously focused on the present. You’re living in the here and now, experiencing every aspect of life as it happens, whether good or bad.
Cultivate Mindful Awareness
One of the most effective ways of bringing yourself into the present is to focus on your breathing.
So practice taking some long, slow, deep breaths.
Feel the air as you draw it in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Sense your lungs filling. Notice your abdomen and chest rise and fall with each breath taken.
Then make full use of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, taste or touch?
Wherever your mind may be wandering, your body is fixed firmly in the here and now. So concentrate on what your senses are picking up to bring yourself calmly into the present.
What objects or natural formations can you see? How big or small are they? What are their shapes and colors? And what are they made of?
What can you hear? Bird song. A baby crying. The wind rustling the leaves on the trees. Traffic and sirens. Your favorite tune on the radio.
What can you smell? Wood smoke. A fragrant flower. Car fumes. Herbs and spices wafting through the kitchen. Leather car seats.
What can you taste? Melt-in-the-mouth cookies. Sour milk. Spicy Enchiladas. Chilled white wine. Chargrilled steak.
What can you feel? Your feet on the sidewalk. The ache in your ribs. Hot water from the shower. The car steering wheel in your hands. A light kiss on your cheek.
As you focus on your breathing and what your senses are telling you, your thoughts are drawn back to the present. You slow down and start to become much calmer.
Develop Calm Acceptance
When you’re in a stressful situation, your mind tends to run riot and this is where the danger lies.
Instead, you need to accept the situation as it is.
The more you rail against it saying…This should never have happened. Why me? What if?…the more stressed and agitated you become.
But equally, it’s no good trying to deny your anxious or angry thoughts and feelings, because this too will only make matters worse. If your partner has gone off with your best friend, you’re going to feel angry and upset. Or if you‘ve been rushed into hospital for an emergency operation, you’re going to feel down and maybe in pain. That’s normal.
Quite simply, the situation is what it is. You think what you think about it. And you feel what you feel.
If you try to deny any of this or beat yourself up for what are quite natural feelings, you’ll only accentuate your anxiety or anger.
Instead, the key lies in acknowledging and accepting the situation…as well as what you think and feel.
Just to be clear, when you accept the situation, it doesn’t mean you acquiesce. And it doesn’t mean you do nothing about it. It simply means you recognize there are certain things you can (and cannot) control.
One of the things I find very helpful is Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
When you’ve got clarity over what you can (and cannot) change, you can focus your energies on the things where you can make a difference, rather than railing against things over which you have no control.
Experience the Moment to the Full
When you live in the moment, you experience that moment to the full.
Psychologists refer to this as being in the flow. You become so absorbed in what you’re doing, you’re unaware of the passage of time and what’s going on around you. Invariably you go into this state when you’re doing something you love.
Life being what it is, however, we also find ourselves in difficult or demanding situations. And the challenge for each of us is to experience those moments as they are without judging them.
According to Psychology Today the mind’s natural tendency when faced with pain – whether mental, physical or emotional – is to try and avoid it. But the more you start thinking I wish this wasn’t happening, I’m so stressed out or I hate this, the worse it becomes. As well as dealing with the difficulty itself, you’re pouring on resentment, envy and blame that just send your stress levels sky high.
Instead, you need to accept what’s causing you pain, whether you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair, coming to terms with the loss of a loved one or find you can’t pay your bills this month. So acknowledge what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s natural in these situations to feel bad, so don’t resist it, that only makes matters worse.
Curiously enough, when you turn your full attention to what’s troubling you, it doesn’t take away the problem or the pain, but it does make it easier to handle.
It takes time to develop the skills that enable you to live in the moment, but the more you practice, the less stressful your life becomes.