When Charles Dicken’s wrote: “it was the best ot times, it was the worst of times…” I wonder if he considered the terror of the uncertain times.
I think we can conclude that the past twenty years have been defined by the certainty of uncertainty. As one wave of difficulty crests and falls, another is closely in its wake. And it’s getting harder to live with this kind of anxiety. The fear of the unknown, and the helplessness so many of us feel in the face of it, is getting harder to bear. As children, we simply needed someone to come into the darkened bedroom and turn the light on, to show us there was nothing scary lurking in the dark. But now we live in a world where we’re fumbling for the light switch on our own, and we know there are things in the dark. How do we manage this? How do we face uncertainty without it causing crippling anxiety? How do we turn the light on?
Yes, we are all breathing. But you’re going to do a different kind. Intentional. Deep. Hands on your belly. Jaw relaxed. Through your nose, take a full in-breath to expand your abdomen like a balloon. Then purse your lips like you’re blowing through a straw and as slowly as you can, blow out. Repeat. A lot. This type of breathing sends a signal directly to the brain to calm down. If this feels silly, try blowing bubbles (great to help kids calm down), or blowing up balloons.
Sit with it
Instead of frantically scrambling for the light switch, let’s sit in the dark. We are going to get to know these fears. Be with your uncertainty. Where in your body do you feel it? Does it have a smell, a sound, a taste, a feel? Does it make you feel a certain age? Does it remind you of another time in your life? Of a person? A place? Try to explore this in some tangible way. What this means is to express those feelings in a behaviour: journaling, exercise, artistic expression, cooking, touch, etc.
Name the feeling
Anxiety becomes a big umbrella for all sorts of feelings; let’s tease them out individually. By specifying your feelings you start to gain control over them. For instance: afraid, worried, threatened, nervous, vulnerable, overwhelmed. Then we turn it into a sentence: “I’m afraid that I’m going to run out of money before my next paycheque”. By naming it, we start to gain control. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, check out a feelings wheel.
Identify what you can control
Feeling out of control is probably the most difficult thing about uncertainty. Not only is there the fear of the unknown–those monsters in the dark–but a sense that even if we knew what those monsters were, we would have no way of fighting them off. But in every situation we have control over something, ourselves. Practice asking yourself what you have control over in every situation, no matter how small. This includes our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. Start with identifying the small, personal, daily things you have control over, like daily routines, then work outward.
Accept what you can’t control
There are always going to be things we cannot control: the weather, the spread of disease, geopolitical issues, other people, and the list goes on. Accepting what we cannot control does not mean we have to be happy about it, just accepting that: it is. Once we accept ‘what is’, repeat the process of sitting with your feelings about it. Then, recognize the control you have about how you decide to deal with it, e.g. turning off the news. Decide on an action that brings you peace and comfort.
Recall your strengths
You are a person in this world who has lived through many things already. How did you manage that? What are the qualities and skills that you possess that have brought you this far? Are you resourceful? Frugal? Compassionate? Courageous? Kind? Determined? Reflect on the strengths that have brought you through other difficult or uncertain times. Consider how these same tools can get you through this current period of uncertainty. Then, create a stimulus to remind you of these strengths: a picture on your phone lock screen, a note on the fridge or mirror, an object.
Tell a friend
Talking to other people about the difficulty we have with uncertainty helps us feel like we aren’t alone. We may feel out of control, anxious, and unsure about what to do about living in uncertain times. But there is no saying we need to do it by ourselves. And guaranteed, you are not alone. Everyone feels anxious at times. It is normal to feel fear of the unknown. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and worried about things that are bigger than you, which you have no control over. It is normal to reach out for help–to a friend, family member, or professional, if we feel too overwhelmed to deal with uncertainty on our own.