How to Stay Present When You Might not Want to
By Valerie Rice September 23, 2020
I think that every therapist on the planet promotes mindfulness. I know I do. It really is ‘in the script.’ Why would we do that, you may wonder. Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s because being mindful is a brilliant idea. Seriously, therapy really wasn’t that great until we decided to do scientific studies on the benefits of mindfulness. But what does that even mean? Good question. It means being aware of, and engaged in the NOW. I know what you’re thinking; the know is a terrifying mash of news, disease, and uncertainty. Why on Earth would I want to pay so much attention? Well, because of all the benefits. Let’s list them, shall we?
Reason #1: Connection to nature
Scientists have been studying mindfulness since the 1970s. Once thought of as an obscure teaching of Buddah, and it totally was, it is now mainstream. As is the understanding that a human needs a connection to the earth to feel happy. Does that sound too hippie for you? Let me put it another way. Imagine you live in a tiny apartment with no windows and fluorescent lighting. Every morning you get up, take the subway to work in a windowless office for 8 hours, go home on the same subway to your cramped and dingy apartment, and go to sleep. Repeat every day until you eventually die. Sounds pretty miserable, right? Yep. We have an entire specialty in psychology to make people at work happy called Industrial and Organizational psychology and their number one change is (drumroll please) adding a more natural setting! People who feel connected to nature perform better and feel better about themselves. Natural sunlight, plants, potted or in the ground, the sound of running water, and so on are all ways to improve how you feel and how you perform. But only if you are aware of them; if you are mindful.
Reason #2 : Stress management
Stress is not typically something we all love and appreciate, is it? Well, there are some delightful forms of stress, like the anticipation of getting married or the impending birth of a child. But do you know anyone who simply loves the stress of not knowing if their cough is a result of wildfires, allergies, or a deadly virus? I sure as heck don’t, and I have asthma, so I really hate it. Once you master mindfulness (not an easy task, we will get there) You will be able to manage the stress of your daily life in a healthy way. You won’t even let the pandemic get you down. If you want other helpful tips on stress management, click here.
Reason #3: Pain relief
HA! I bet you don’t believe this one. As a sufferer of chronic pain, I would agree with you…except I don’t. Say whaaat? It’s true. Mindfulness is useful in childbirth and for steering away from the intensity of chronic pain. Trust me, I deal with all sorts of miserable health problems that used to require medications. They still require some, but not so many pain pills. Notice I didn’t say it cures everything. That would be a total lie. But mind over matter IS a thing, and a good portion of how the human body experiences pain is rooted in our perception of it. That’s science. Mindfulness is about acceptance of our experience and shifting our perspective. Getting excited yet? Yeah, we’ll get there.
Reason 4: Feeling in control
Raise your hand if you have ever been on an emotional roller coaster. See how my hand is up? OH yeah, I have teenagers, life is one big crazy after another, right? Well..no. I learned how to accept the flow of things through mindfulness. I control my emotions and reactions to them. What?! How? Did I forget to tell you the steps? No, I was keeping you in anticipation. Here they are. They even have a cool acronym.
How to practice this in real life
Now you have a good reason and a cool REAR. I bet you want to put it into practice. Excellent. Try this activity. The best way to get to know mindfulness is to experience it. Find somewhere comfortable to sit. You are going to need to focus, so whatever helps you do that would be great. Lights off? Sound off? Do you. Once you are seated I want you to pay attention to your breathing. Can you hear it? How does your body move when you breathe? Breathing is super important because the control of your breath will control your mind. It’s true, just wait and see. Spend 5-10 minutes just noticing your breath and body. After that, allow yourself to feel the rest of your body. What do your joints feel like? Are you connected to the ground, a chair, your bed?
Can you feel where your shirt cuff ends and your arm begins? Just take the time to notice any physical sensations. Once you are fully aware of your physical presence, allow thoughts to flow into your mind. Let them race through like cars on a highway. It’s fine, trust me, that’s what they do. Now you get to use your REAR. Recognize them for what they are. Thoughts. They are neither good nor bad, they just are. Is there one in particular that keeps repeating? Explore it. Where is that thought coming from and why do you keep having it? Look at it from all angles. Remember, it is neither good nor bad, but it just is. Once you have managed to examine it, accept it. This can be hard. And I mean super hard. Maybe your thought is something like…I’m a loser for not having a job. Accepting the thought doesn’t mean you agree with it, it means you have that thought, it’s part of you. Don’t force it away. Now let it go. Release it. Seriously. Pretend it is a speeding car on the highway of your mind and watch it speed away. You don’t need it anymore. Congratulations, you just did a mindfulness exercise. For more of these, click here.
Don’t worry, the more you practice, the easier this becomes. Mindfulness is a shift from how you think now to staying in the now. And trust me, it’s worth it, even if it takes work!