Are you there? The trouble with being present

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Everyone at one time or another has zoned out of a conversation or missed their exit on the freeway. However, is this your norm? Do you struggle to be present in your day to day actives? And really what does being present mean? Being present is defined as existing or occurring now. It requires someone to mindful of their internal thoughts and feelings, as well as those around them. Yet, survivors of trauma struggle with what seems like the simple task of being present

Trauma can change the way the brain functions and how someone things about the world. It also changes how a person interacts with the word and how they view the world.  This could have come from a variety of situations or causes, but the reason for this is always the same.  The reason is that that the person is trying to cope with the world around them. Often children who have been abused have learned that it is safer to be in their minds than in the world around them. Trauma survivors feel that being in your body or your mind is dangerous due to past events. While this is a brilliant coping skill it can create problems later on. Maybe you are noticing this and want to change it. Or maybe your parent get irritated when this happens.  Here are some strategies to help you come back to the now when you are struggling to be present.

First notice. First notice that you are not present. Acknowledge this with kindness and try not to judge yourself for not being in the now.

Observe your surroundings. Try observing what you hear, see and smell. What do you see? How many people are around you? What is the temperature like?

Pay attention to how something tastes or feels. Try eating a piece of gum or chocolate. Savor the taste and how it feels on your tongue. Notice how it makes you feel.

Ask yourself silly little questions. Another way is the ask yourself what we call silly little questions. For example, can you name an animal for every letter in the alphabet? What did you have for dinner every night last week? These little questions help get you back into your cognitive thinking part of your brain which will then allow you to become more present.  

Count things of a certain color. What’s your favorite color? Can you name everything in the room around you with that color?

Take deep breaths and focus on how it feels. Try this breaking exercise called 4 square breathing. Breath in for 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4, hold for 4, and repeat. Pay attention to your breath and how it feels. Notice your heart rate.

Try these skills, practice them when you need them and when you do not. The more you practice being present the easier it gets and the more often you will find yourself just naturally doing it. Again, remember that learning to be present is a process and is not something that happens overnight. Try it out and see if consciously working on being present helps you feel better and be more engaged in your life.  

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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