Anyone who’s tried meditating or yoga knows how hard it can be to get that darn to-do list to stop barging into your headspace, repeatedly. Being “in the present” sounds simple enough; you are reading this in the present, you were present today while working on that project, you were present when that bill arrived… but when you break it down, being present in the moment is actually no easy feat. It is very easy to slip into replaying experiences from the past and anticipating those that may take place in the future. And it is not always a bad thing that you do. Your ability to produce an effective grocery list based on relevant past data is useful, no doubt. However painful memories or future trepidations may be cause for concern. One sign is if they loop at such a rate that they get in the way of your effective daily functioning: if they are distracting you from your work, your relationships, and things you would otherwise enjoy.
If this sounds at all familiar, it probably comes as no surprise that this experience can worsen under stress. And like it or lump it, even things perceived as good, such as festive holiday seasons can bring on a tremendous load. From financial duress; to returning to your childhood bedroom while answering questions about your career and relationship status; to existential inventory taking; holidays can leave you with more than sugar plums dancing in your head. So my offering to you, is an ounce of prevention: do what you can to build up your ability to stay present by regularly practicing mindfulness before (and over) upcoming holidays. Whether that is downloading a meditation app, going for slow walks, doing some grounding exercises with Levine on Youtube, raking some sand in a tray, colouring, tapping in, going to your calm place through visualization, painting some watercolours… try to build in a two minute practice before bed a few nights a week and you might be surprised by the results you experience. You may find yourself not only being more present in general but that your brain reaches for these more adaptive tools in the moments of stress where you have previously felt less skillful and more inclined to “check out.” You may find yourself choosing to do that thing you have been wanting to get around to instead of binge streaming yourself into oblivion. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of TV and films but there is a marked difference between enjoying a show and looking back on hours of lost time, questioning whether the viewing was something you enjoyed or not.)
If your looping is strong enough, however, that you feel you could use a little extra support to stay in the present, you may consider therapy. As a trauma-focused therapist, before I look at anything else, I ask clients about what they have lived through in order to see how those experiences may still be affecting them: how distracting those painful memories and fears have become, what parts of their lives they are avoiding and in turn not excelling at or enjoying as a result. If we can process “big T” traumas (near death experiences such as war, assault, accidents…) and/or little “little t” traumas (any experience that was overwhelming and/or deeply humiliating such as job loss, divorce, abrupt move, chronic neglect… ) often symptoms (of anxiety, depression, etc.) that can otherwise land us with stigmatizing labels subside, and we are more available, to be present for each unfolding moment, for each presenting opportunity to enjoy our holidays, or any days for that matter.
I am happy to offer free 30 minute phone consultations in order for us to determine if my services may be of help.