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Centering Yourself in the Present

By Erica Bobish, LSW

I was at Walgreens in the middle of August when I saw Halloween candy out. School semesters hadn’t started, we hadn’t even made it past Labor Day, and here I was staring down aisles of candy, pumpkins, and decorations. Nearly a month later, it’s mid September, and my local Target has Thanksgiving decorations and turkeys as far as the eye can see.

There’s a delicate balance between making plans for the future, reflecting on the past, and just enjoying the present. It can feel so natural to think about what we’re doing next weekend, for the holidays, or even a 5 year plan. We’re all guilty of this, and to some degree, it can be necessary or beneficial. For instance, this future planning can be an avoidance tactic. It might be deadlines in front of you that are causing stress, or emotions that you may not feel capable of addressing at this time. Sometimes this redirection of focus is beneficial, allowing you to step back and take a break from high stress topics. It can also be a way for an individual who is neurodivergent (diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Autism, etc.) to increase productivity or motivation by completing tasks or creating a plan that will be used long term. All of this is to say, there is a difference between intentionally considering what is coming up and simply getting wrapped up in a “what’s next” mentality. We HAVE to plan for some things, like flights or time off, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of appreciating where we are and who we are with.

There are countless strategies for bringing yourself back to the present moment. When you catch yourself, make note of where your head is at (whether it’s ruminating on the past, or living in the future). This awareness is a key first step in changing thought patterns or behaviors. After you’ve recognized it, try one of these mindfulness practices:

  • Breathing techniques: there are a variety of breathing techniques that folks find helpful but a great place to start is by breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 10 seconds. By focusing on your breathing and managing it, you’re able to redirect your attention.
  • Guided or unguided forms of meditations: there are hundreds of accessible and culturally-sensitive meditations available at our fingertips such as:
    • Liberate: “Led by BIPOC teachers; designed for the Black experience” (paid monthly or yearly subscription)
    • Exhale: “An Emotional Well-Being App For BIWOC By BIWOC” (paid monthly or yearly subscription)
    • Insight Timer: Guided and unguided meditations and workshops in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German (free, optional subscription)
    • Smiling Minds: an evidence-based, not-for-profit mindfulness app with over 300 meditations and mindfulness programs for both adults and children (free)
    • Prayer and/or intentional quiet time
  • 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique: Identify 5 things around you that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This is a great technique for reducing anxiety, relieving symptoms of panic attacks, and taking time to root yourself in the current moment
  • Taking time to recalibrate yourself and remember that what’s in the past cannot be changed and what’s in the future is yet to happen.
  • Physical practices such as nature walks, yoga, and stretching.

Although it’s relatively harmless, and often important, for us to plan for the future, we also should take time to ground ourselves in the here and now. By taking time to re-center ourselves, we allow ourselves space to reflect on our feelings and emotions, decrease levels of stress and anxiety, and increase our focus on what needs our attention immediately.

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