A person suffering from anxiety spends most of his or her time either remembering some frightening event that’s long gone, or imagining ones yet to come. In other words, their minds habitually gravitate to the past and the future, but rarely give any thought to what is happening right here, right now. And there are tangible reasons why that’s a real shame.
A brain imaging study conducted by researchers at The University of Colorado and Icahn School of Medicine in 2018 confirmed what therapists and mystics have known for a long time: the brain responds the same to an event, regardless of whether it is actually happening or only imagined.
If you habitually spend time imagining frightening or traumatic events in the past or future, your body responds exactly as if it’s really happening. But because it’s not real, there is no natural closure to your heightened state of alarm, exposing your body to harmful stress hormones over long periods of time. The consequences of that include a whole host of physical ailments, not to mention the tragedy of your lost enjoyment of life.
Deliberately centering your awareness in the present moment, and letting your focus on what is real right now distract your mind from the past and future fantasies for a moment, is a great way to silence your fears and find rest. It works because the mind is also incapable of holding two thoughts at the same time, and you get to choose which has the floor.
Try this: sit in a relatively quiet place where you can be undisturbed for a few moments. Close your eyes and purposely relax your body. Breathe evenly and deeply, paying attention to how that feels. Cool air in, warm air out. Feel the rising and falling of your chest and belly. Focus your mind on those sensations. When competing thoughts arise – and they will – gently set them aside and return to awareness of your breathing. Now shift attention to how your feet feel against the floor or the soft pressure of the chair on your legs and back. Listen to the sound of birds outside the window or wind in the trees.
At some point when you are relaxed and enjoying the pleasure of simply being, expand your mental focus to include everything in the room. Ask yourself, “Is there anything present, here and now, that is frightening? If I open my eyes, what would I see to remind me of the past trauma or future disaster? Is there any evidence that those things are real?”
Almost without exception, the answer will be that anxiety has no actual reason to exist here and now. Eventually, the fearfulness goes extinct when robbed of its connection to reality. Do this exercise anytime you feel your body and mind tensing up with anxiety, and you’ll quickly learn what a healing refuge the present moment can be.
When you’re experiencing anxiety, reach into your toolbox and examine this technique for training yourself to work through your fear, not be “worked over” by it.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, it’s important to seek professional help. Our world-class team of eating disorder professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE has helped many people recover from eating disorders through our focus on whole person care. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to get more information or to speak confidentially with an eating disorder recovery specialist today.