How to Be More Present Focused

Most people who suffer from anxiety have mastered the art of projecting out into the future.  They are often plagued by the “what ifs” that keep them constantly fearing the worst is coming next.  If this is something you struggle with, learning how to be present in the moment could help.  However, it is a skill that can be difficult to master.


Like any skill you build within your life, practice is vital to fully acquiring an ability.  A good way to practice being more present focused is through the use of mindful meditation.  While any meditation is a good way to practice keeping your mind focused, my favorite is one that actually works on being present in a certain space and time.


I suggest you start completing a meditation ten to fifteen minutes a day.  Find a quiet space and take a few minutes to focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.  When you start to feel your mind wandering, focus on the space around you.  What does it look like?  What sounds do you hear?  What do your surfaces in the area feel like?  Are there any smells you can identify? 


Over time and with practice pull your focus closer to yourself.  How do you feel?  Do you hurt anywhere?  How are you feeling emotionally?  Is anything sore or tired?  Pay attention to those feelings but you don’t need to do anything about it.  Move your focus through your body from your head to your feet noting any issues or feelings you detect along the way. 


Finally, wrap up by stretching or thinking about any issues you noted so that you can move forward with a productive day.  While initially this is going to be difficult and should be kept short, if you practice regularly you will notice that this kind of focus will become easier.  Mastering this ability is a positive step toward removing the constant future focus that becomes exhausting over time.  While this skill will help anxious people, it can also be useful for those who struggle with focus and attention and others who simply want to be better connected to the present. 


How Do You Know If You Are a Good Parent?


Throughout life we all develop an idea of what defines a good mother or father.  Some of those ideas come from media, books and movies.  Certain ideas come from our own personal experiences with friends’ parents or times when our own parents made us feel a certain way.   But the picture we paint for ourselves is very rarely a complete picture.  We take away all of the ideals without any understanding of the challenges.  Let’s face it, how often do we hear people complaining about how HARD it is to be a parent?


The truth is that there is no magic answer for being a good parent.  Even within the same family different children need different things and kids go through so many different phases that as soon as you get one figured out they are moving on to the next.  To make matters worse, or at least more complicated, there are so many outside influences in your child’s life that are out of your control: teachers, friends, coaches, and social media to name a few. 


Before you despair, however, let me say that the simple fact that you are reading this is likely indicative that you are a good parent.  I know this because the only true key that I have discovered that always rings true is that if you are trying to be better then you are a good parent.  You will make plenty of mistakes and that can actually be a good thing.  It is how you handle those opportunities that matter.  By modeling taking responsibility for your own behaviors and asking for forgiveness you are showing your child that everyone makes mistakes and you have to make amends and move forward. 


Remember, it is not your job as a parent to meet every need your child has.  It is instead much better to be a resource for them so that they can learn how to meet their own needs when appropriate.  Maintaining a good connection that leaves your child feeling loved and with a safe place to land no matter what happens is the most important thing. There will be enough problems in your child’s life, but there cannot ever be too much love.


 So, try your best to be aware of your own personal baggage and triggers and don’t let them interfere with what is happening in the here and now.  Your children aren’t you.  Listen when they talk and let them know that their feelings are heard even when they aren’t agreed with.  Try to be consistent and let the rest unfold.  Parenting is a journey that will likely take you on a roller coaster ride.  Don’t worry about being prepared for every dip.  Just enjoy the ride.


Dealing with Fears Through Imaginative Play

As we have seen an increase of acts of violence in recent years, parents have become increasingly mindful of “violent” play.  A lot of parents are censoring toys that involve weapons or any kind of pretend dying.  We also have seen an increase in kids with anxiety levels beyond what we have seen in previous generations.  While I cannot prove a correlation between these two things with a formal study, let me tell you what I do know. 


Kids often deal with things they fear or do not understand through play.  This is why we often see kids with deceased relatives playing doctor to patients who end up pretend dying.  Making it a part of their play allows them to face fears in a safe, imagined way and gain power over those fears.  Bad guys being killed or conquered is the basis of many fairy tales for a reason.  As much as we try to shield our children from the bad aspects of the world, death and crime are a part of reality. 


With 24 hour news it is something that is constantly in our kids’ view no matter how much we try to prevent that from happening.  Doctor’s offices, car dealerships, and restaurants are playing news about horrible tragedies as our kids wait for an appointment or slurp up spaghetti.  Parents are talking at dinner tables in front of their kids who bring the stories to playgrounds at school.  We fool ourselves into believing that our children are distracted enough by their innocent lives to be unaffected by these encounters, but children are like sponges who soak up the world around them. 


By removing their options for play surrounding these topics, we are removing (i) their opportunities to work through fears and (ii) our opportunities for meaningful conversations that allow us to help our children make sense of the world.  Imaginative play for small children is not the same as exploitative video games that normalize criminal behavior.  So certainly, as parents, we should exercise our right for censorship of those things that we feel are inappropriate for their developmental level, but let’s be mindful of potential benefits of exposure to imaginative play we might otherwise view as negative.



Fighting Depressive Helplessness with the Power of Choice

One of the worst feelings a person can experience in their life is a feeling of total helplessness.  Unfortunately for people who suffer from depression, this is a feeling with which they are all too familiar.  Negative thinking, and the tunnel vision it creates, causes those suffering from depression to view the landscape of their lives as devoid of choices.  A strong way to fight back against helpless feelings is to reclaim the power of choice even when the alternatives are not necessarily good ones.


Practically speaking, when you look at most of the decisions that you make in your life, one choice is the clear favorite.  As a result, you may fall into the pattern of seeing that choice as your only option.  However, there are often many alternatives that you automatically discarded without giving them much thought.  This automatic thought response leaves you feeling as though you had no choice.  For people who suffer from depression, this process often leaves them feeling as though they have little to no control over their lives. 


Often, when battling depression, the smallest changes in thinking can have large impacts.  Much like a stone creating ripples in a pond, shifts in perspective can have much larger scale ramifications.  This shift in perspective gives you the sense that you have a choice in the direction of your life and having choices makes you feel powerful instead of helpless.  I urge people to take back a sense of control over their lives by changing their perspective on choice.  This perspective removes the feeling that life is happening to you and replaces it with a feeling that your life is created by your own design.  When making decisions for your life, no matter how small, consider all of your options.  Do not discard options no matter how undesirable they may be.  The power of feeling like you have actively made those choices could completely change the emotional landscape of your life.


Maintaining Good Sexual Intimacy

One of the tensions that often comes up in couples counseling is sex.  After all, one of the things that automatically goes downhill in long-term relationships is your sex life, right?  Wrong!  While it is true that initial sexual chemistry creates an influx of oxytocin in your body creating a new relationship euphoria and these levels do go down after about two years in a relationship, your sex life does not need to suffer.  The key is keeping the novelty and variety while appreciating the trust and emotional intimacy that lets you explore your boundaries in a safe and secure way.


Maintaining a good sex life starts with maintaining a good connection with your partner.  I advise couples to make the relationship a priority amidst their busy lives.  Put date nights and spending fun time together first, before other commitments, to the extent possible.  Try to keep some spontaneity in the form of things like lunch break meet ups (even if they are at home), naughty notes or early morning promises to leave your partner thinking about what might lie ahead after work.  Go back to the art of making out.  Nothing is sexier than the anticipation of what comes next.  Think about things that you both enjoyed while you were dating that disappeared from your sex life.  Are there ways you might reintroduce some of those things?


And talk about it!  Sex is the least discussed thing in relationships despite the fact that it is one of the biggest expressions of emotional intimacy.  Start with a discussion of the things you like and enjoy about your current sex life.  Once the discussion reaches a certain comfort level, introduce issues in your current sexual interactions by presenting differing ideas or solutions to things you see as problems.  It is much more likely to be well received, for example, if you tell your partner that you would like to try having sex somewhere other than the bedroom, than if you tell them that always having sex in the bedroom is boring.  Be positive and sensitive to their feelings.  It is also vital to listen to what your partner has to say with an open mind.  It is okay to draw boundaries with things you are not comfortable doing, but those boundaries need to be expressed in a constructive way.  Nobody wants to talk about their inner desires if they know that their partner will make them feel judged.  If you keep communication open, you may find new avenues that interest both partners and keep things fresh.


If you don’t know where to begin, why not do a little research?  Exploring extreme fetishes through books or visits to sex shops often allows you to become aware of which sexual boundaries you have that are firm.  It also may give you ideas of which you might be open to exploring further and will very likely make you more open to the discussion.  Simply enjoying the search together can breathe new life into your relationship.  Just make sure you keep your mind, and the communication, open.