Reverse Your Anxious Conditioning with Present-Moment Awareness

May 25, 2021   •  Posted in: 

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.

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

Read More

Related Posts

How to Calm Anxiety at Night: 14 Tips for Sleeping Better With Anxiety

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  December 24, 2021

Many people with anxiety have experienced this scenario: You’re finally done with a long day and have tucked yourself in for the night. Suddenly, your brain starts firing off worries that hadn’t even occurred to you during the day. What if I get fired? Am I a good parent? Did...

Journaling Your Story Has Great Power

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  November 20, 2017

Each time you take time to chronicle a struggle, you contribute to the handbook of how to overcome and succeed the next time. In essence, you write your own self-help book.

How Your Inner Child Influences Your Food Choices

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  January 12, 2016

You may be over forty, but most of us have one stubborn little kid rattling around inside. This “kid” represents some unfilled childhood need. And until we either fill or let go of that need, there he or she stays—never aging, always demanding.Kids like to eat junk food. They’re not...

Get Started Now

"*" indicates required fields

Main Concerns*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Whole Person Care

The whole person approach to treatment integrates all aspects of a person’s life:

  • Emotional well-being
  • Physical health
  • Spiritual peace
  • Relational happiness
  • Intellectual growth
  • Nutritional vitality