Don't Worry, Mom

Coping with anxiety in families

The Power of Being

Experience the joy of being in the present moment

A mentor once told me to "Be instead of do." I remember looking at him as though he had grown a second head.  What does that even mean?! Be what?  And how can you be without doing? I am highly goal-oriented so the concept of "just being" was a foreign one to me. 

It wasn't until I became a mom that I realized the importance of being (and learned how to do it). My daughter was a beautiful but colicky baby. She cried for hours and seemingly for no reason. I loved her with all of my heart, but it was hard to love the constant screaming. When she was awake, I frantically tried everything possible to keep her occupied and happy. I looked forward to the moment when she would nap so I could have a moment of peace. When she was asleep, I anxiously dreaded when she would wake up and the screaming would start all over again. 

A few months after she was born, I saw something on television about a child's death and I was struck by the level of grief that poor family must be experiencing. It was at that point that my old mentor's words came back to me. My life had become all about doing and living for the future.  There was no time during which I was "being" or even focusing on the current moment. I was living life for a future moment rather than embracing the current one. And I was unhappy because of it.

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So I decided to find a way just to be. When my daughter was awake, rather than anxiously wondering when she might cry or hungrily looking forward to her next nap, I would sit and enjoy her—show her things in the room, play with her, tickle her little belly. In my head, that could be the last moment that I ever spent with her and I wanted it to be one to cherish. I gave up on trying to accomplish household chores or work-related ones when she was awake and instead just lived in the moment—finding humor in the smallest (and often grossest) things that she did. I focused on the baby smell of her, the softness of her perfect skin, her sweet baby breath, the color of her eyes, and the expressiveness of her face. I challenged myself to savor each moment, no matter what we were doing and find some way to make it an enjoyable one. And I focused on my love for her and my gratitude for her existence. 

This didn't take away the colic or the challenges that come with a colicky baby, but it changed my approach to each day. I found myself enjoying her—the trials and the good moments and going to sleep each night with a string of happy moments that I could play back and enjoy. Since then, I have challenged myself to continue this—to find ways to imbue joy in the moment. To ensure that I was being even when I was doing and that I was living in the current moment instead of focusing on a future goal.

This type of present moment-focus is part of yoga, meditation, and even some therapies for anxiety disorders. The goal is to get the person out of their head, halt the vicious cycle of worries and ruminations, and to show the person what is right in front of them—that the present moment is a precious one and one that you will not get to experience again. It is challenging to do and requires achievement-oriented people like me to focus on the experience of the moment—to roll it around on my tongue like I would a fine wine, and to turn inward to notice the joy or the meaning of the moment for me. But it works! Try it!

To focus on the present moment, you have to focus on the sensory experiences of the moment and the intrinsic motivation to be in the current moment. For example, you can do the dishes noticing the clean, crisp smell of the detergent, the comforting warm feeling of the slippery, soapy, water on your skin, and the intrinsic motivation of cleaning up after your family as a way of loving them. Or you can do the dishes to get it finished so you can move on with your life. If you focus on that moment, it becomes a moment of meaning.   

Every moment of your day is like this—the moments when you are walking to work, sitting in a waiting room, or waiting in line at the grocery store. If you take in the crisp scent of the morning air, the feeling of the sunshine on your face, the soft chair beneath you, or the joy of buying groceries as a way of taking care of your family, these become enjoyable moments. If not, they become tasks that you do and moments that are easily forgotten. The problem is that every moment of your day can become something that is easily forgotten and you can go to sleep wondering what you did that day. Or you can go to sleep playing back a string of good experiences and enveloping yourself in the pleasant moments of the day. That, my friends, is what being is! It just took me most of my life to learn it.

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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