Imagine you are walking down a crowded sidewalk on a sunny day. Some downtown picturesque type place that has little shops and a buzz of human activity. People walking in and out of stores, looking into store front windows and walking both in front and behind you, surrounding you in a river type current of people walking down the street. You notice everyone and no one at the same time. The man walking a few feet in front of you suddenly stops, turns around, and points a gun in your face…
This world stops. The sensory input being received and processed in your brain now determines this situation to be a threat. The hypothalamus in your brain sets off a chemical alert response, telling your body to prepare for the worst. Your adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys receive this chemical order through the nervous system and in response pumps out adrenaline. Your heart starts pumping faster, pumping these hormones faster throughout the body. Your stomach gets butterflies as the blood is drained from those now considered unimportant organs and redirected to the brain and muscles. Your brain, accepting more glucose and oxygenated blood, now works faster and faster, slowing down your perception of time. All this work being done is also generating massive amounts of heat. Your body starts sweating to cool itself off. All this happens in fractions of seconds and mean while you still need to decide “Should I lunge towards my attacker?” “Should I run?”
Now imagine the same street with the same stores and the same crowd of people. The same busy buzz of activity on a sunny day but the now the man is walking behind you. He pulls the gun out and points it at the back of your head. What happens?
Absolutely nothing. The same gun is in the hand of the same man in that same crowd of people. The only thing that has changed is your perspective on the situation. With this seemly simple yet powerful peice of logical reasoning, we now have a powerful tool to help us with every situation throughout our entire life. Of course, things in our world happen and there is no stopping that. From an indirect way; the universe is expanding, energy is being transformed and plants are creating oxygen out of carbon dioxide. From a direct way; hurricanes are causing flooding, earthquakes are knocking down buildings and your boss is still asking you to do more with less. There are a lot of things that can impact you and make your life more difficult or worse off, end it. So how does having the right perspective prevent all those things?
It doesn’t. Its not knowing you need the right perspective, its knowing when to change it. The present time is the ONLY time you can do anything. You reflect on your past to help handle situations in the future but the present is the only time you can physically do anything. When you hear about the hurricane you plan for it. You find shelter at a relatives house in another state, or you board up your windows and stock up on supplies. Whatever you plan to do, you do it and then you wait. Stop thinking about what might happened because you can’t do anything until the hurricane (the future) gets here (the present). All that worrying does is trigger your brain to start the stress response and shut down parts of your body that you need to make you strong enough and healthy enough to handle what that hurricane does when it gets there.
A good way to stop thinking about the future is to think about the present. This is called Mindfullness. Do something for me. Where ever you are right now, I want you to think about what is going on there. Can you hear the tick of the clock on the wall? Maybe the kids are watching t.v in the other room. Is it cold or is it warm? Are you hungry? Is your back starting to ache from sitting in the hard chair too long? Take a moment and think about everything around you. Be present. Be aware.
When you do this you are forcing your brain to work on paying attention to your surroundings. The clock is no threat. The sound of the tv from the other room will not pull a gun out and attack you. The hard chair is not telling you to work late on your birthday. Your brain is interpreting the situation as normal and is allowing your body to relax. In times of distress or action, do what needs to be done. Work on getting that report done for school or work. Work out a plan for the stormy weather. Think forward and have a plan for if situations change. Once you do this, come back to the present. The present is where you live.