Learning to Be Present

By Amy Martin, APRN

There seems to be an extreme disparity in attitude about how to feel or not feel emotions. Some say, don’t let yourself feel bad, depressed or negative because you’ll get stuck there, or attract more negativity to you. Others say, feel your feelings and let them out no matter what. Of course some feelings can be explosive if held in too long, creating an unhealthy intensity that may become like an addictive drama. (But we’ll talk about that later.)

I want to say that there is a middle way; make a decision to let yourself acknowledge your emotions rather than suppressing them. Life will be much easier if you are willing to be more honest with your self and those around you. Why isn’t this a skill taught in school? It could be called, Dealing with Life 101.  

Pushing feelings away does not make them disappear, but only keeps them hidden until another time when they may flare unbidden, more violently and even unexpectedly. Feelings set aside for a later date will inevitably come back to bite us.

It is so much healthier to allow emotions their voice; which means when you feel upset, tell yourself it’s okay to feel that way, but there’s work to be done around those feelings. What triggered your response? What happened, what was said or how were you spoken to? What did you assume because of this incident? Would it be possible to see the situation from a different perspective? If you don’t do the work involved in metabolizing your feelings, this detrimental pattern of response will become habitual, making it more difficult to deal with similar situations later. If you say you’re okay when you’re really not, you’re denying your feelings, and probably even believe, on some level, that you really are okay. In the long run, there are always consequences, including anxiety, depression, headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure; think about how your individual constitution manifests stress. Do you suppress and suffer, or do you just disconnect and walk absently through life?

 There is a cost to being disconnected, and that is missing the moments of now that can mean the most. If you are either stuck in the past, reliving conversations or events, or worrying about the future, what may or may not ever happen, you are not being present. The gift of being present is a habit that can be practiced and polished, and you can start today. Try following these steps when you feel upset or find your self focusing on the negative.

First step, get out of your own way; get out of your head and back into your body where you can feel quiet and centered. The secret is to doing this is to breathe deeply, right now.

Second step, notice where you feel the tension in your body and describe it; does it feel tight, agitated, shaky, knotted up or scattered? How would you put it into words?

Third step is to identify the emotion. If it’s anger you’re feeling, go deeper.  Anger is always a secondary emotion, usually resulting from a more difficult emotion like hurt, powerlessness, helplessness, frustration or fear.

Last step in this simplified method is to breathe again, even deeper and ask your self what you want to do with these feelings. Thoughtless venting is always an option, but not without a cost to your relationships. Understand what the feelings are all about then learn how to self-sooth. We sooth those around us by listening, affirming and comforting, but sometimes forget how to do this very important self-care technique for ourselves.  Practice healthy venting, by talking to someone with a listening ear, exercising, practicing yoga, journaling, playing music, doing art, just try to be creative with your emotions.

In order to stay present, acknowledge what you feel.  Learn new ways of dealing. Don’t let old habits of suppressing emotions cause you to be unhappy and depressed. You may think it’s easier to not deal, but the truth is, although it may seem simpler to avoid conflict, the cost is too high.  Be willing to let those emotions flow through you, and they will eventually dissipate. Give your self the gift of staying present in your life and notice the difference it makes. 

Amy Martin