There are times when I wish I could get a brain transplant. My brain works in a way that is just exhausting; it is prone to racing thoughts that cause crippling anxiety. Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It is as if I am programmed to go directly to the worst-case scenario of every situation. When these moments strike, I lose the ability to be present in the moment.
In my quest for a solution to my general anxiety, I have tried prescription medication, herbal remedies, and even heavy self-medication with alcohol. None of these solutions have had a lasting impact on my anxiety.
The one thing that has helped me more than any other method is the practice of staying in the moment. But when a friend first told me to focus on staying in the moment, I honestly did not know how to do it. How does one “stay in the moment” when all she wants to do is panic?
1. Start your day with intention.
It's easy to wake up, roll out of bed, and let the worries take over from the minute your feet hit the ground. Staying in the moment requires living with intention. Stay proactive in your thoughts, reminding yourself often that you are choosing to live in the moment. Make this your first thought of the day, before the anxiety and negative thinking get the best of you.
I start my day with a daily reader that provides inspirational quotes and advice to take with me throughout the day. Journaling and meditating in the morning are alternate ways to consciously commit to living in the moment. Write down an actionable goal for the day: I will not worry about the past or the future today. Breathe slowly and deeply upon awakening and choose how you want to live.
2. Redirect your thoughts.
When I am sitting at my desk at work, my mind often wanders to situations I can’t control: How am I going to pay for my children’s college education? What am I going to do when my mom dies? I review my worries over and over, allowing my thoughts to pull me out of the moment and into fear.
None of the things on my worry list can be addressed while I am at work. Not one. I can’t control my finances or prepare for the death of my mother from my office. I can’t predict the future or correct the past, so why dwell on it? The only things I can control are my own actions and thoughts. And so, I have learned to stop my anxious thoughts dead in the their tracks. Sometimes, I simply tell myself: You can worry about this later, now is not the time. Other times, I take a walk and focus on my surroundings as I consciously decide to let go of everything I cannot change by repeating the words let go as I take deep breaths. It really works.
3. Remember lost moments.
One weekend, I was anxious about starting a new job that Monday; I could not focus on anything else. I spent every minute of the weekend anticipating how awful my Monday would be. As my anxiety took over, I missed out on the laughs, the hugs, and the memories of the weekend because emotionally, I was stuck in my own fearful thoughts.
When my first day at the new job came and went without any of my anticipated worst-case scenarios, I felt terrible about having wasted an entire weekend worrying about nothing! I wanted to go back in time and proceed without anxiety, knowing in hindsight that my fear was based on false thoughts.
Remember: Anxiety kills the present. It has the power to steal moments right before your very eyes. Pick a time when you lost an important moment because you were full of anxiety — and remember how in the end, it was not worth it. Life is short; don’t give the precious moments you have away to your own thoughts and fears.
4. Keep your head where your feet are.
When the thoughts are racing and your heart is pounding, take a look at your feet. Where are they planted? Look at your surroundings. Where are you? Why are you there? Wherever your feet are, that is exactly where your head should be.
I have a friend whom I often text when I am stuck in worry. Recently I texted her, I am nervous I am going to be single forever! Simple text from a single girl, right? Well, this friend knows me well, and her response was wise: Keep your head where your feet are. I looked at my feet. They were planted in the grass on a softball field where my daughter was playing with her softball team. I looked around at the trees and the children, and I breathed in the warm, spring air. Why in the hell am I worrying about finding a soulmate right now? Physically, I was surrounded by beautiful nature and happy children. The thought of finding a boyfriend or husband or being single forever was simply taking me out of the present — a useless thought that I could remove. I looked at my feet and redirected my head — and the thoughts in it — to stay right there, in the grass on the softball field creating lasting memories.
Life is short and it passes us by all too quickly. Today I choose to live in the moment because I don’t want to miss a thing, but staying in the moment is no easy feat. For me, it required lots and lots of practice and a daily, minute-by-minute, conscious decision to live only in the now. With practice, it becomes easier. Tomorrow is never promised, so don’t waste a minute worrying about what may or may not happen on a day that may or may not come. In the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Fear may try to pull you into the future and regret may try to draw you into the past, but the power to stay in the “right here, right now” lies in your mind, body, and spirit. Make it happen.
This post was written by Suzanne Hayes.