Is it possible to feel anxious and be in the present moment at the same time? This is a question that I explore with clients on a regular basis. Often we find that the present moment is a place more of freedom than anxiety and that Mindfulness provides useful training in how to be 'in the moment'.
Anxiety is a feeling easily created about many situations but the more closely we look at the feeling we usually discover it comes from a thought 'about' something and is not actually happening now. The more we unpick an anxiety the more it becomes a feeling about another time or another place.
The thought of giving a speech can raise the pulse, days or even months in advance of the event. The thought of introducing yourself at a meeting can create dread and fear, making the working week a misery and destroying any hopes of promoting oneself. But the fear is about something that is about to happen, it is not happening in the present moment. (We can also be fearful of things that will never happen but that doesn't prevent us worrying about it all the same.)
Mindfulness helps to develop the awareness of the present moment through a focus on the senses. With training we learn that there is a difference between what is happening in the present moment and the thought that something bad is going to happen. This is what we do naturally with smaller worries that we dismiss on a daily basis. We cant be bothered with some potential worries and decide to 'cross that bridge when we get to it'.
So maybe anxiety and the present moment cannot exist together. Maybe the present moment is free from anxiety?
Ah, you say, but I had a terrible experience with public speaking the other day where 'all the eyes were on me' and I began to sweat, my heart nearly burst and I couldn't get the words out. I was standing there like a lemon feeling the most awful panic. Surely that was anxiety in the present moment?
Well, I would argue you were still projecting into the future about what might happen (even when you were standing there like a lemon.) You were thinking how bad it looks to those around you and how disastrous the outcome is going to be. Your anxiety was really about another time ( a possible showdown with your boss) and another place ( the possible view from the other side of the room), not the present moment in the reality of your own senses.
Once we create a small amount of fear (raised heartbeat, butterflies in the stomach) we then set about making it worse. At the first physical signs of fear you project into the future what might happen, that it might get worse and how bad it might look to others. This is the mechanism of how you create more anxiety. Train your awareness onto what is actually happening and the death spiral of anxiety is nipped in the bud.
Anxiety and the present moment are mutually exclusive events.
Ah, you say, what about being chased by a lion, surely then you will be feeling anxiety in the moment. I say that I will indeed be worried and anxious as I run away at top speed but my anxiety will be about what might happen if the lion catches me, another event in the future. In the present moment...... I will be running!