How To Reconceptualize ‘Time’ To Transform Your Anxiety￼
Do you ever feel that your body and mind are disconnected as you go about your day?
Even when you are not multitasking and your body is moving at a regular pace to complete the task at hand, your mind seems to be racing ahead.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You are chopping up vegetables for dinner tonight. As your hand carries the knife through the motions of slicing and dicing, you’re thinking about how you have to wash the dishes next, and then take out the garbage, then water the plants, then fold the laundry, and so on (and on and on).
Suddenly, the otherwise simple task of chopping vegetables begins to feel inordinately overwhelming, and sure enough…
…your anxiety starts creeping in.
You may even find that this body/mind disconnect happens even when you are winding down or doing things you enjoy.
For example, does this sound like you? You’re doing a puzzle and even as your eyes are slowly scanning for the right pieces, your mind is racing thinking about how you need to order dinner, then take a bath, then binge-watch season two of Love is Blind.
Those activities stop being fun and start feeling like chores!
What’s really going on here? That disconnect is there because your body is in the present moment, but your mind is racing towards the future.
Your body is in the present moment, but your mind is racing towards the future.
It’s likely you’re aware of the importance of staying present, but you may find it difficult to put it into practice.
That’s where we come in.
In this post, I’ll discuss how reconceptualizing the way we think about time—particularly the present vs. the future—can help our minds slow down to match the pace of our bodies, and in turn help ease our anxiety.
It’s a simple trick with large impact potential! Here we go.
We Don’t Move Through Time – Rather, Time Moves Through Us
I encourage you to watch this short video from therapist Luke Draper in which he describes how to change your relationship with time.
Just in case you’re in the mood to skip it, I’ll summarize it for you here:
You likely conceptualize time as a “past” that’s stretched out behind you and a “future” that’s stretched out in front of you. You imagine that you are moving through time, which can create a lot of stress and anxiety as you feel you must pull yourself towards the future.
Instead of seeing yourself as a figure moving through time, I want you to envision that time is moving through YOU. Yes, you.
How does this work? You are continually fixed in the present moment, meaning you can only exist in the present moment.
As Draper says in his video, “There will be no future that you ever arrive to… The future makes its way towards you.”
You can only exist in the present moment.
How To Re-conceptualize Time Day-to-Day
If you imagine time in this new way, that time is moving through you, you release yourself from the “work” of having to move through time. It’s not something you have to do. It’s not your job to move through time. Phew!
You are in the present moment right now, and the future will come to you as it always has.
The video’s focus is on changing our relationship with time to help relieve the stress of achieving long-term goals. What about everyday moments though? Arguably, that’s where we run into the most difficulty staying present.
Let’s shift focus and discuss this reconceptualization in the context of day-to-day life.
It’s not your job to move through time.
Once we believe that we are fixed in time, we can learn to dedicate more of our energy to the present moment instead of anticipating what will come next.
In other words, you don’t have to do the mentally draining work of pushing towards the future, and can just focus on completing the task you’re currently on.
This new view of time can help ease your anxiety by allowing your mind to slow down and release the burden of thinking in future-tense.
Major perks of adopting this mindset: You will start to feel that each day is just an infinite number of present moments, and time is responsible for bringing each moment to you.
Staying Grounded In The Present Moment
So now you’ve reconceptualized time, but how do you actually put it into practice? How do you snap yourself out of those anxious moments when you’re so focused on what’s next on your to-do list?
Here are some tips for reminding yourself you are fixed in time, and for grounding yourself in the present moment:
Create your to-do list in the morning and then put it away
There’s no need to look at it every 10 minutes. This will only cause further anxiety about the future. Instead, refer to it only after you’ve completed a task, or even after a few tasks. This will help you move through your day one moment at a time.
Pay attention to your breath
When your mind is running through time, even though your body is moving at a regular pace, you may feel that you’re short of breath. Inhale and exhale slowly, counting your breaths if you need to.
Narrate your actions
It may feel silly, but talking out loud to yourself about what you’re doing is a great way to stay grounded because your mind won’t have a chance to wander towards the future.
Stimulate more of your senses
(5 Gum reference not intended)
Paying attention to senses that otherwise may have been on autopilot during a certain task can help you feel immersed in the present moment. To bring us back to the first example in this post of chopping vegetables, stimulating your senses could mean paying attention to how the knife feels in your hand, or the sound it makes slicing through a tomato. This isn’t necessarily meant to force you to enjoy whatever you’re working on, but to experience the fullness of each moment and all the sensations and emotions (good or bad) that each moment evokes.
Experience the fullness of each moment.
Wrapping Up: Let’s Recap
In this post I focused on how changing our relationship with time can ease anxiety as we work on day-to-day tasks. There are many implications of seeing time in this new way.
Reconceptualizing time means seeing yourself as a fixed figure with the past drifting away from you and the future gliding towards you.
The key takeaway is: You are in the present moment, and time will do the work of moving through you.
Perhaps your stress or anxiety are caused by things that happened in the past, and reconceptualizing time can help you let go of feeling like you’re stuck or moving back in time.
I want to hear your thoughts on how you interpret this new view of time and how it resonates in your life. Leave me a comment below!
Until next time!
WellNest Psychotherapy Services
Sarah Ahmed is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Sarah strongly favors an integrative, trauma-informed, client-centered approach to create a healthy alliance with clients and their loved ones.
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