"Just breathe." "Focus on the present." "Don't worry about the future." These words may sound like helpful pearls of wisdom, but staying present through tough times is often easier said than done.
COVID-19 has stripped away our sense of normalcy and stability. Instead, we now live life on continually shifting ground, with no known destination. In these instances of ongoing change, it's only natural to feel disoriented, to worry about the future, and to mourn what once was. As a result, being present has never been more difficult, nor more important.
Staying Present in Lockdown
Despite all the difficulties caused by lockdown, including my husband being away for almost six months, I kept my head down, focused on work, and took it one day at a time.
Being present in a strange world? Aced it! Or so I thought. This week I was reminded of the difficulties of remaining present, when I came face-to-face with an imagined future without my beloved dog.
Dog of My Life
I spend every day with my loyal and beautiful adopted rottweiler, Kaiser. He sleeps on my bed at night, lays down next to my desk during the day, and pushes his head under my "mouse hand" when he wants attention.
On Thursday night, Kaiser was uncharacteristically restless. By Friday morning, I knew that something was off and rushed him to the vet. During that 100-kilometer drive, Kaiser took a turn for the worse, and the gravity of the situation began to hit me.
After several tests, X-rays, and an overnight stay in the hospital, I got the call to say that Kaiser needed immediate surgery to remove a possible obstruction in his stomach. That was when the dam broke.
I had managed to stay focused on picking up a happy and healthy Kaiser later that day. But now I was confronted with a possible future without my beloved companion.
While making dinner, I began sobbing, and thought, "What am I doing? I'm crying as if he's died." I regained control (sort of) and tried not to think about a tomorrow that might not have Kaiser in it. I reminded myself that he was in excellent care and that there was hope – only to burst into tears again, minutes later.
Focus on the "Now"
Flash forward to today, when I realized that I have to stop thinking about anything other than the present. Kaiser is alive now, and I have things to do now – and that's as far as I can think. I can't even think about what I'm going to cook tonight. Any thought of the future (even if it's only two hours away) brings anxiety.
Trying to force myself to be present doesn't work – it only makes me feel guilty for not getting it right. The only way I manage to "be present" (and not mourn events that have only happened in my head) is to concentrate on what I need to do from moment to moment – and no more.
Editor's Note: Since Yolande wrote this, her beloved dog Kaiser has sadly passed away. He will be sorely missed by his family and all those who got to hear about his and Yolande's adventures together.
Living in a Strange and Unstable World
Many of us had to (and still have to) cope with changed circumstances due to the pandemic. People lost their jobs and incomes, couldn't spend time with family and friends, weren't able to move around freely, and couldn't even get outside to exercise or grab a coffee.
Being Present in a Strange World
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we discussed what it means to be present, and whether it's a way of denying or dealing with reality. Here are the questions we asked, and a selection of your responses:
Q1. What are you running away or hiding from in this strange world?
@JKatzaman I'm avoiding previously common human contact, taking precautions as if my world has become a mobile emergency room.
@TwinkleEduCons I guess I am avoiding attaching myself to any long term plans right now and trying to be open minded & flexible about my future - work & personal.
@ZalkaB I think a lot of times it can come down to uncertainty and fear of the unknown. These volatile times can trigger many fears or make people feel like they can't control things or have some stability in the near future. It can be tough & challenging at times.
Q2. What emotions are you suppressing/struggling with?
@bodytextpro So much! Anger, fear, but also flashes of bizarre joy. Oh and guilt and... desperation? And grief - nothing personal, fortunately, but there's just so much loss right now.
@Sizwemoyo I struggle with melancholy and feel unsafe outside sometimes but I'm too proud to ask for help.
Q3. How do you know when you're not present? How do you feel/think?
@JKatzaman You know you're not present when every message starts with, "Long time, no see."
@Sizwemoyo When things are falling apart, I'm dropping things, and I feel like my head is about to explode, then I know I'm not being present.
@Midgie_MT When I am not hearing or understanding what someone is saying. Feel numb and confused at times.
@ColeenWarden I am full of worry and can't make decisions.
Q4. Can we choose whether to "space out"? How?
@letusthink2 Absolutely! I would just change it to "take a time out." You choose to take that time when you are feeling low/sad/stressed/anxious or anything. Take time to understand the "why" and figure out "how" you can change how you feel.
@ColfaxInsurance Sometimes. If you're in a position you don't want to be in, you can sometimes force yourself to zone out, but I think a lot [of] times it happens on its own and you snap back into reality when something/someone brings you back.
@VardhanPande We can choose to "space out" but it might not go well in a work setting. It can be done by focusing on things that help you regain your focus on work.
Q5. Isn't all this "being present" stuff just a way of denying reality, yes or no? Why?
@BRAVOMedia1 Being present, in my opinion, is a state of mind.
@SizweMoyo I think it's a way of accepting reality. You're choosing to focus on what's happening right now and moving with reality rather than focusing your attention on some past or future event that's not real anymore, or yet.
@letusthink2 I don’t think "being present" denies you of your reality. It makes you more aware of your surroundings, your feelings and who you are. Being truly mindful/present is when you hold yourself accountable to your own actions and words.
Q6. How does being present in a strange world solve anything?
@JKatzaman The strange world will be a variation of what finally becomes the new world. Getting used to it now will keep you a step ahead of others in the transition.
@ColeenWarden Being present in a strange world will help you keep your thoughts organized and remind you what is important to put your energy towards.
Q7. What are your energy levels like when you're present and what does that mean for you?
@lsmurthy99 It's complete control of the situation with positive thoughts, enthusiasm and high energy when I am totally in the present.
@SizweMoyo I actually feel less tired and more alert when I take a moment to be present, this means I'm willing to do what I had planned rather than wallow on opportunities I've missed.
Q8. How does being present help to rationalize what's happening around us?
@MicheleDD_MT Presence removes the emotional chatter & clutter that distracts us. We focus in the facts - what's really happening.
@ColfaxInsurance It makes it easier for us to clearly see, think about and react to what's happening around us.
Q9. How do you stay present when listening to someone who is "spreading fear" or focusing on all the negatives?
@bodytextpro Breathe breathe breathe! And then count to 10, too. Not easy on social media.
@MarkC_Avgi Life is 20 percent what happens to you and 80 percent how you react to it. Choose to ignore those spreading fear or negativity. Be present in your own life, not theirs.
Q10. What can you do for yourself and others to lessen the exhaustion of living in a strange world?
@letusthink2 One of the biggest things that one can do is to not spread "fear." Listen to the facts, follow the guidelines, and keep your families safe the best way you deem fit.
@JKatzaman Don't seal yourself off from those you know and love. Maintaining connections helps you share the load in a journey to the unknown.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Our Next #MTtalk
We all know that momentary high from ticking something off a To-Do List. But what should we be adding, or not adding, to our lists in the first place, and how can we avoid them overwhelming us? For our next #MTtalk, we're going to discuss the best way to manage a To-Do List – and find out what a "to-don't list" is!
In our poll this week, we'd like to hear your views on To-Do Lists. You can see the poll, and cast your vote, here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to last Friday's chat.
Note: some of the resources below may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and corporate licensees.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence
How to Keep Calm in a Crisis
8 Ways to Improve Your Powers of Observation
Ben-Shahar's Happiness Model
Top 10 Personal Morale Boosters
What Are Your Values?