The year 2020 has shed light to so many issues, good and bad. If you’re anything like me, this year has been filled will feelings of fear, anxiety, unrest, and most of all uncertainty. Between a global pandemic turning our world upside down in only a few months, social unrest due to the blatant injustices of Black, indigenous, and people of color, and the large divide amongst Americans as the election becomes closer and closer, we’re left to navigate the uncertainties that our nation, communities, and families face today and for our future.
It almost feels inevitable that we have experienced and will continue to experience stress this year. We’ve been living in fear of getting sick or having a loved one get sick. Some of us have lost our jobs, homes, savings accounts, and worst of all losing a loved one to COVID19. BIPOC communities face a continued fear of merely existing, as police brutality and systemic oppression literally kill them through violence or through the disproportionate disparities in health care, which are known factors contributing to the higher morbidity and mortality among people of color, as compared to white Americans. Most of us fear what the next president elect will mean for our basic human rights, the rights of our families, and our future children and generation to come. This is an extraordinarily amount of stress to contend with while still having to move along each day to be able to survive and provide for ourselves and our families.
Exorbitant amounts of chronic stress are known to have serious implications on the mind and body. Some of these effects include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, lowered immune system functioning, and other physical issues. Chronic stress is also known to lead to an increase in the likelihood of the development of a mental illness, problems concentrating and decision making, memory and poor judgment.
These uncertain times are bound to leave us feeling anxious and stressed. If you recall earlier in the blog, I stated that 2020 has brought bad and good, and you’re probably wondering…where is the good? Well believe it or not, good can and will come from this! Let’s first talk acknowledge that the anxious/fearful mind overestimates the risk, threat or danger and underestimates the ability to use coping resources. I can’t confidently say that the current state of our world is without real threat or dangers (because it is with real threat and dangers), but I can provide coping resources to help you navigate this time of uncertainty.
As humans, we crave security, consistency, and predictability. When we are paralyzed with uncertainty, our minds love to conjure up worst case scenarios and countless predictions so we feel prepared if the worst was to come. If you feel overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry, it’s important to know that you’re not alone; many of us are going through the same thing in real time. It’s also important to understand that no matter how helpless you feel, there are steps you can take better manage these circumstances, alleviate your anxiety, and face the unknown with resilience.
1. Act on what you can control.
a. Most of our life is and feels uncertain and uncontrollable, however re-focusing your efforts on things within your control will help you problem-solve. Sometimes, the only thing we can control is our attitude and response to uncontrollable situations, and even that is worth looking into if you find yourself struggling to find things you can control.
2. Openly feel, acknowledge, and experience your emotions
a. Suppressing/avoiding/distracting your emotions is a short-term solution to problems that will manifest themselves in other ways if not managed today. Find a safe space, a friend, a therapist, anyone who can provide you with an environment to process your feelings safely. Allowing yourself to become comfortable with the idea of uncertainty will indirectly reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.
3. Challenge your automatic thought processes that tell you life needs to be certain in order for it to be manageable.
a. How much can any of us be absolute certain about life? Unfortunately, nothing in life is guaranteed, perfectly calculated, or predictable. When you find yourself having the feeling or thought that you “need to know” something, ask yourself how possible it is to really know? Try and re-focus on more realistic thought processes. Something you can tell yourself when you have a thought like that is “No matter how much I try to plan out every situation and outcome, life can surprise me. All reaching for certainty really does is feed my worry and anxiety.”
4. Identify the specific situations of uncertainty that give you the most distress, and practice acceptance.
a. Start recognizing your thought patterns, emotions, or bodily sensations you experience when the sense of uncertainty creeps in. Notice what particular situations bring about those thoughts/feelings/sensations. Name what you’re experiencing i.e. “This is anxiety over uncertainty” and try to observe the experience nonjudgmentally. Research shows mindfulness and acceptance practices reduce unpleasant experiences, as the more you allow them, the more you realize the feelings will pass. This will provide you comfort when another situation involving uncertainty arises.
5. Practice Mindfulness
a. Mindfulness stresses the importance of being present in the here and how. With all this fear of uncertainty, most of us are glued to our devices, reading countless news articles, stories, debates, etc.… We are losing time being present in the moment. There are many techniques online to practice mindfulness. You can also practice mindfulness techniques with a therapist if you find you are unable to do it on your own. One quick tip is to stay away from technology. Take 20-30-60-minute breaks from any technology and focus on anything in the here and now, even if its your pet, children, your family, or doing a chore like washing the dishes. You can use any of your 5 senses to help you engage in something in the present. For example, lighting a candle and focusing on the scent, or washing the dishes and focusing on the soapy bubbles on your hands. Don’t worry if you find that your focus keeps wandering back to your future fears and worries. It’s a skill, and like any other skill, it takes practice to master.
6. Managing Stress/Anxiety
a. There are many practical tips I can give to manage everyday stressors and anxiety that pile on in addition to the uncertainties of this year. For starters, movement is a huge tool in alleviating anxiety, do any sort of movement, running, dancing, yoga. Expelling that energy will relieve you of anxiety and release feel good endorphins. Give yourself time to relax. Take time for YOU. Try and get a regular sleep schedule with quality sleep, and lastly, try and up your nutrition game. All of these baseline changes will dramatically improve your ability to tackle the stress and anxieties of today.
The last “good” that I can say that has come out of this year, is the extent that therapy has become accessible to all. As a therapist, this warms my heart. I’ve never seen so many people open to the therapeutic process, willing to work on themselves to become better humans. You don’t have to go through this alone! Many of us find comfort sitting with uncertainty in a safe environment with someone we trust. You can remain in the comfort of your own home and talk through some of the emotions and experiences you are going through.
You don’t have to sit with uncertainty alone. Take-action on what you can control out of this situation. And what you can control, is learning how to respond to uncertainty with confidence that you will survive this and surpass this! Please reach out to us if you are finding that this time of uncertainty is difficult for you. We would love to support you on your journey through uncertainty and into resilience!
Written By Maria Cristina Liguori, LCSW
New Day Vitality Mental Health Counseling PLLC
Colette Lopane-Capella, M.A., LMHC, LPC, Author, Reiki Practitioner, EMDR Therapist, Certified in applied Neuroscience for treating Anxiety, Panic and Worry Rewiring the Anxious Brain, Emotionally Focused Therapy Trained For Couples, Host And Producer Of Love Light And Healing