How to Stop Worrying about the Past & Future and Live in the Present



The brain naturally defaults to negative brain activity and worry mode through the imagination either from past experiences or perceived future events. When people’s thinking drifts constantly to the past and the future, the mental, emotional and physical suffering intensifies that lead to stress, anxiety and depression.

We develop thought patterns when we get into the habit of repeating the same type of thinking over and over again, often based on fear and often without conscious awareness of it. We get stuck in our heads and identify completely with our thoughts that we become overwhelmed. Our physical body including our organs are affected and we may not be aware how our mind affects our body and vice versa. We may blame our workload, traffic, partner, other people, the world etc. for our worries and physical symptoms.

Our brain is wired this way for survival – to keep safe and out of danger. However, once these habitual thought patterns create a pathway, we follow the same track unconsciously, believing we are not safe and need to defend and attack even when we are actually safe. Worrying creates suffering about that which does not exist, because our thoughts are not rooted in present moment reality, blocking pleasant experiences and creativity.

Worry is a lower functioning part of the brain–brainstem, that activates the sympathetic nervous system, preparing the body to take action to respond to a threatening situation even when the situation is not in the present moment. When we do not need to survive and are safe, we can consciously disengage this part of the nervous system to help us to feel calm and relaxed.

Autonomic nervous system: A part of the nervous system that regulates key involuntary functions of the body, including the activity of the heart muscle; the smooth muscles, including the muscles of the intestinal tract; and the glands. The autonomic nervous system has two divisions: the sympathetic nervous system, which accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and raises blood pressure, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles.

The body cannot distinguish between present, past or future. This perception is the function of the higher cognitive functions– prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for decision making, planning, problem-solving, judgment etc. When using this part of the brain, we can take charge of our thoughts and the direction we wish to go instead of allowing the brain stem to activate the sympathetic system when we worry about the past or the future.

When we wish to experience life in a calmer and more peaceful way, we must first change the bad habits we have subscribed to for a long time. The way towards peace is to engage the prefrontal cortex or higher functioning brain and focus our attention in the present moment. Present moment awareness interrupts the circulatory feedback loop of the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system so that your body can feel calmer more relaxed and you are able to breathe more deeply. This in turn helps you to have a different experience.

A Simple Guide to Becoming Worry Free
Here are seven steps you can follow to practice to rewire your brain and rebuild new neural pathways that will support your mission in spending less time worrying and more time experiencing a more pleasant and joyful life.
Set an intention to change your thought patterns.
Sit in a quiet place and study your thoughts. Become aware of the thoughts that enter your mind without judgment.
Focus your attention on the breath. Breathe into your belly and then slowly breathe out through your mouth.
Become aware of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations as you breathe. You may experience unpleasant feelings. Keep going and learn to tolerate your physical sensations as you breathe.
Increase the time you spend practicing getting to know your thoughts even if unpleasant without attaching to them. Notice how your thoughts affect your feelings and vice versa. Let go of self criticism as there is no right or wrong way of doing this, but just being aware of what is occurring.
Whenever you become aware of your mind wandering into the future or the past, pause and take a deep breath – gently bring it back to the task on hand without judgment, but with compassion and loving kindness.
Repeat this exercise throughout the day whenever you become aware of your worrying thoughts.
Learning anything new is always difficult at first but in doing this practice, you are rewiring your brain and with time you will feel better about yourself and the choices you make. You will discover that living your life in the present is often much more pleasant than the fear the mind conjures up with your imagination.

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