Being Fully Present

Being Fully Present
by Shelly Stahl, LICSW and Jonathan Inz, Ph.D. 

In the domain of time there is just Past, Present and Future.  Anxiety tends to decrease one’s ability to be present because when you are anxious you either focus on the past or the future.  However your anxiety can be managed and you can be more present by practicing skills which help one keep firmly planted in the present. Giving you the “present” of being fully present is one of the best gifts one can get. 

The capacity to be in the moment makes it easier to attend to one’s internal state and notice feelings and needs. Simple practices which help you stay in the moment can be easily learned and practiced. Some simple exercises can help combat “what if” or “should have” thoughts. The practice of mindfulness benefits physical and emotional health as well as relationships. The following exercises/practices are user friendly and time effective. 

Over the River and Through the Woods

 Imagine you are taking a road trip to a lovely destination. It’s a long journey to a beautiful place and the road travels through sensational scenery; rolling hills, gorgeous foliage, and sparkling waterfalls. You take in all the beauty and are very relaxed but all of sudden you come upon a deer and are required to make a quick response.  Your pulse quickens immediately, your muscles tighten, your eyes hyper-focus, your breath is held, and you slam on the brakes.  What was a nice relaxed adventure has all of sudden made you very anxious.  What now?  The challenge now is to return to your trip and all of its beauty.  You may drive a little slower knowing that deer may be appear again, but can not and should not now be focused on what just happened or on the other hand being so worried about the future of more deer that you forget how beautiful your voyage is.  Take time to practice this journey. 

Attending to your future visions/goals/plans is important. Learning from the past is useful.  But being in the moment is essential to enjoyment and optimal living. 

Staying Present by Being Externally Oriented: 5-3-1 Exercise 

Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor. Find a spot above eye level upon which to rest your eyes.

Complete each sentence with observations in each of the three prime modalities: 

 Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (tactile sensations, e.g.: air temperature, I feel my feet on the ground). 

  1. “I am aware of seeing _______________” Repeat 5 times
  2. “I am aware of hearing______________”  Repeat 5 times
  3. “I am aware of feeling_______________”  Repeat 5 times  

Now repeat the same observations 3 times then 1 time.  You are producing two realities – 1) Being aware of what your senses are picking up and 2) Forcing you to remember where you are in the sequencing. 

Additional techniques to relax and lower your anxiety which allow you to be present: 

  1. Deep Breathing: Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a deep breath and make the hand on your stomach move and the hand on your chest remain still. Takes a bit of practice, but with practice it gets easier. Take a deep breath in and hold it for a count of three. Then breathe it out through your mouth and count to five before you take in the next deep breath.
  2. Muscle Relaxation: Starting with your toes, tighten the muscles for 7 seconds. Then completely relax the muscle group letting it go limp like spaghetti and repeat the process until you know how to relax the muscle. Repeat this with all the muscle groups, fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and legs.
  3. Music: Take some time out daily and listen to relaxing music.
  4. Exercise: Moderate exercise is an important key to coping with stress.
  5. Meditation: Meditation is a technique to help clear stressful thoughts from your mind. Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on one peaceful syllable or word which is repeated silently or in a low, gentle tone. This can help you “erase” your minds slate of “shoulds” allowing you the pleasure of a peaceful, serene break. 

Feel free to ask us for more information about the concept of being present and what it can mean for you.

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