Can Being Present really Have a Major Impact on Mental Wellness?

(Estimated reading time 3 minutes)

“I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

Abraham Maslow

Instead of new year’s resolutions (which I’ve never been good at keeping), I chose an intention this year – to be present. Maslow, a psychologist well known for proposing the hierarchy of needs and someone I remember studying when I was getting my social work degree, suggests that being present is a major component of mental wellness.

It’s been close to a year that I’ve been practicing being present. Here’s how I did.

What and why?

I wanted to learn to be more aware by bringing my attention to what was happening now – in the present moment. I hoped that being more present would have a positive impact on my relationships, my work and also give me more information about myself.

When this included other people, it was about learning to be less distracted. This involved things like putting my phone away and keeping my thoughts on the person I was with and the conversation we were having.

When it came to being more present to myself, it was about noticing the impact of whatever I was doing or thinking on my body, mind, emotions, relationships, habits etc. Being present to this was often quite uncomfortable, but it did serve to help me notice the patterns of what I do when I feel stressed, sad or worried.

What did I do to learn to be more present?

  1. I used the Headspace App – this app teaches you how to meditate, to notice your thoughts and emotions and to quieten your mind-chatter. I did about 30 hours and 145 sessions over the year.
  2. Journaling – not daily, but often.
  3. Coaching – I’ve had coaching throughout the year, aside from a couple of months in the summer.

What did I learn?

  1. I learned that I am not my thoughts and feelings – they are present, but they do not have to control me. I can choose what I focus on, and it makes a difference.
  2. I learned to be kinder to and less judgmental of myself and others.
  3. I learned to listen better.
  4. I learned to recognize my mind-chatter and see its impact. I got better at quietening it.
  5. I learned to stop and notice what is going on (especially when I’m stressed out or uncomfortable). It sometimes takes me a bit of time to get there, but I’m getting better at it. I realized that changing your physiology can have a remarkable impact on your mind and emotions. A few minutes of focusing your attention on the rise and fall of your breathing or the sensation of the sun on your face calms the body, but it also has a similar impact on the mind and the emotions. Here’s what that might look like if you wanted to give it a try:
    • Take about 10 minutes – sit down, eyes closed or open with a soft focus
    • Take a minute or two to focus on the rise and fall of your breath.
    • Then start to notice your physiology. Scan from your head all the way down to your toes. What are your thoughts like? What do your shoulders feel like? Is your breathing shallow or deep, quick or slow? What does your stomach feel like? And so on … you can do that in as much detail as you want to. Take your time. Be curious. Observe.
    • If you’re stressed, you might have racing thoughts, shallow breathing, tight shoulders, stomach in a knot etc. Consciously go to each of the areas you have identified in your body and adapt them. You might start by breathing more slowly and deeply, then drop your hunched-up shoulders and consciously relax them. If you picture your stressed-out mind like a stormy sky, you might imagine the storm clouds blowing away and a calm, blue sky in its place. This technique doesn’t take away the cause of your stress, but it does allow you to think more clearly and feel calmer.

Overall, I am happy with the results of my experiment to learn to be present. I think it had an impact on how well I can focus on the people that I am with and as a result, has improved those relationships. It was also personally beneficial in helping me learn to quieten unhelpful thoughts, deal with stress and become aware of behaviour patterns that I want to change.

Learning to be more present has had a beneficial impact in my life, both in concrete and in less tangible ways. I plan to continue developing my being-present skills in the year to come.

Sue Das, Courage Coach, CPCC, ACC, B Soc Sci (SW)

If you’re interested in coaching with me you can Connect with me here.

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