There is a well-known quote that has been credited to Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, that says:
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
Whether or not that is the direct translation of the quote or a slight modernization of it, the meaning behind what is being said is worth exploring further.
The art of being present is hard for many. Why else would there be novels and movies revolving around the idea of a character who yearns to have made a different choice, or self-help books that emphasize the importance of being in the now rather than worrying about the future or consumed by the past?
But it’s hard. It’s hard to just flip the switch in your brain that also allows us the ability to feel nostalgic over memories or the ability to daydream about the future. Hard, yes. But impossible? No.
There is a difference between remembering the past versus being consumed by it.
There is a difference between a nervous excitement over the future versus a feeling of terror or panic.
Being present is possible and it really just means training yourself to be in the now. The whole “take-things-one-day-at-a-time” is great advice because no day is guaranteed to anyone.
Why worry about the past? You can’t go back and change anything. The past is gone and the only thing you have is the now. Now flip it. Why worry about the future? It’s not promised to you. All anyone has is the now.
The would-ofs, could-ofs, should-ofs, and the what-ifs of life should not take precedence over this exact moment here and now. Mental health can be improved by a change in mindset. For some, that means meditation. Allowing yourself to slow down, practice controlled breathing, and take some time to be present.
For others, it means practicing more gratitude. By taking the time to acknowledge all that you’re grateful for and all that is going right in your life, you can start developing the habit of focusing on the good rather than the bad. This can be as simple as writing down three things you are grateful for each morning or every night before bed.
And because there is no one cure-all way to be more in the present, you may find the solution that works for you is speaking with a friend, a family member, or a healthcare professional that can help find a method that best fits you.
Mental health is just as important as physical health (if not more!), which is why we are happy to bring attention to it and partner with NAMI throughout the month of May. If you’d like to learn more about Mental Health Month, please visit https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth.
And remember to fully live for today!