Lately I have been struggling so much with anxiety about everything in my life. I feel like I should have more figured out about my future. What can I do to ease this constant state of anxiety that I am feeling?
- Anxious, 27, St. Louis
Here is the good news: how to ease anxiety is very simple, yet challenging for our overactive, fast-paced minds. It is to BE PRESENT. I guarantee that if you are feeling anxious, your thoughts are drifting to the future. The dictionary defines anxiety as: "A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties; and, a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning."
You see? All anxiety stems from thinking about things that have not happened yet. It is impossible to be anxious if you are fully in the present moment. Staying fully present requires practice since most of us are in the bad habit of mentally leaving the here and now. Anxiety completely robs us of the present moment. But here is more good news: each and every moment offers another invitation to practice being present!
How can you practice? Begin by tuning in to your breath. Focusing on your breathing is the easiest way back to present moment. Also, become an observer of the here and now. Notice the sights, sounds and sensations that are occurring around and inside of you. Be attentive to the activities you are engaging in throughout the day. For instance, instead of using your time in the shower to plan your day, actually BE in the experience of the shower: enjoy the warm water cascading over your body, smell the soap, and feel your fingers massaging your scalp as you wash your hair. The present moment is abundant with things to focus if you are willing to redirect your awareness.
Physical reminders of the now are also helpful. Wear a certain piece of jewelry or even a rubber-band around your wrist that you choose to symbolize the present and each time you feel anxious look at and feel the item on your body. Tuning into your physical body sensations such as how the chair you are sitting on feels is another way to RSVP "yes" to right now. Reading either of Eckhart Tolle's http://www.eckharttolle.com/eckharttolle books, who in my opinion is the master teacher of presence, may also be supportive in quelling your anxiety.
Additionally, I caution you from buying into the belief that if you do figure out what is next for you, you will cure your anxiety. Although it may temporarily feel better to have some sort of plan, using planning as a way to avoid anxiety still keeps you in future-focused thinking and creates a pattern of "when, then" thinking. Thus, anytime anxiety or worry comes up, you will again be looking to do or plan something as a quick-fix which perpetuates abandoning the here and now.
You can elevate your feelings of anxiety without having to know what is next for you. The truth is that none of use really know what the future holds - even if we think we do. Five minutes from now is an opinion. The truth is only in the present moment.
Now on those occasions where your mind does wander into the future there is no need to give yourself an "F" in presence. Be aware and directive of the type of future you are forecasting. Many of us create limiting and even negative futures in our heads. One of my favorite pieces of advice is, "You might as well win in your own fantasies." So if you are going to think about the future, do some mental redecorating so it looks like a future you'd actually like to live in!