When lost in past or future thinking, we neglect the present moment and lose touch with where we are in our environment. We shut down our sensory inputs in favour of mental chatter, allowing our minds to take us to places imagined while losing sight of all that exists around us in that moment.
Having our daily life ruled by thought instead of focusing on our environment and mindfully engaging in the present, is a common, almost unavoidable circumstance of having a brain that is designed for analysis and higher thought. Unfortunately for humans, thought is highly interconnected with emotion and mood. As negative thoughts such as jealousy, anxiety, frustration and anger pour into our conscious mind, an odd occurrence takes place—the body reacts to this energy that we are feeding it. Muscles tighten, breathing cycles shorten and our heart rate increases. These are symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is a result of having lost focus on our centre of balance. In moments of heightened anxiety it’s important to recognize how we have unwittingly severed our connection to the external world.
In the midst of these swirling emotions, bodily reactions and negatively driven thought patterns we can feel immensely powerless and rooted or stuck. However, it is important to understand that in life, we are never powerless. Heightened states of emotion are normal; it is when they disrupt our forward motion in life that they become a stumbling block. We need to understand that we are in control of our minds which are simply another part of our body.
One highly effective exercise for bringing your mind out of that entrapped state of negativity is what is termed the Countdown Technique. It entails the use of sensory inputs to not only ground us in our current surroundings, but engage us completely in our present moment. It can be coupled with diaphragmatic breathing for an even greater calming effect.
First, you start at 5. You take a deep diaphragmatic breath, feel the diaphragm move downward with a deep inhalation and your tummy expand to accommodate your breath. Now look around you where you are at that moment. Name 5 things that you see around you. Verbalize them to yourself.
Next, take another deep breath and allow it to escape slowly, being mindful of the movement of your belly with this breath. Now, again, looking around you, touch 4 things around you and focus on how each feels. There is no need to verbalize; the key is to use your sense of touch.
Next, take a deep breath and allow your body to feel the sensation of letting go of its tension. Now, you’re starting to calm and again, notice where you are in your present moment. Using your sense of hearing, listen and identify 3 sounds around you. Just hear them, focus on hearing each of them for a brief moment at a time.
Take another deep breath and exhale slowly, again allowing the tension to leave your muscles. Allow it to go, don’t fight it. At this point if you find your mind is sliding back into thought, do your best to gently coral it and bring it back to the present moment.
Now, it’s time to switch our senses. Focus on your surroundings and inhale, smell the environment you are in and identify 2 odours. Once again, there’s no need to verbalize them or be concerned in any way, simply inhale, focus on the smell and allow it to be what it is. Your only concern at this point is the sensation of smell.
Again, deep diaphragmatic breath, let it out slow.
Finally, focusing once again on the room around you, identify 1 thing you can taste. Our sense of taste is highly intertwined with our sense of smell, so go ahead, open your mouth ever so slightly and allow yourself to taste. It can be as simple as dry air, or the sweetened aroma of coffee, each odour molecule can lead us to a sensation of taste.
And with that, you are suddenly fully present and engaged in your surroundings. The exercise is simple and can be done anywhere, anytime with no equipment required, all that is required is a willingness from you to let go of your thoughts, come back to your present moment and find yourself safe, grounded and relaxed.