Anxiety | Awareness Without Presence

Anxiety might very well be the most common symptom that people talk about during their time in therapy.  Anxiousness can be brought on by a myriad of reasons and can even show up without any identifiable initiator. Anxious feelings are familiar for all of us and can be irritating, exhausting and even at times debilitating.

My first memories of anxiety are from childhood, waiting in a doctors office and realizing I might very well be receiving a vaccine to cure my sickness. Fearful of the painful injection that was in my near future, I remember pleading with my mother to protect me. I can also recall the butterflies in my stomach during adolescence, standing in line to board my first roller coaster and how the amusement park fare of corn dogs and soda caused quite the stomachache. My first day as a freshman also provoked many uneasy and jittery feelings stepping into the momentous world of high school.

I know in my own life anxiousness has not disappeared and continues to show up now and again, even when I’m not at the doctor or anywhere near a roller coaster.

One of my favorite therapists from years past, Fritz Perls, described feelings of anxiousness as “the time from now to later.” In other words, when we are not living in the present and are busy focusing on future events, we feel anxiety as we are trying to be in a place which we have not yet arrived, the future. Such awareness without presence is the breeding ground for anxiety. The cure for such a problem would then be to return to the only time one truly has, the now.

Obviously living in the present isn’t the cure for all of life’s troubles and there is indeed a time and place to plan for the coming of future events. But over the years I’ve found much help in times of anxiousness, reminding myself to come back to the now. Often the simple task of re-focusing on the present and the experience of the moment can bring instant relief to my anxiety as I am reminded that in the present I am safe and that I am alive.

Sitting with one’s own existence brings a certain peace that is always accessible to us in the now.

– D. Jeremiah Simmons