All of us have times of uncertainty, times where we don’t know if we will have a job or enough money coming in; if our relationship will sustain shifts and changes or if our health will improve or decline.
At the moment with a world wide pandemic that is Covid-19, ALL of us face the same uncertainties all at once. We all have questions that we have not had to think about before, such as will I be safe going to the local shops? Am I at risk? If I do get sick how long will I be sick for and how bad will it be for me? All of this can leave us feeling a sense of instability.
Uncertainty causes distress and anxiety, the ‘not knowing’ can create unnecessary stress as our brain tries ensure our safety.
Our amygdala – the part of the brain that is responsible for the flight /flight /freeze response has just one job – to ensure our safety – can get stuck in a feedback loop of questions with no answers, no resolution and so off it goes again.. Am I safe? I don’t know! How can I get safe? I don’t know!
Don’t worry, this is your brain working well to find solutions to keep you safe but it can feel unnerving.
We all feel much safer emotionally, financially and psychologically when we have a well laid out plan ahead of us and we know what will happen next. We breathe a sigh of relief when we know we have an employment contract that will see us thru the next 12 months and beyond and when we don’t have to worry about where our next meal may come from or if there is toilet paper on the shelves of the supermarket (and seriously, for someone who usually has a 12 pack of toilet paper stashed in the laundry, even I began to scan the shelves and felt some stress when it wasn’t there).
How can we reduce the stress and anxiety we feel in times of uncertainty?
Here are 5 ways that may work for you.
1. Understand what you can control and Accept what you cannot control. Learn the difference and LET the rest GO. This is a really helpful way of reducing stress loads.
This little diagram may help - the things I can control all involve me. My thinking – the words I use - my emotions - my beliefs - my perspectives - who and what I will and wont allow to come into my circle.
Within our wider world and social networks what we can control remains the same.
There are things outside of my control that I may be able to influence but cannot directly control, for instance, I cannot control how someone else speaks to me, but if I control my own emotions, smile, and speak kindly I will usually evoke a kind response. If I raise my voice and become demanding I will usually evoke a stress response in another and receive some harsh words in return.
Then there are things that I have no control over and cannot influence. These things I can be concerned about but some I will have to let go, some I will be able to choose to move away from and some I will need to choose to accept.
2. Focus on what you can control and CREATE ways of feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
When covid-19 became evident in our part of the world, there was some uncertainty. We cannot control how other people will act but we can focus on what makes us feel content, safe and happy. Some people went out and bought toilet paper, creating a shortage.
For me, I planted out my garden with seedlings to watch and water everyday. I found a happy place in my garden. I restocked my backyard chickens and each morning I let them out to scratch about in their enclosure, check for eggs and make sure they have fresh food and water. My focus is now my garden and my chickens. I can still exercise in my home or go for a short walk outside in the sun.
3. Practice living fully right now even in the midst of uncertainty – being fully present with each person or activity you are involved with. One of the really incredible benefits of covid-19 has been the slowing down of life and the peace and calm that accompanies that if we are prepared to live fully right now, fully present taking in the sounds and the sight the present moment has to offer, rather than being caught up in how long this will take to be over with or the todo list of busy lives. I watch our puppy running excitedly around the yard and don’t hurry her to come on in as she loves to run and jump and play. I sit with my kids and do lego, something I only have time for on extended holiday and I notice how they also begin to be fully present, not caught up in screens or distractions. Living fully present is also known as mindfulness.
4. Look for the things that you can be grateful for and that make you smile and shift your focus fully to this. Listing off things we are grateful for is a sure fire way to begin to feel pretty good about life. Start with one or two things and see how long your list can become. I am grateful to be able to work remotely and support my clients on new platforms. I am grateful for the kindness shown by others to others and have also received some of this. I am grateful for where I live and for online shopping. Begin a gratitude journal.
5. Find ways of doing small acts of kindness that foster a sense of belonging – feeling like we contribute – and that we are an integral part to our social organisations and society. Is there someone who has influenced you in a positive way that you could send a note to? Can you pay for 3 coffees in the drive-thru instead of just your own and feel you have made someone’s day brighter, or can you just smile at the next person you see? Acts of Kindness contribute a sense of wellbeing not just in us but in others as well, both those who receive and those who witness or hear about it. In uncertain times, acts of kindness make a huge positive difference in our world.
Finally – start to envision the best about your life and your world and be kind to yourself. Having a positive outlook fosters hope. Hope is defined as the perceived ability to produce pathways to achieve desired goals and to motivate oneself to use those pathways.
These pathways lead us to our destinations.
Let your destination be one you have created in which you find yourself flourishing.
Stay well - foster your own sense of wellbeing - reach out to others and reap the benefits of a slowed down life.