How much time are you spending worrying about things outside of your control? Have you thought about what those things are? In simple terms things we can’t control include the weather or people driving on the road. More challenging things that we can’t control are events or circumstances such as what people say or do, the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of an illness, the family we were raised by, or countless other circumstances that we cannot control. So, what do you do when this happens over and over again? Do you feel stressed, bogged down, overwhelmed, perhaps in more severe cases do you get panic attacks and experience shortness of breath and racing thoughts or maybe you check out because you feel so overwhelmed? Sometimes it can be easier to tune out of the present and almost feel numb because reality is too painful. The truth is the present is the best gift you can give yourself. Why, might you ask? Well, the present moment does not have to contain that fear, doubt or worry that ails your mind. The present moment is a voluntary submission to let go of that which you cannot control and choosing to leave the doubt and worry aside. What do I mean by this exactly? The truth is we all have things we can choose to worry about whether they are things from the past or concerns for the future but holding on to those thoughts is not changing the circumstance only increasing your anxiety and generating uncomfortable physical symptoms such as a headache, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, or other physical issues. How do you choose to let go of that which you cannot control, and actually control what is in your power to control? Here are three simple suggestions:
Notice Your Surroundings
At the onset of a thought in which you find yourself ruminating about, gently ask yourself, “What are three things in the room that I notice? What are their shapes, color, and purpose?” Take the time to really look around the room and describe those three items that stand out to you. What happens when you do this is you begin to come back into the present and instead of checking out from the here and now you have checked out from those thoughts that were preoccupying your mind incessantly.
Develop a Mantra
During times when inexplicable things happen, I find it encouraging to think about a statement or phrase that is positive or true. For me I like to meditate on the Serenity Prayer. This prayer was written by an American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1951. It states,
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This short but encouraging prayer reminds me to let go and focus on what can I do about my circumstances. If the answer is nothing, well then there is peace with knowing that at times there will be things that I cannot change. What is this mantra for you? It can be a simple statement like “It will be okay” or “It doesn’t have to be perfect” or a scripture verse, really any statement that you believe to be true for yourself.
Once you have picked your mantra meditate on that for a couple of minutes. You can start in small increments then build up to 10 minutes of meditation or reflection on that mantra. What this does is quiet your mind, and centers it on something that is serving you versus focusing on something that is not beneficial to you.
After completing these steps what you have done is a) ground yourself into the present b) shifted your focus to a positive statement that then produces a positive state of mind and c) quieted your mind and body and decreased your hyperarousal state. If you find your mind wandering back to worries, doubts or concerns, there is grace for yourself. Simply begin from the beginning. The more practice you have in doing these simple steps, the more quickly your brain will go to this the next time something difficult comes up. By completing these steps every time you find your mind gravitating to old habits or thoughts you are training your brain or rewire it to focus on what is in your control and to find rest in the present moment.
How can we trust what tomorrow may bring when the current circumstances you’re facing are scary and painful? We can’t, but you can trust for this moment that at this exact time you are here and the truths you’ve just told yourself are the things you can trust for this moment.