“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I think about my struggles with anxiety, I realize that I live in the future too much. It’s crazy how much I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will happen. I’ve spent my entire life battling the anxiety monster and I’ve missed out on so many great opportunities due to debilitating fear.
Not knowing what will happen makes me anxious. I like predictability and when I’m in situations without it, I can feel it creeping in.
So what does my mind do with the unknown?
I predict what will happen. And anxiety dictates that it’s mostly negative. This creates more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
Control is an illusion, anyway. I can’t ‘control’ what happens to me, but I can learn how to deal with anxiety in a positive manner. I studied psychology for 7 years in university and I’ve read countless studies about the effectiveness of therapy. I’m a believer in it, but I’ve never taken the time to really apply it to myself as much as I could. I can learn coping mechanisms, countering thoughts, breathing techniques, mantras, and visualizations to help. I can work with a Cognitive Behavioural psychologist to work on changing my thought processes. I can talk to people about it. I can write. I can be creative. I can run. I can do yoga. I can be honest about how I feel.
I can laugh about it with Eric when I tell him what I’m anxious about and the look on his face makes me burst into laughter, realizing how ridiculous my worries sound out loud.
Insanity can be defined as repeating the same behaviour over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well, lock me up and throw away the key! If we don’t change our behaviours, thoughts, and actions, we will never grow. If I keep doing what I’m doing now, my anxiety will never get better. However, when we’re struggling with something, we can always open other doors and explore other avenues…
That’s why my goal for July is simple:
To live in the present as much as possible.
I want to get out of my own head, fears, and negative stories on loop. I want to stop losing so much time to the future (and past) and be present in the moment. Of course, it’s good to think about the future and past sometimes- that’s part of the excitement of life- but I also think being present is something that I must work on.
As someone whose mind is always spinning constantly about the past and future, I’ve never had a clue how to go about living in the present. After some research, I’ve come up with an action plan. I’m going to print this list off and put it in a couple places where I will see it daily- my bathroom mirror and my desk.
How I will live in the present:
Breathing fully and deeply does not come natural to me. Well, I’m sure it did at one point, but somewhere along the line I became a shallow breather. The more wound up I get, the less I breathe. I’m trying to be mindful of my breath, especially in those moments when I need it the most. Before entering an anxiety provoking situation, I try to stop and take at least 3 deep breaths before proceeding. I used to do this when I gave many presentations in grad school and it really helped calm me before jumping in.
2) Be a Minimalist
Remove your unneeded possessions. We just did this last weekend and Eric and I both felt a huge sense of calmness when we parted with half of the things we own. Physical clutter turns into mind clutter and removing everything but the essentials restores a feeling of tranquility and reminds us what is truly important in life. It sure isn’t material things. Minimalism doesn’t just happen overnight, but the more I approach this lifestyle, the more mindful I am when I make every purchase. This also applies to grocery shopping. Lately, I’ve been more mindful not to bring in new food before the food in the house is used up!
Throughout my life, I’ve been known for being a smiling, happy girl. My teachers even used to write that on my report cards. However, when I let my anxieties weigh me down, my face turns into an anxiety monster. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about something and I notice that I have a huge frown on my face just due to a mere thought. Thoughts are very powerful, but they don’t define who we are and we shouldn’t allow them to change our mood so instantly. Acknowledge your thoughts whatever they may be and then smile. One of my favourite things to do is to smile at a complete stranger because you never know how it will impact their day.
4) Forgive the past
I’ve been through some crappy things in my life and no matter how long ago these past hurts occurred, I will catch myself thinking about it as if it is happening to me now. Sometimes memories are so vivid and real. By failing to forgive things that have happened in my past, I fail to move forward and to be present in the moment. Forgiveness is a personal choice, but when I chose to forgive the past, I feel more free.
5) Dream big, but work hard today.
There is no better moment to accomplish your goals than right now. Planning is motivating, but it’s important to focus on what we can do in the moment and not get too caught up in the future. As we know, things don’t always happen as we predict. All we have is this moment right now.
6) Do one thing at a time.
I’m a chronic multi-tasker like many women. Sure, I make to-do lists occasionally, but that doesn’t stop me from tackling 8 things at once. Due to multi-tasking, I feel like my attention is never 100% where it should be. I may decide to work on a writing project for a certain amount of time, but I’m often composing emails, responding to comments, editing photos, shipping orders, and writing a blog post at the same time. I don’t think that all multi-tasking is negative, but I need to focus on being in the moment for the task at hand. If I tried to do one thing at a time, I think my goal for mindfulness would be easier and I would feel less frazzled.
7) Do less.
It seems like society is always encouraging is to do more, and more, and more. To fill our days to the absolute brim. Where does it get us in the end? Feeling frazzled with half-assed accomplishments? Doing less could mean that you accomplish goals with better concentration and better quality. Rushing things rarely leads to mindfulness. Sometimes, I like to start a writing blog post (like this one) and chip away at it over the course of 2-3 days. When I take it slow, ideas will often come to me over time. Had I hit publish on my first draft, I never would have fully developed my ideas.
8.) Add space
Along the same lines of ‘do less’, add space between your tasks. Don’t schedule things super close together for 12 hours straight. Give yourself a little wiggle room to breathe. If you write a to-do list, leave a few blanks so you can fill them in as things pop up during your day. Things ALWAYS pop up!
9) Cleaning as meditation
I tend to look at cleaning tasks as one dreaded chore after another. There never seems to be enough time for cleaning and when we tackle the list, it’s always a mad rush to bust through it. Cleaning can be a form of mindfulness though and rituals are often calming. Next time you clean, put your full attention into each task, concentrate, and do them slowly. Look at cleaning (and exercise!) as a stress relief in your day rather than a chore.
10) Spread the love
Do something nice for someone everyday. Smile at strangers. Hold the door open. Buy someone a coffee. Give to the needy. Call a loved one. Give someone your seat on the train. Compliment someone. Say ‘I appreciate you’. It just feels so damn good.
[For my research, I used one of my all-time favourite blogs Zen Habits. If you aren’t already reading this blog, you must check it out!]
After I wrote my ‘We Are Never Alone’ post and talked about going back into therapy, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. And then I read your beautiful comments and emails, and I was overcome with gratitude. I will never second guess posting something that is so much a part of who I am. Once we remove the shame from how we feel, true healing can begin.
And I must say, while writing this post I was really living in the moment. Writing is a great release!
“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” -Unknown