Most of our anxiety stems from thinking about what did go wrong in the past or might go wrong in the future, with some anxiety occurring during those limited experienced moments when things are really going wrong there and then. It has been suggested that the average person spends about 60% of their waking hours thinking the past and future, and only 40% of their waking hours experiencing the now.
We tend to be avid thinkers and unfortunately much of our thinking may be focused on rehashing negative experiences in the past (which we simply can’t change) and catastrophising the future (which often doesn’t materialise). Whenever we think a negative thought, especially of a threatening nature, our brainstem activates the fight, flight, or freeze response which keeps us in a state of worry or arousal until we neutralise the threat. When we think up our worries about yesterday and tomorrow we stay in a state of arousal for as long as we worry or think about them because we can’t fix or change what has already happened or fix what hasn’t happened yet (and often does not happen).
Most anxiety problems or disorders result from this type of irrational thinking or worrying. Try to spend more time experiencing the now and less time thinking the past and future using some of the following simple strategies:
Regularly check in with yourself. If you catch yourself somewhere in the past or future, ensure that your thinking is actually related to what you should be and are doing in the current moment and that your thinking is actually adding value.
Get right back into the moment. We can experience the moment but not think it. To experience is to consciously engage with what we are doing through our senses.
To switch your brain from thinking the past and future to experiencing the now, try using the 5 senses game. A version of this is to immediately identify and describe in detail to yourself 5 things you can see in your immediate surroundings, 4 sounds, 3 tactile sensations, 2 smells and 1 taste.
Shift your senses/experiencing onto the meaningful activity that you should be/are currently engaged with. (Of course it is quite important that we know what our meaningful activities are in order to engage with them more consciously, and I will discuss this in more detail in future blogs).
Seek further assistance for thinking and anxiety management.