If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.

Lao Tzu

Until the other day, I hadn’t heard this quote before, but since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly with regards to the references to Depression (or at least the feeling of being depressed) and Anxiety (or the feeling of being anxious).

If I think about the quote in line with my own views, then I agree with it and think it’s a good quote to keep in mind when trying to be more positive, or to see your feelings (depressed, anxious, calm or otherwise) in a different light. However, my view is my own and inevitably differs from that of others. In addition, I also know that the way this quote presents depression, anxiety, and peace, isn’t realistic because life isn’t as clear cut or as black and white as that. I live mostly in the present as a means to try and cope with my anxiety and lessen the anxious feelings I get, but that does not mean to say I am at peace. Just like depression isn’t caused solely by living in the past. It might be something that factors into depression, but even so, there will be plenty of people out there who might dwell on the past in a negative way, who aren’t depressed.

I’m going to try and discuss the relationship between Anxiety in particular, with the past, present, and future based on my own experiences. At the very least, I hope this post will allow you to think about the quote, and think about your own personal experiences what has been, what currently is, and what is yet to be.

Anxiety and The Past

Although the quote places depression as the result of being in the past, I think this is also a place where anxiety makes itself known. There are plenty of things I’ve done in the past that I regret, but none of them make me feel depressed or sad. I don’t have depression, so I can’t offer any personal experiences or comments as to how a dwelling on the past can lead to depression, but I can acknowledge that the past can be harmful to the present-day state of an individuals mental health.

The other day I found myself overthinking. I was both anxious about the present moment (and what I should do) and anxious about the future (what would happen if I did or didn’t do the thing I was overthinking about). In the end, I let my anxiety rule me and I did nothing because I was too anxious to do something. If I had just gone with my head (the sensible part) then everything would have been okay. But I didn’t, and although everything worked itself out eventually…I was left with an anxious feeling with me for the rest of the day. This anxiety was caused by me replaying what had happened. I told myself to move on, but my mind wouldn’t stop reminding me of what a fool I had felt.

This is a perfect example of what I think is the relationship between anxiety and the past: anxiety doesn’t necessarily arrive from something that happened years ago, but rather something that may have happened that very day, or that same week. Something fresh, something that happened so recently that you can still feel the anxiety that it caused you. It’s bad enough being in the moment, but afterwards, every time you think back on it, your stomach sinks and you feel anxious again.

This will go away in time, and you’ll be able to bring yourself back to the present moment, with the knowledge that next time if you find yourself in a similar situation, do everything you can to push away any present anxiety so to avoid any past anxiety.

Anxiety and The Present

The Present Moment. Being here Now. Focusing on Now. Being mindful of the Present Moment.

All of these things are part of mindfulness, which is there to try and help the feeling of anxiety that may be occurring about the past or the future. Being in the present, if you can, is your way to get rid of the anxiety and to concentrate on Now, instead of what did happen or what will happen.

But time is always moving forward, and time is another cause of anxiety so, the way I see it, if you want to focus on the present moment, you need to be so calm that time almost stops. Don’t worry about the ticking clock. In fact, remove the clock from the room. Give yourself absolute peace, and just concentrate on breathing.

I admit, I don’t do this. Usually, my anxiety gets worse if I stop doing things and relax. I’m used to being busy and keeping busy even when I don’t have to be. I move from one thing to the next, and that keeps my anxiety at bay. I guess, by doing something constantly, I allow myself to be in the present, because whatever it is I;m doing, I’m doing it in the Now and for the Now.

Being in the present does have downsides. I cut out the past so much that it combines with my slightly bad memory, and means that I often can’t remember things in the recent past (unless an event caused me particular anxiety, as I mentioned before). I’m terrible with dates and days of the week. If you ask me how my week has been, I think for a moment and the days are a blur. They are already in the past, and I have moved on. So, it will often take me a few moments to remember what exactly happened, so that I can fulfill the social convention of telling you how my week was.

It does make me feel more peaceful to be in the present. My mind automatically gets rid of anything that I might have to worry about in the past, but I also take every day as it comes, and don’t worry about the future. If I do have a future-related bout of anxiety then I will consider what I can do now to take away that worry. Usually this is in the form of a to-do list. Once I have my list, I don’t need to worry about it anymore, because when I come to do whatever needs to be done, I will be in the present.

Anxiety and The Future

The future is daunting. We don’t know what it will be like. There are many possibilities, but all of them depend on what we do Now. I’ve been accepted into a Post Graduate Diploma course, but I have been given the option to change that to do a Masters course instead. Which one will I do? I don’t know. It relies on me taking the time now to figure it out and decide what I want to do. I’d love to do the MA, but there are plenty of things in my life now that would benefit from me doing the PGDip.

But, I tell myself, I need to do what’s best for my future. And what is that future? Can I possibly make the most accurate decision now to get the best result for then? No. Not without a crystal ball or a time machine. I know what I want my future to be like, but for all the anxiety I might feel about getting there, I’ll never achieve it if I don’t put in the effort now to ensure my future is what I want it to be.

The future exists and doesn’t exist simultaneously. We know it will come one day, but by then it will be the present. If you want to control your future, you need to have a hold on your present. I used to spend a lot of time being anxious about my life in the future, and all that did was ensure that I did nothing to contribute to the creation of that future. I simply cried and felt sick about my life because it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. The thing I didn’t understand was that the future isn’t guaranteed, and, to quote Noah and the Whale, ‘now is all there is'.

Note: This article was originally posted on my blog, which you can read here.

Published by Jade Moore