Quick Stress Management Tip: How about spending a little less time looking in the rear view mirrror?

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2012-02-27 07:23:16 -0600
Started 2012-02-03 21:22:21 -0600

Today, someone said to me: “I have no use for the past. What good does it do me now?”

I couldn’t help but take a hard look at the amount of time each day that I spend thinking about the past. Sure, it’s only human to have memories of people and events in the past, and they pop up of nowhere and jump into our field of vision. That’s just how our minds work.

So here is a question: How is the view in the rear view mirror?

But then I had to ask myself how long I hold on to those thoughts about the past, dwell on them, turn them around in my mind, when I could be more focused on what’s happening now. Sure, we learn from the past. But spending too much time in the past can cause a lot of stress in the present because sooner or later you are going to be stuck on replay – and wasting your time doing the woulda-shoulda-coulda dance – and giving yourself a hard time, when the present is happening all around you.

And don’t forget that, as the fine print says, “Objects in the rearview mirror may look larger than they are.” Our minds have a way of distorting our memories as, over time, we hit that replay button over and over and over. As a result, we might turn a minor event into a major one as we gradually (and conveniently), modify a few of the details, change the wording here and there, assume we had knowledge or options that we didn’t at the time, or modify the roles that we or others played. Assigning blame. Making somebody the bad guy. Making ourselves the bad guy.

The past has its own special meaning if you are facing a chronic condition. It’s hard not to look back on what your life was like before you received your diagnosis, how you felt, what you did or didn’t do, how others acted around you. And to make comparisons between what life was like and what life is like now.

You can leave your mind in the past but you are living in the now. Sure with challenges you didn’t have in the past. And changes that you didn’t expect to have to make. But also opportunities, beginning with facing life on life’s terms – as it is right now – and seeing not only limitations but possibilities. Deciding to grab the opportunities for growth. And laying the groundwork for the future, which begins a second or two from now.

If you look at life that way, none of us has a lot of time to be dawdling in that that rear view mirror.

Here’s an idea. Enjoy the memories. Remember the lessons. But remind yourself that the past is past. How about this: Live WITH the past, but not IN the past.

Shift your view toward what’s around you. Ask yourself every day what you can do to make best of the day that you have been given. What can I do to take better care of myself? What can I do to make somebody in my life feel valued? What can I learn that I didn’t know yesterday? What’s a baby step outside of my routine that I could take?

And especially: What’s good today?

Look around you. Take a moment each and every day and remind yourself of what’s working in your life. People who support you. Doing the best you can to take care of yourself. Simple pleasures of the day. Forgive yourself and forgive others. As Paul McCartney said: Let it be.

57 replies

JSJB 2012-02-26 05:38:01 -0600 Report

Dr Gary, I'm always looking in my rear view mirror. What I see helped me raise my children and grandchildren. This is what I call experience and if it helps them I'm ok with that. I remember when my older son was 18 and working, he said to me, "Pop do you know all that stuff you told me when I was growing up? Well I wish I had listened because now I know what you meant." I told him it is never too late to learn and I will always be there to help. He is 44 now and still doesn't listen but I am still telling him or suggesting to him on what to do and not to do. There are also memories that bring back happy times and sad times which help me when I get stressed. I always tell my family to create memories with pictures. They are things you will always cherish and pass on. At 70 I have a lot of them. So keep the past alive as long as you can.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-26 20:50:47 -0600 Report


Thanks a LOT for taking the time to follow up on my post. I totally agree that we can learn much from the past, and use it to make our lives in the present better, and to use those lessons to help guide the future. And sharing past experiences with younger people can be a great thing, along with sharing the wisdom that we gained. I just get concerned when I see people beating themselves up over what they did in the past, or dwelling on thins that happened to them that they can't do anything about. The past can be a great teacher, for ourselves and for others, as long as we use it to help ourselves and not to hurt ourselves.

Thanks again!


jayabee52 2012-02-26 09:21:14 -0600 Report

Joseph, my friend, my dad died as a result of a freak gunshot accident in 1971 when he was 47.

He was not my favorite person when he died and I, truth be told, was a bit relieved when he died. I thought he was "stupid" when he told me a bunch of stuff about how the world worked,

But the things he told me when I was growing up I still remember, and as I learn more about the world I remember what he said, and even though he has passed away he grows smarter every day.

Sometimes it takes the death of someone to make us appreciate them. It is unfortunate but I believe, very true.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-26 20:51:52 -0600 Report

James, that is a sad story. It's great that your dad was able to impart his wisdom along the way.

jayabee52 2012-02-27 01:45:55 -0600 Report

it is, but he was slowly becoming crippled by Osteo arthritis before he died. He had a few years before it got so bad he couldn't work and he tried to find a cure. But that was late 60s early 70s and medicine was not advanced. They didn't even have clot busting meds available when the blood clots from his gunshot accident started moving in his bloodstream. All the Drs could do is warn us they were moving and to expect them to hit his heart or brain soon. So we DID get some time to say goodbye.

He was so active that to be paralyzed by the gunshot, OR the OA it would be as one of the Drs said "There are worse things than death". For Dad that would have been one of them, paralysis.

We couldn't even talk with him that well, as they cut a tracheostomy to help him breathe. But that meant that without someone holding their finger over the trach, he couldn't speak.

Watercolorist 2012-02-27 07:23:16 -0600 Report

Totally agree with you, I miss my husband every day too, but my friends, family, grandkids,and of course my art make me realize I still have more to accomplish. I also always look to tomorrow for the wonder of awaking to God's creation, the beauty of our Earth and heavens.

JSJB 2012-02-26 14:46:37 -0600 Report

How true it is but some people have to learn the hard way but we should always be there to catch them when they fall. After reading your reply, I thought of my father and could not think of any thing he told me and things we did together. Maybe that is why I try to be so helpful to my children and any young people that will listen. Oh you most likeley read my reply but good luck and my prayers are with you on Monday.

33suz 2012-02-26 09:52:07 -0600 Report

So very, very true. And as we grow older we lose more and more. A sad fact of life, so grab every bit of joy and laughter that you can!

jayabee52 2012-02-26 10:33:53 -0600 Report

That is why my late bride, Jem was and is so precious to me. Even though she had many serious and potentially deadly "medical challenges" (as she laughingly called them) she liked to hepl people to laugh. While we were courting before
I had actually moved there, she would ask me if I had heard any jokes. I would scour the humor sites to have some new jokes ready for her. When I read what I had found, then she'd ask me to share them with her brother and other friends. Her Drs, upon her death, told me she never seemed to fail to tell them a new joke when she had an appointment to brighten their days. She was such a bright ray of sunshine! No wonder I fell headlong in love for her! So different that what I had experienced with my former wife of 25 years (and mother of my 3 sons)!

MewElla 2012-02-08 14:15:55 -0600 Report

Sometimes I look into the rear view mirror and dwell on all I have lost, mainly my husband. I have a rough few hours remembering all the special times and moments and it is really hard for me. I never expected life to be as it is.
Then I remember all the beautiful memories and jewels of my life that he gave to me which has given me the courage to step forth and take control of my life. I have so many things in life which I am so thankful for and I am also thankful for this group of very supportive people on this site who have made my days brighter. As my journey continues, I can honestly say I enjoy so many things in my life that I guess I took for granted before, but now are very precious to me. My joys in life keep multipling and now, instead of looking back as much, I am focused on my future and excited about tomorrow…

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 22:21:54 -0600 Report

Hi MewElla,

It is nice to see you.

It's a great thing to be able look back into the past and have some wonderful memories of the past. We are glad that we had those moments, and they can be a comfort at times. But they are bittersweet. We can't ever return to those times.

As you said so well, we honor those who have gone before us by remembering the life lessons they taught us and using them to live happier, more productive lives. That's how we keep their memory alive. And we pass the benefits of their teachings onto the next generation. So they live on.

Glad to hear that you have so much to look forward to!

Thank you!


MewElla 2012-02-09 07:38:07 -0600 Report

Thank you so much…appreciate your comments!!

cavie2 2012-02-09 07:59:31 -0600 Report

I had the same problem in Sleep connect with 110 friends and yesterday I noticed that I was following 414 people and I thought where did that come from I was only following one person the last time I looked so I just went in and unfollowed them then I went into the other 4 sites I am on and it was the same on everyone so I just went in and unfollowed on each one. Now I am making a point of checking this out every day and it is taking up so much time it is really beginning to annoy me.

Teresa Rose
Teresa Rose 2012-02-08 14:28:53 -0600 Report

MewElla, I feel the same way. I haven't lost my husband but I have lost my Dad several years back and some days are harder than others because i miss him so much and my Granmother, my dads mom. I have to think about the happy times so I don't get depressed. Like you, people on this site are such a God send to me. So happy to have found this site.

MewElla 2012-02-08 15:41:25 -0600 Report

Teresa Rose, it is so wonderful to have friends who really "get" what you are trying so hard with your heart to say…I appreciate your kindness to me..

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-02-06 19:30:04 -0600 Report

"What's good today?"
A very wonderful phrase to repeat and answer. It has been a running conversation I have had with myself during the last several years during life's upheaval. Somedays the rear view looks much rosier than it every was in reality. I have to remind myself of what has improved since then, instead of dwelling on what I may think I have lost.
One of my sister's kept asking me shortly after I got out of the loong hospital stay "What would you have done differently to prevent this from happening?" I told her "Nothing." At what point could I have chanced what was going to happen? Knowing me the alternate route could have ended worse. Or at best I would have made choices that would have resulted in the same outcome. Dwelling on I should have gone to a Dr sooner who may not have had the knowledge that the Dr in ths town had.Second quessing myself about noy going to the ER in a town that has a very bad reputation over coming to a better place. Those were choices I had to make whan I was very sick. I believe I chose wisely. I am here.
The tape in our mind gets distorted everytime we replay it. There have been studies on how the mind works when you retell an event. I forge the reports exact wording i read last year, but it explains how the brain makes a new record of what you are saying. It keeps the old records as well. So overtime you have multiple memories of the same event. I am not good enough at math to even begin to guess at the exponential possiblities of second guessing that leaves open.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 22:14:37 -0600 Report

Hey Graylin Bee,

You are so right. We can turn the past a whole lot rosier than it was, or make it much bleaker than it was. We have to remind ourselves that we were not the person that we are now as we take that look back.

And I like the answer you gave your sister. It is human nature to want to be in control, and to want to believe that people facing illness somehow could have avoided it so that we can pretend to be able to avoid getting sick. It is a form of denial. We do the best we can, we make the choices we make. Onward...

And yes, here you are. You must have made some very good choices along the way.

I agree that we can have multiple memories. Our minds have a way of changing the details. And even at that moment, everybody involved saw something different. Memory is not very reliable, as every courtroom attorney knows.

Nice to see you!


Caroltoo 2012-02-06 21:03:55 -0600 Report

My husband does a version of this. He used to enumerate all the things he had lost and, being blind, hard of hearing, having Alzheimer's, not being able to walk, not thinking as clearly as he used to, etc., there was a LONG list. In the last couple of years he has changed this to a list of what he still can appreciate, enjoy, and do.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 22:04:07 -0600 Report


This is fantastic. It is making the absolute best of what you have. And if your husband can do it, then that is evidence that it works.

Thanks a lot!


Caroltoo 2012-02-09 15:00:59 -0600 Report

Thanks, Gary. He remains a remarkable man. Just this morning he was telling me that I am what makes his life good — feeling loved and cared for despite the "fact that he is crazy". Then he expressed concern about me and said he really thought that I was missing too much of my life and should put him in an institution. I assured him I was not planning to do so unless he became violent so that I could no longer keep him safe. He is SO different from anything I have read about Alzheimer's patients that it really makes me wonder about his diagnosis. He is definitely memory impaired, but so much is still intact.

dietcherry 2012-02-09 16:02:22 -0600 Report

Reading that gives me hope for every one of us Carol! No matter the diagnosis we are given, we can still beat odds and show Drs they dont know everything :)

Caroltoo 2012-02-09 17:00:47 -0600 Report

I've often wondered what role "will" has in the progression of disease.

Almost 20 years ago, so long before Alzheimer's, he commented to me that he so appreciated the way his dad had aged and remained a gentle soul and said that he wanted to age in that way too. It obviously hasn't kept him from developing dementia, I believe it has affected how he acts despite the frustration of knowing that he is loosing his mental abilities.

The other thing that I think has strongly influenced this process is the level of trust between us. When he is totally confused and upset, I can put my arms around him and comfort him by reminding him that he is loved and safe. It never fails to calm him and he always acknowledges that that is, in fact, what he is feeling.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-09 21:52:14 -0600 Report


This is heartbreaking. Life can be so unfair, it just doesn't make any sense. Wayne is so fortunate to have him in his life, you are a blessing to everyone around you, to him, and to us.


dietcherry 2012-02-09 21:19:24 -0600 Report

I like that Carol. God Bless Wayne and his indomitable will!!

A member posted on my wall that because he has complications, its inevitable for all. I pity that his gloomy attitude will be his self-fulfilling prophecy. When the will is gone, the future is bleak regardless of the actual outcome :(

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-02-09 19:08:45 -0600 Report

As you stated he feels safe with you. It seems the Alzheimer's residents I work with who get agressive are doing so out of fear. By learning what is causing them to be afraid and changing what is happening to cause it to happen usually results in less aggressive behavour. Most of them do not remember me from moment to moment, but they seem to sense on some level I am familar and care about them.
It is interesting to observe how the disease affects each person in different ways. The other night I noticed one of my residents had an amazing ability to recognize a white tissue in a very dim room on her white sheets. Yet she can forget I am in the room with her within 15 seconds if we aren't talking to each other. Most people with Alzheimer's at her stage would not be able to tell there was anything on her bed.
Another of my residents can spell words backwords, forwards, and on the diagonal, much to the annoyance of other residents playing Scrabble with her. Yet she does not always remember how to stand up. She defies the order in which skills are lost.
Perhaps, like with stroke patients, parts of the brain could be rewiring to compensate as areas of the brain are being destroyed. Pure speculation on my part.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-09 21:56:04 -0600 Report


This make a lot of sense. When you sense how vulnerable you are, it has to bring up a lot of fear. And people with dementia can't articulate what's going on but they must be aware of it at the same time. A tragedy. Ironic that they also sense that someone is there to care for them. The stories about memory loss are fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. It is so hard to watch people whose bodies and minds are betraying them.


Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-02-09 22:42:06 -0600 Report

Flight or fight is hard enough to deal with when you are more whole. Being one of the vulnerable ones while dealing with West Nile Virus sure helped me understand in an entirely new way how it feels to cope when your mind is being attacked. If I get too tired or stressed I still have trouble with finding words while trying to communicate with others.
They can still pick up the vibes or auras off people. If one resident is more anxios than usual the other residents can start to escalate. Like ripples spreadind across a pond from a small disturbance on its surface. Carol reminds Wayne he is loved and safe. I can project those same concepts to my residents by my actions, tone of voice, body language, and emotional state.
Years ago, when I was a newbie in caring for people who are in the dying process, I was told their hearing is one of the last senses to fail. I think there are senses beyond the ones science can prove exist. People who can no longer use some of the ones we know about seem to rely on unknown ones until their death.
Yes it is hard. But their are many, many wonderful moments.

Caroltoo 2012-02-10 17:10:44 -0600 Report

Picking up on your thought about "actions, tone of voice, body language, and emotional state" and using them to calm a patient is what Wayne's doctor mentioned to me also. I am usually calm and therapeutic in demenor and she mentioned that would help him also. The other thing I try to do for him is to verbalize those feelings that he is unable to state but appears to want or need to. I start slowly, getting confirmation that I'm going in the right direction, then move on until we seem to have a fleshed out thought.

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-02-07 20:03:27 -0600 Report

Often one of my ressidents tells me how many good things she has in her life.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 22:05:31 -0600 Report

Graylin Bee,

You must see a lot of evidence of how a positive attitude can help, and how a negative attitude can hurt. The elderly can teach us a lot about how to be free from the past. Thank you!


Set apart
Set apart 2012-02-06 06:24:28 -0600 Report

Dr. Gary the quote I love is by James Dean, "Dream as if you have forever, Live as if you'll die today!

Set apart
Set apart 2012-02-06 06:19:19 -0600 Report

Hi Dr. Gary, Enjoyed this post! There are so many ways to look at this, but I will do my best to not over analyze. For myself I try not to live in the past And do my best to use life's lessons as learning experiences. This can be applied to life in general whether it be living with the big D and remembering what foods may have sent our BGs on a roller coaster, so as to not eat them anymore or eat in moderation. This goes a bit further though, I like a saying I read once can't remember who said it, (maybe someone else can). The saying is that you should live today, as if it was your last day, I do my best to try to forget about yesterday and go with the flow treating each day as a new day to make a difference. Granted not always so easy!

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 22:02:36 -0600 Report

Hey Set apart,

Thanks! It has been awhile! Hope all is good!

Over analyze is a good term. It helps me to take my lesson and move on, and remind myself that I did the best with what I knew at the time. When you over-analyze, you invariably end up at the wrong conclusion and turn it all against yourself.

I appreciate your wisdom about the past as it relates to diabetes. You can take lots of lessons from past learning experiences and apply them to the present. Remember the kinds of eating that doesn't work for you, and decide to do something different in the future. That's very practical knowledge.

I also like that saying. It comes down to making the best of each day.

I hope your week is going well! Nice to see you!


jayabee52 2012-02-05 18:04:31 -0600 Report

There are times I spend a lot of time looking in my rear view mirror. In my younger years I spent a lot of time beating myself up, but here recently I find myself going back to mine a nugget of (what I may think) wisdom, and apply it to an event or situation which is current. It has seemed to be helpful for me,

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 21:54:48 -0600 Report

Hi James,

Great to hear from you. Thanks for replying. Great attitude. Maybe as we get older we decide that it doesn't help to constantly beat up on ourselves, or maybe we figure out that our past actions weren't all that misguided. Maybe we just decide to forgive ourselves. Or all of those things. The past has a lot to teach us if we can take the lesson, apply it, and move forward. As you say, wisdom.

Have a great Thursday!


TsalagiLenape 2012-02-05 08:39:29 -0600 Report

I only use my rear view mirror to reflect on things so I may learn. To improve myself not for anyone but myself. Hence read what I posted the other day as Off Topic: Something I wrote. Once I am done reflecting I move forward and store the other in its place for reference only not to beat myself up.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 21:39:15 -0600 Report


Always great to hear from you! How you doing?

We can always learn from our past if we take the time to be open to the lesson and then to let it sink in, and then apply the lesson to ourselves. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to learn that lesson repeatedly before it sinks it. Didn't somebody say, "those who refuse to learn from the past are destined to repeat it?"

And good point, never use it as a reason to beat up on yourself.

Thank you and stay in touch!


Teresa Rose
Teresa Rose 2012-02-08 14:34:23 -0600 Report

Tamii I love what you have written here, that you use your rear view mirror to reflect on things so you can learn and improve yourself. That is how I feel. Our past makes us what and who we are. I have been through some horrific things in my childhood that no one would ever want to look back on but looking back has given me wisdom to raise 4 children. All my past experiences I have stored for reference as well.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-08 21:41:18 -0600 Report

Hi Teresa Rose,

It's been awhile. How are you doing? Great to see you around. It's incredible that you can look back on your past and gain wisdom that, in turn, makes the lives of your children better as a result. That is using your wisdom in a very wise way -- to make someone else's life better. You will be blessed for that.

Nice to see you! And thank you.


Young1s 2012-02-04 21:38:09 -0600 Report

Seems like my past hits me hard and often. But I try to take it as a subconscious reminder of where I've been in order to keep me focused on where I want to be. Hitting bottom set me on a path to a new and healthier lifestyle. And a renewed appreciation for all that God has blessed me with. So when negative thoughts come knocking at my door, they're my reminder that I'm not a victim of my past, but a survivor.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2012-02-04 22:00:16 -0600 Report

Hi! Nice to hear from you. And well said! We learn from the past, but we don't use it to beat ourselves over the head. Be thankful and move forward. Thanks for checking in!

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