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In moments of strain or tension, our minds spin.

This was the case for a patient of mine who recently brought in her eight-year-old son because he had transformed from loving to distant.

We have a saying in Chinese Medicine: "To understand the child, look at the parent." In this case, the mother and father are going through a divorce and the relationship between mother and son was suffering. Perhaps, the mother eventually admitted, because the son has traits that are reminiscent of the father’s and she struggles to separate the two. It was difficult for her to be emotionally clear during such an anxious time.

The first step I suggested was to help her reconnect to herself and regain her own sense of presence. A recent study by Matthew Kinngsworth found that there is a relationship between unhappiness and a wandering mind. The brain’s tendency to plan, leaving the present behind in favor of the past or future, offers cognitive advantages but that comes at an emotional cost.  In reality, to be happy is to be present.

A great exercise for regaining presence is to focus on the sensory information of now. This helps curb incessant internal dialogue. When your mind feels cluttered, pause and ask yourself: “Where am I right now?” Describe the space you are in physically. Ask yourself, “What is the weather like today?” This simple act can stop a spiral of worry.

When it came to my client, the more the mother rooted herself in the present, the more she was able to exist as herself and begin to recognize her son as an individual again. The more the son felt recognized and seen, the closer he felt to his mother. By the end of the session, the two were hugging.

photo credits: lukasz wierzbowski, katherine squier

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