Not as exciting a title as “Back to the Future”, but if you are looking to lessen stress and anxiety, the present is where you want to hang out. When caught in an anxious cycle, the mind tends to project any discomfort we are feeling in the present into the future, while also recalling similar feelings from the past. “I feel bad right now” becomes “I felt bad then, I feel bad now, and I’ll feel bad forever more”.
So, how does one cultivate the ability to stay rooted in the present? Like physical fitness, we need to look at the SAID principle. Regarding fitness, SAID stands for specific adaptation to imposed demand. In other words, if you keep asking the body to perform a specific task, the body will eventually adapt to accommodate the new demand. We now know this to be true for the brain as well.
The following is an easy exercise you can do anytime to bring more awareness to the present. You probably want to start practicing this exercise at a time when you are relatively calm (not in the throws of severe anxiety). In time, you may be able to use this exercise as a tool to bring yourself back to the present when anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate.
-Take a few deep breaths
-Notice 5 things you see
-Notice 5 things you hear
-Notice 5 things you feel in contact with your skin (ie. the fabric of your shirt, the breeze on your skin)
-Take a few more deep breaths
Repeat whenever you feel the need to refocus.
For added benefit, try practicing this exercise in a relaxing bath!