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  • Andy Melton, PhD.

Anxiety: Being Stuck in the Future

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

I Can’t Wait

I’m super excited about this weekend. If I’m honest, I’m having trouble focusing on writing this blog post. My favorite NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs, is coming to town this weekend and I have tickets! Really, no matter what activities have involved me over the past several days, my anticipation for the game has led me to daydream a bit. My body is living in the present, but my mind is living in the future. Have you been there?


Anticipation can be fun, but it also produces stress. Even in this moment, there’s a chance you’re thinking ahead to what the rest of this post may cover or wondering how this information may help your family member. Either way, if you’re not present while reading this, you may find the experience a little taxing as your mind and body split their focus: your body in the present and your mind in the future.


Looking forward to something is a good thing. When someone expects a future event, they naturally look ahead to consider what they may encounter once they reach that certain point. Sometimes, however, instead of looking ahead, we live ahead. Looking ahead and living ahead are two very different experiences.


I Think I’m Stuck

I’m excited for the football game, but what if my excitement kept me from being present at work or with my family? What if I was more than just distracted? What if my anticipation became so strong that I became anxious or angry? Living ahead is stressful.


Looking ahead is anticipation. Living ahead is preoccupation. Looking ahead is expectancy. Living ahead is obsession. Living ahead is anything that takes you out of the present moment and keeps you stuck in the future. We can also say the same of looking behind and living behind. Living behind is anything that takes you out of the present moment and keeps you stuck in the past. Being stuck in the future = Anxiety. Being stuck in the past = Depression.


Living ahead by 10 weeks, 10 days, or 10 minutes; it all contributes to stress. Next time you find yourself anxious, consider your attempt to live ahead. If this is you, it may be time to pull yourself together.


Come on Man, Pull Yourself Together

All right, I admit it. My mind and body are divided and I need to reconnect them. But how do I do it? Think of twirling a lasso over your head like a cowboy and throwing it forward around your future self. Bringing ourselves back into the present is described by the word grounding. Google the phrase grounding techniques and you will find all kinds of activities to help you live in the now.


One way to reconnect your mind and body is to pay attention to your breathing. Try sitting up straight with both feet on the floor. With your right hand, pretend you’re drawing the four sides of a box in the air in front of you. Start by breathing in for 4 seconds (hand lifting), hold the breath for 4 seconds (hand drawing top of box), breathe out of 4 seconds (hand dropping), and rest or breathe normally for 4 seconds (hand drawing bottom of box). Repeat this 3 or 4 times. What I just described is called the 4-Second Breath Box. This is one of many techniques that can help to pull ourselves from the future and back into the present. Try it and see what you think.

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