“Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures, and we must mind today.” – Sophocles, Antigone
How many times have you thought of the past, and it has made you depressed or anxious? How many times have you thought of what may come, and that has made you anxious or depressed? It can be looked at both ways – – living in the past can cause you to feel depressed; and living in the future can cause anxiety, or vice versa. However you look at it, being able to focus on what you’re doing in the moment, and truly ‘living’ the present moment, can only lead to happier days.
A 2010 study conducted by psychologists at Harvard University collected information on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing, and what made them most happy. But, the study also found that people spend nearly half their time (46.7%) thinking about something other than what they are actually doing.
One of my mentors used to always read a small part of a book about washing the dishes. It was not just about the act of getting the dishes done. It was the act of, “washing the dishes, to wash the dishes.” Meaning, no matter what you are doing, your thoughts are focused only on that which you are doing in the moment. This helps you stay in that moment—with a lessened chance of worry, sadness, anxiety or stress while you are focused on what you’re doing. It’s really an example of your friends trying to get you to do things with them when you’re going through a tough time— but you are doing it yourself, for yourself. We spend a lot of our time doing things on our own, so wouldn’t it be good to be able to be there for ourselves?
Just like any change, learning how to be focused on the moment you’re in takes practice. Here’s some tips to help you begin your own process.
Start to notice and appreciate the little things. Little things can become a big, welcomed distraction. Something I personally turn to that helps me to live in the present moment has been actively getting back to my love of nature. I try to go to a local nature trail or beach, on a less crowded day, each week. Last week I went for a leisurely walk on nature trail. I noticed plants I’d never seen before, a butterfly that I was able to capture in a picture, the subtle sounds of nature, watching a squirrel foraging around, a bird that wanted my food, and so much more! I turned back to nature because of what was instilled in me growing up. Is there a simple, soothing thing you could get back to?
Focus on one thing at a time. Some are able to focus on many things at once. I personally am not one of those people. Focusing on one single task at a time can help you to get work done more effectively, with your full attention on it. It is easier to stay present, for a longer period of time, doing this with all things--from the start of your day, and throughout your day. If an idea pops in your head, try making a note of it, and save it for later when you are focusing on that task. Another example is not having many tabs open online at the same time, or when you are having a conversation with someone. Being fully present yourself can also mean being fully present with others.
It’s okay to do nothing. In a busy world where we are sometimes forced to multitask, it’s okay to take time for yourself to do nothing. This might mean learning to say no to things where you usually agree to overextend yourself. At the beginning of my personal journey into living in the present moment, a free-spirited friend said something that still sticks with me. He said, “No more plans.” It’s alright to not fill every moment.
What's going on right now? This is one of the exercises I share with my client’s that experience anxiety or panic attacks. It goes back to keeping things simple. Can you start to notice what is happening in the moment? Do you feel the warmth of the sun, the sand squishing between your toes, or maybe a refreshing breeze? What is the texture of the food you’re eating? Can you identify different objects you see in front of you? By doing this, you are becoming an observer of the life you’re living, and the things around you. You can help put yourself at ease during a rough moment.
“Live each moment completely and the future will take care of itself. Fully enjoy the wonder and beauty of each moment.” –Paramahansa Yogananda
Start paying attention to your breathing. One of the main ingredients of practicing yoga is deep, diaphragmatic breathing. When you are feeling anxious or upset, you can experience a rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, and difficulty catching your breath. When you begin focusing your attention on your breathing, you will start noticing when it needs to slow down—so you can slow down. All that matters in the moment is paying attention to your breath, and slowing it down. Here is an easy description on how to begin the practice of focusing on your breath: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
Read up on what it’s all about. The Precious Present or The Present, if you’ve not heard of these books, can tell you more of a story on living in the present. If you are into reading, these books might be helpful to you. https://www.amazon.com/Precious-Present-Spencer-Johnson-M-D/dp/0385468059
To live in the present is to live in the present. If you have one foot in tomorrow, and one foot in yesterday, where are you now?
I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to address moving away from feelings of depression and anxiety. These are holistic methods that can be of assistance. Even if you have chosen to be on medication for symptoms of anxiety or depression, there is no magic pill. Medications will help; but you helping them along becomes a joint effort in your effort to live your best life possible. Always feel free to reach out, or share this with anyone you think could benefit.
1. Start to notice and appreciate the little things.
2. Focus on one thing at a time.
3. It’s okay to do nothing.
4. What’s going on right now?
5. Start paying attention to your breathing.
6. Read up on what it’s all about.