There is Only Now! The Value of Living in the Present Moment

There’s a lot of talk these days about “living in the present moment”. Many books explore the topic thoroughly, giving us insight into promoting the benefits of living each moment fully. 

Being present in the moment all sounds great on paper. But how can you accomplish this if you lead a busy life? This is even more the case if you care for a family member at home. And you have 101 things on your “to-do” list.  It may sound achievable theoretically, but can it work in real life?  Especially when our lives seem so hectic – when there’s always something we must deal with.  And when our lives are all too often geared around a daily regime.  

“There is only one time that is important – NOW! 

It is the most important time because 

it is the only time that we have any power.”

(Leo Tolstoy)

In this article, we take a deeper look into this popular topic. In particular, we look at how living in the present moment can help when caring at home for a family member with dementia.

What does ‘being present look like?

Being present ultimately means being aware of and appreciating our life right here and now.  It’s about being fully conscious of what is happening at this moment. And what is happening in ourselves and those we are engaging with. It’s about NOT being pulled into thoughts of what has happened in the past. Or ruminating about the uncertainties, fears, hopes, or expectations for the future.  In short, whatever you are doing, be aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment.

Most of us probably spent most of our lives in every state other than being present. We dwell on the past and live for the future. This takes up the main part of our lives. When it boils down to it, this provides very little benefit. If truth be told, it is physically and mentally impossible to live anywhere other than in the present moment. We can’t turn back the clock to April last year or fast forward to July next year.  When we think about it, all we can do is live in the now.  

Constantly worrying about the future and recollecting the difficult times in the past makes us victims of times over which we have no control.  Breaking this habit will allow us to do the best we can now, in the situation we are in Now!

The Importance of Present Moment Living in Dementia

Often, when the word dementia is mentioned, we tend to think about memory. To be more precise, we think of the loss of memory. People with dementia feel frustrated at not remembering things. They are often put on the spot and left anxious and upset.  However, if we focus on engaging fully in the present moment, we can allow memory to take second place. We can avoid those moments when our loved ones try their hardest to come up with a name or recall an event. The pressure is off to save face or embarrassment!

As a family carer at home, staying in the present moment can help us stay focused. This allows us to enjoy “here and now” times and one-on-one engagement with the person we care for. When we are fully present, our minds do not wander. We are focused on what is going on right now. This takes us away from thinking about what just happened or worrying about what will happen next. It lets us concentrate on what is happening there and then. 

Being more grounded in the present also allows us to feel things more fully, both good and bad.  We can pick up cues we may otherwise miss and connect more fully with our loved ones. This provides an understanding of what is working and what isn’t. It also provides an opportunity to focus on what we are doing. We can experience events without preconceptions. This is particularly important in dementia care, where often the diagnostic label “dementia” looms most significantly. We open ourselves up to seeing and engaging without expectation or judgement.

In caring for someone with dementia, where short-term memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms, staying in the present moment is everything.

It offers the opportunity to enjoy “us” moments together.

It allows us to invest our full attention in what truly matters.

It allows us to remain focused and shift thoughts of worry to peace of mind, tension to calmness, and preoccupation to appreciation.

image to convey staying in the present moment

The Benefits of Living in the Moment

Living in the present moment empowers us by taking away past and future stress and worry. Many benefits are gained from being centred and living in and appreciating the present moment.

  • Release Stress

When you are present, there is a certain stillness and centredness inside. This can help break the control stress has on our lives. It allows us to build resilience to meet the demands placed on us.  However, if we feel stressed during our typical day, one way to let go is to take belly breaths. We can focus on them for a minute or two. Focusing on the in and out breaths connects you to the present moment instead of the past or future scenarios, causing stress.

  • Reduce worry and overthinking.

Chronic overthinking can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.  Being present can be a great way to find release if your mind tends to go around in circles.  It can be difficult to worry when we are focused on what we are doing.  Often it can be all that is needed to help stop worry and start action.  

  • Let go of Past Regrets.

By living in the present moment, we can unload past mistakes.  You can live in the now while learning from the past.  The trick is to take some time every day to be in the moment. We can train our brains to accept past lessons, not regrets. 

Of course, avoiding potential errors through associations with things that happened in the past is important. However, when our present moment becomes dictated by thoughts and emotions attached to past events, it can mean that we miss the opportunity to be peacefully rooted at the moment. This robs us of the chance to find contentment and understanding of what is important now.  

The Future is Coming

Banish any negativity surrounding the future by keeping an open mind and heart about what the future holds.  It may sound cliché, but the future hasn’t happened yet, and the past is gone. The present is all we have. Our situation will change in the future, so we want to do the best we can now so that the choices we make work for us and those we care for.  When the future arrives, we can reflect on our “past” and realise we did it fully and as best we could.

Getting into the Mindset of Being Present

It can come as quite a shock when we begin to live in the present moment. This is especially true if we are used to worrying, planning, and thinking ahead to the next task.  We begin to experience a state of stillness that will seem very new. It can take a bit of getting used to. Our mind, previously so consumed with chatter, is now calm. We may feel we should be planning or thinking or busy anticipating the future. We may even feel guilty because our mind is relaxed.  However, it’s important to remember that each present moment is new and requires attention, spontaneity, and flexibility. 

Being present is quite hard to keep up. It involves practice.  You may find yourself slipping back into not being present. This is natural as we are learning a new skill.  If we recognise and accept that we are not feeling present, this will offer us the opportunity to relax and find it easier to slip back into the present moment. 

dementia self care present moment image
(Image by Shutterstock)

Some tips to get into the current moment include:

  1. Take some time each morning, before the start of the day, to create the mindset that you will enjoy every second of the time by being present.  Whatever the activity or whatever crops up during the day, set the aim of keeping in the moment, staying focused, and gathering your thoughts back if your mind begins to wander.
  1. Focus on the task at hand. What you are doing or who you are with.  
  1. Incorporate mindfulness into daily routines.  Enjoy the current moment, work on making each task enjoyable, banish distractions, and concentrate all your efforts on being in the present moment.  It’s easier than you think when you get the hang of it.
  1. Use necessary blank times to regroup and create a conscious experience.  You can turn times when sitting in queuing traffic or when you are in a queue at a shop into sessions to bring you to now.  Take a few deep breaths and observe the sights and sounds around you, don’t waste time fretting about waiting; instead, recognise the chance to stop, be still, and observe.
  1. Block any concerns that crop up.
  1. Continuously work to keep your thoughts positive if you start to worry about the future; take a few conscious breaths and concentrate on the moment.
  1. Set aside some time a few days a week to tackle those things you have to plan for.  To plan shopping, make medical appointments, and make arrangements to meet up with friends and family.  
  1. Practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are self-care practices that bring you into the moment.  Mindfulness is a great tool to teach you how to avoid distractions and exist in the moment.
  1. Recognise emotions and accept them, even difficult ones. 
  1. At the end of each day, reflect on how well things went.  Write down the important lessons you have learned from the day.  Detach from the emotions of the incidents and write down what you have learned. Write down your specific triggers in terms of pulling you away from being in the present moment.  Reflect on how you can continue to grow into this new way of being and the benefits you can gain from it.  

By being in the present, setting aside time for future planning, and using tools to learn from the past, we can focus more on making things work well in the now.  Hopefully, the tips above can help you gain awareness of how taking control of our minds can empower you.  

Thank you for reading. 

If you have found this article helpful, please like, share, and comment.

Please also check out our other articles on self-care for family carers and therapeutic interventions for people with dementia.

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