Humans love knowing, being sure of things. We feel safe when we feel certain and in control. So we create plans, structures and routines to help us know what comes next, and feel comfortable.
But right now, there’s so much that’s up in the air, so many unknowns, we can’t seem to find solid footing, and we definitely can’t get on with our plans. It’s no wonder that so many of us are having so much anxiety right now.
What will happen with schools next year? Will there be a vaccine or treatment available for COVID? What about the election? What if we are sheltered in place forever? Will I lose my job? Will people I and love get sick?
As I go through the litany of “what if’s” I can feel my body tense, my heart rate accelerate, my chest and jaw tighten, and I lose mental focus. My world starts to spin. Distracted, I then shame myself for being unproductive.
If you read the news at all, it’s likely you are swimming in some version of these thoughts much of the time. But your physical response to them is very subtle, and mostly goes unnoticed as you move through the day in “doing mode.”
Over time, the elevated stress response that’s created when you think these anxious thoughts wreaks havoc on your body, your mood, and even your immune system.
Of course, it would be impossible to ignore these thoughts completely. But I believe there is a healthier, calmer way to go on living amidst all of the current unpredictability…
Here are my top 6 tips for staying peaceful and grounded amidst all of this uncertainty.
1. Create the space to pause.
When life feels like it’s speeding up, like you’re in a rush, or you are spinning your wheels, take a short break, and a deep breath to connect inwardly. Stop DOING for just a moment, and let yourself feel your feelings. Tune into your own heart and ask, “What’s really here? What am I feeling right now? What am I needing?” Let the whispers of your heart speak to you. Allow whatever arises to be there, even if it’s uncomfortable. I find that naming the sensation (tightness, constriction, heat, rapid heart beat, clenched jaw) and the feeling (fear, anxiety, anger, frustration), and exploring the physical sensations in my body as I breathe deeply can help it pass through. It can feel like you don’t have the time to take this pause, but I promise that 3 minutes of deep breathing and noticing your body’s sensations will make you more refreshed, focused, and capable of completing your tasks afterwards.
2. Be kind to yourself, practice self compassion.
Notice when your inner critic is adding more pain to the situation through self blame, should-ing, or comparing to others. Instead of listening to that voice inside, nurture your own heart. Remember that you aren’t alone in this, everyone is feeling this way. Getting down on yourself for being less productive, less organized, more irritable doesn’t help at all. Realize that whatever you are feeling is a totally normal response to our current situation. As Tara Mohr says, “when you think you need more self discipline, you probably need more self love.” Try putting your hand on your heart or crossing your arms across your chest and giving yourself a loving embrace the way you would support a child or a dear friend feeling the same way.
3. Limit screen time.
When you’re feeling distracted, or like you want to solve this feeling of “not knowing,” resist the urge to check the news or social media, or your phone in general. You won’t find the answers you seek there. What you will find is more fear based reporting, or things to compare yourself to, and you’ll wind up feeling worse, more distracted, more confused and anxious. Plus all the additional screen time really is messing with your deep sleep, which you need to restore yourself each night.
4. Spend time in nature, or simply get outside more.
Put on your mask and take a walk. Even if it’s just around the block. Working from home can make it so you actually sit at your desk for longer stretches of time. Moving your body regularly will help resolve the stagnation that’s making you feel more agitated, distracted and less productive. And don’t forget the basics of drinking enough water, and getting plenty of sleep. This truly is a time for more self-care, so try treating yourself to a nice bath at the end of the day, or even an acupuncture treatment 😉
5. Connect with your people.
Reach out to friends you haven’t seen in months, and actually pick up the phone and talk to them. Schedule a walking phone date. It’s so easy to isolate when there’s nothing “good” to talk about, but isolation breeds more anxiety and depression. We need connection to feel safe, and remember that we’re not alone (a core component of self-compassion.) It’s somehow comforting to remember we are all going through this together, and if you reach out to a friend who is really struggling, just being there for her can be a generous act that fills your own heart too.
6. Practice gratitude.
Yes, things really are tough right now. I’m with you 100%. But even amidst all of this certainty, in the present moment, I’m guessing you could come up with a list of 5 things you are grateful for each day. Say them to yourself, write them down in a journal each morning or text them to a “gratitude buddy” who you share these things with. Savor the thought of each of them as you write them down. Feel the gladness spread through your heart.
These simple practices have helped me come back to the present moment again and again, and stay out of fear. I hope you’ll return to this list anytime you are feeling unsure, afraid, or disconnected from yourself. I’d love to hear any other tips you have for living uncertainty, so leave a comment and connect!