5 Ways to Be Comfortable in the Present Moment
Recovery changes everything. If you’ve been living in the flat, black and white world of dulled senses, kicking an addiction kicks life into Technicolor.
If you’ve been living in the slowed down speed of depression or depressants, suddenly things will feel like you’re living at warp speed. If every day has been fueled by stimulants without them life might seem to crawl at a disturbingly mellow pace. However addiction has been helping you create a life, then living without addiction can make every moment feel noticeably odd and even unbearable.
Learning to reconnect to—and feel comfortable in—the present moment can be critical to negotiating a new way of living and crucial to quelling the anxiety that new life creates.
How Your Brain Interprets the Present Moment
Addictions are often fueled by a need to self-soothe because we want to escape the present and its disagreeable, awkward or troubling elements.Using addiction in this way puts in place a practice of present-moment disconnection that becomes habitual.-Michele RosenthalYour brain experiences the present moment through two parallel mechanisms. First, your senses funnel information from the outside world into your brain where the facts are assessed for threat, meaning and relevance. This process helps your brain decide where to focus your attention for how long and when.
Second, your brain activates neural pathways that hold information about past experiences similar to the moment you’re in. By doing this your brain accesses thoughts, feelings and emotions that provide a bridge between the past and the present in ways designed to keep you safe. All of this, by the way, happens below your conscious awareness.
The influx of sensory and neural information can seem intense, overwhelming and disturbing if it propels uncomfortable memories, fears and uncertainty. This is where addictions step in as coping mechanisms. Addictions are often fueled by a need to self-soothe because we want to escape the present and its disagreeable, awkward or troubling elements. Using addiction in this way puts in place a practice of present-moment disconnection that becomes habitual.
Learning To Comfortably Connect to the Present Moment
Part of removing an addiction includes learning how to experience yourself, your life, others and the world while being present. With a long habit of disconnection knowing how to healthily connect to the present moment can be a challenge—but there are ways to make it easier.
Techniques for Trusting the Present Moment
The most effective techniques combine what you sense and what you feel in pleasurable ways that retrain your mind, body and brain to trust the present moment rather than be suspicious or afraid of it. Here’s a look at five such techniques:
- Play: When you feel good you feel strong. Feeling a sense of your own well-being strengthens your ability to have an “I can handle it!” attitude, which lessens fear and improves flexibility. Play means engaging in an activity purely for your own pleasure, enjoyment and recreation. Such activities release mood-enhancing endorphins and, when experienced with others, create a sense of connection, community and trust—all of which makes the present moment more tolerable, bearable and even fun, which creates new neural pathways logging feel-good experiences.
- Be Conscious: Addictions promote a lack of consciousness, literally and figuratively. They offer escape; a way to dissociate from the real world and exist in a fantasy where problems cease to exist, fears shrink and our ability to manage anything seems to magically enlarge. Alternatively, recovery requires a return to conscious awareness, one that recognizes both the external and internal world. An easy way to develop this skill is to be curious. Ask yourself questions about what you and others experience and your response(s) to it. For example, “What do I think about what just happened?” or “How does he feel about what she just said?” Reflection creates consciousness.
- Attend to Your Senses: Your conscious mind filters approximately 40,000 bits of stimuli per second. Your experience of any moment begins with this sensory relay to your brain. Taking stock of your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) brings you down into the actual processing of any second you’re in. Asking yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What do I hear in this moment?” connects you to how your brain is immediately perceiving the data it receives.
- Share Your Experience: The more emotion you feel in any moment the more deeply it encodes in your brain, memory and emotional landscape. Sharing a moment by healthily connecting to someone else gives the experience emotional resonance; it engages the limbic system of your brain that encourages the dopamine circuit which promotes feelings of harmony. The end result: the creation of a sense of peace, calm and belonging.
- Notice Details: Being present means paying attention and noticing both the big and little picture. Developing your connection to the present moment happens automatically when you notice the details of the moment you’re in.
It’s All in the Details
The kids’ game “I spy” is terrifically designed for noticing details. It offers a simply structured process for creating a new habit of noticing what’s happening around you.
In any moment pause, take a look around, and then catalog what you see by saying, “I spy (“with my little eye”, if you want to go full force retro!) ___________.” Then fill in the blank with as many details of sights, sounds, colors, movement and facts as you can.
Recovery can be lonely and the changes it brings unfamiliar and scary. Learning how to take charge of the changes by developing proactive, empowering choices and actions that propel you toward pleasurable experiences of the present moment allow you to engage in life from a new perspective and approach, plus build new habits that lessen fear, promote control and deepen your connection to a healthy lifestyle.
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