We all get caught up at times in craving certainty in our lives and feel propelled to hold on to it during times of great stress. This position in life is, however, not fixed. It is one, which is always in a state of flow. When we feel certainty, we feel safe and secure and we relish in these comforting experiences. However, when life presents us with unforeseen circumstances, discomforting feelings of uncertainty and feelings of fear of the unknown can overstay their welcome. When confronted with unusual circumstances, such as the ones we find ourselves facing today, we tend to feel a rise in our stress response system. You may start to overthink more than unusual, jump to conclusions, notice yourself feeling more agitated, quicker to aggress with your children or partner, and just generally being uncomfortable with feeling less able to control or solve everyday problems as you normally would. Because uncertainty is distressing, many of us try to control or eliminate it altogether. However, attempting to achieve mastery over things we cannot control tends to exacerbate our discomfort. Here are some suggestions to consider in our attempts to support ourselves in finding balance throughout our journey of making sense of how we respond to uncertainty.
Being Patient, Positive & Proactive
While circumstances are always different, the skills and attitudes needed to cope with change have some common themes. Namely, these are associated with being patient with new limitations in our environment and ourselves, cultivating a positive perspective towards a change in circumstance and proactively engaging with activities that will nourish and strengthen our mental health.
Developing patience is a skill – It gives you the freedom to have a pleasant time even when the universe feels like it is toying with you. It converts the helpless rage of impatience into a delicious sense of spaciousness. Here are some useful tips to help grow your inner seeds of patience:
- First thing: Just stop. Pause for a moment and catch your mind ranting that you should not be in this situation – because you are and it is going to be okay.
- Secondly: Settle into the moment. You might feel your body ease down, yielding to gravity, so go into your body with your mind’s eye and find out how you know you’re impatient. Are you tight, tense, breathing shallowly, clenching? Where exactly? Focus on those sensations as closely as you can. Touch them with your mind.
- Thirdly: Breathe deeply in to any tightness or tension where your body is clenching or holding unwanted stress. Once your brain cools down, your powers of reason return. Apply patience, and frustration goes away, outrage cools, peace is yours.
Being mindful of the things that make you feel impatient is a good way to tune in to the areas in your life where you can practice patience. Most people have several to do tasks in their head from the moment they wake up – they jump from thought to thought without taking time to mindfully finish one task at a time. We live interrupted lives as we try to multitask each day and it is frustrating when we feel we are not making progress. It is better to be mindful of our thoughts, create space in our lives and take back our precious time. Some ways to understand how to do this is to write down what makes you impatient. This will help you slow down, focus on one task at a time, and remove those things that stress you out. We all have things in our lives that take time away from what is important to us. One way of removing stress from our lives is to stop doing or paying attention to those things. Take a few minutes and evaluate your week. Look at your schedule from when you wake up to the time you go to sleep. Take out two or three things that you do that are not important but take time. It is time to learn to say no to things that cause stress.
Cultivating a Positive Perspective: When we feel unsure about what our future has in store for us that does not mean we are heading somewhere undesirable. We can choose to focus on everything that could go wrong, is going wrong, or we can focus on everything that could go right and smile about what is working well. Being curious about unexpected new directions and receiving this grounding time as a gift, has the power to transform our negative thinking and reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Making friends with this new unknown and welcoming it can help us fully embrace, respect and enjoy this time to create our own unique way forward. Allow yourself to enjoy all the small things that go right. Your perspective is your choice. Choose kindly and compassionately.
Being Proactive: Ways of nourishing and strengthening our mental health during times of uncertainty can be different for many of us but usually it helps when we build on something we already enjoy doing. These could include; being physically active, talking with friends / family, making loved ones laugh, playfully being in nature, spending time with animals, planting seeds of change with gardening, cooking for a friend or neighbour in need, trying/creating new recipes, reading / writing, singing / dancing. Whatever makes your soul sing – do more of that more often – and share your ideas with your tribe. By encouraging each other to stay connected in new ways, get involved locally by making positive contribution in your community, we collectively increase our sense of joy and connectivity, reduce levels of stress and we gain a real and meaningful opportunity to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Building and maintaining our involvement with groups across our community in this way will foster and develop our sense of belonging, which is one of the key building blocks that help promote positive mental health.
Building Openness & Curiosity to Uncertainty
I guess that all of us at times, in periods of great stress, have wanted someone to take the burden of responsibility for change away from us too. A position of feeling safe uncertainty is a framework for thinking about one’s circumstances, orientating one away from the idea that solutions solve things. When it comes to uncertainty, the most important thing to do is to challenge any behaviour that you do in an effort to eliminate or control your discomfort. Let yourself feel the uncertainty, share these feelings with a trusted person in your life and get on with your day in a self-compassionate way. You may at first feel uncomfortable, but in time, by sharing your vulnerability and connecting with people you trust, you will familiarise to that feeling, build a capacity for it and feel a sense of calmness as your need for control dissipates and your worry gradually feels lighter.
Safe uncertainty is not a technique, but an always-evolving state of being. Developing a willingness or openness to experience uncertainty without trying to eliminate or control it lends itself favourably towards achieving sense of balance in life. For instance, research shows that some people find mindfulness meditation a helpful way to stay present with uncomfortable feelings, in a non-judgemental or self-criticising way. Using mindfulness techniques, you can learn to sit with your feelings of uncertainty in a new way, and thus discover that you are indeed able to do so by building resilience and self-compassion in response to it. Reading or watching videos of the work of Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now may help you learn ways to stay in the present moment in this way. “When we are firmly grounded in the present moment, our minds cannot worry about uncertainty or be fixed on the past or future tense.” Tolle’s work helps us understand how unease, anxiety, tension, stress; worry is associated with too much focus on the future, and not enough presence in the here and now.
Uncertainty is inevitable throughout life, and no matter how hard we try, controlling it simply does not work. Instead, practice patience, acceptance, control what you can – and relinquish the rest – and consider therapy if you need extra support. Therapy can be a huge help for dealing with uncertainty and anxiety.