Ever been through a pandemic before? I didn’t think so. If you are feeling mentally, emotionally, physically or even digitally exhausted you have permission to give yourself a break! And please remember you are certainly not alone. Despite all those seemingly perfect and cheerful pandemic Facebook and Instagram posts your friends, family and acquaintances are posting, those posts never show the whole, true story. You can be sure, hidden in the background behind the perfectly frosted cake and color-coded calendars, the kids are crying and fighting, dishes are left piled high in the sink, and that highly anticipated Zoom conference call with a big client that was prepped for all week turned into a disaster, with numerous noisy interruptions. It’s a pandemic people and we are all experiencing a messy, chaotic, unpredictable and uncertain existence at the same time.
Uncertainty can surely stress us out. In fact, uncertainty is what fuels anxieties’ fire. As an innate protective mechanism, our minds naturally begin spinning with questions. When we lack knowledge, we tend to focus on negative outcomes. Will I get sick? Will I lose my job? Will there be enough food in the supermarket? What are my chances of catching the coronavirus from the Amazon package sitting on the front porch? The “what-ifs” can and will spin endlessly if we let them.
When we are stressed, the anticipation becomes worse than the reality itself. We are creatures of habit and we like to be prepared. If we knew what was going to happen we could put an action plan in place and be done with it. However, this phenomenon, known as anticipatory anxiety, is our negative projection of an unknown outcome and when we are stressed it has a nasty little habit of lying to us. It tricks us into focusing on the most negative of all outcomes.
When times are uncertain and we have limited knowledge or experience to go on our brains’ have a natural tendency to overreact. So, how can we stop this cycle of “anticipatory- anxiety” and find our way to happiness and stress free living during this period of uncertainty? Here are some tips to help us get moving in this forward facing direction.
- Become Comfortable With Your Discomfort:
Eckhert Tolle once said that when you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It is true that you will feel less stress when you let go of your need for certainty. Try saying it out loud, “having certainty at this time is not possible.” Acknowledge that you cannot always control the outcome, especially during a pandemic. Despite washing hands, social distancing and wearing a mask you may still get sick. Despite doing the best at your job, you may still get laid off. These are things that you cannot control. What you can control is how you react to the outcomes and this is the key to moving through uncertainty anxiety.
- Find Gratitude in Life’s Little Treasures:
Gratitude helps put things into positive perspective. Robert Emmons, the author of Gratitude Works, believes that in crisis conditions feeling gratitude is essential. Gratitude has the power to energize and bring hope. Gratitude certainly is a powerful emotion and with some simple steps can easily be incorporated into everyday life. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to begin focusing on the positive things in your life. Find some quiet time in the morning or evening and take five or ten minutes to reflect on things that you are thankful for in that moment. Spending time with loved ones, if you are able in person or by phone can also remind us how lucky we are to give and receive love, comfort and support.
- Live in the Now:
Staying present and living in the now is hard, but not impossible. Focus on what is directly in front of you. Not what happened yesterday or last week. Control your racing thoughts and try not to think about what will happen next week or two months from now. Being present in the moment naturally quiets the mind and can bring calm and peace to chaotic and uncertain times. The old cliché’, “Stop and Smell the Roses” rings true when trying to remain in the present. Take the time to slow down. Take the time to breathe deeply. Tune in to your senses and listen to what they are telling you. With practice and mindful intent staying focused in the present will become a natural ritual and course of action in no time.
Lastly, remember to treat yourself, as a friend would treat you, with kindness and understanding. Listening to yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself today and everyday moving forward.