Practising Presence

Small waterfall.There it is again: a blank page. Just like last time. There is something intimidating about an empty page. I started my last post talking about that too – that I could fill the space with anything I choose to write. Yet sometimes having too many decisions to make, or too broad a task to do, or too many choices available can be overwhelming. I expect that others find the same thing, but I seem to hit that point more quickly than most.

The simplest decision can overwhelm me sometimes. At times like that, even making coffee can feel like a struggle. “Do I fill the basket with grounds first or put the water in? Do I even want coffee bad enough to go through this?” As ridiculous as it sounds to get overwhelmed by something trivial like that, even now that I'm doing much better it sometimes feels like that overwhelm is lurking in the shadows, waiting.

When it takes over it feels like an intense anxiety about doing something wrong and it doesn't matter that the stakes are low. (What's the worst that could happen?) And yet the anxiety is still there; I can feel it in my body like a constant hum. I feel that kind of anxiety so often it's almost become a normal thing for me. But that doesn't seem to make it easier to cope with.

I try to tell myself that there is no reason to be anxious but my body tells me otherwise. It's hard to talk sense to an anxious body. I feel there must be some way to get through yet my mind gets wrapped up in the anxiety as well. My thoughts swirl around me and I can't seem to think straight.

I'm grateful that my capacity is better now, but the improvement is a slow process that continues. It's a process of training myself to be able to ground in the present moment and look for something good, even in the middle of anxiety. In the thick of things it's not easy to do without practice. At such times, I wish I had practised being present when I was feeling good.

I have just begun to remember to do some deep breathing when I'm anxious and pay close attention as I breathe. That can be a first step in practising presence. By adding the other senses, the process of grounding in the present moment can be enhanced.

You have five senses to pay attention to, but take them one at a time. Paying close attention to your surroundings, choose five things you can see and look at them very carefully, each in turn. Then find four things you can touch and immerse your attention in the feeling of each. Next, choose three things you can hear. It can take some close attention to pick things out and listen to each. That's perfect! The more attention you can pay to things, the better.

Then see if you can find two things you can smell. Finally, try to find one thing to taste. I've heard of people carrying raisins for the exercises of seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting. A mint would be useful for tasting too, although neither the raisin nor the mint work very well for the listening exercise.

Practising paying attention to your breath is a useful meditation technique and I highly recommend learning basic mindfulness meditation. That is the kind of thing that will be more useful the more it is practised. If it's a habit it will be more easily accessible even in the middle of an anxiety attack.

Basic mindfulness meditation is very simple. Just follow your normal breathing with careful attention and notice how thoughts come and take your attention away. Gently return your attention to your breath without judging the thought that distracted you. As you practice more often, you might start to recognize a thought beginning to arise and be able to choose to remain focused on your breathing instead of thinking.

The idea is to learn something about how the mind works and how to give your mind a rest from incessant thinking about the past and future and everything else. You begin to learn how to interrupt anxiety-producing thoughts and replace them with awareness of the present moment.

The more practice you have with mindfulness meditation, the easier it will be to use the other presence exercises when anxiety is high and the more effective they will be. Most meditation teachers suggest a daily practice of at least 20 minutes but really, anything is better than not practising at all. Having said that, I confess that I don't practise meditation daily and I know I suffer for it. I have to work harder at presence because I lack a daily practice.

I hope this entry has been useful to anyone who gets easily overwhelmed. I'm sure some of you relate all too well to anxiety problems. I do know that it can get better with time and practice. I know it can be hard to do when you're depressed. I know anxiety and depression often go together. But now, I also know there is a way through both.

In the meantime, until next time, I wish you wellness.


Great tips, thanks!

Glad you found it useful. Thanks for reading, Denise!