How to Make Peace With Uncertainty and Navigate Anxious Times

13 September 2020 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.”
— H.P. Lovecraft —

Many people are struggling right now. Some countries are entirely locked down, others are partially in lockdown. We are in a state of huge uncertainty which triggers anxiety and fear.

My inbox is flooded with COVID-19 emails. Everyone is sending out more and more stuff, some useful, some not.  It feels overwhelming.

As Pema Chodron says in her book Comfortable With Uncertainty,  “The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.” When things change and we experience uncertainty, fear and anxiety are triggered. Fear, anxiety and stress are really the same thing with different names. Right now, things are so unclear that we don’t know how the future will turn out? We don’t know how things will go.

As humans, we have a need for safety, security and control. We crave familiarity and comfort.  We are wired to seek pleasure and comfort and run away from pain. The current situation in the world is the opposite. It’s frightening when things are chaotic and out of control. The Coronavirus disease 19 is spreading in most countries, airports are closed, schools are closed and the economic implications of all of this is unknown. There is great worry about the future. Anxiety about our health and the health of people around us. It’s painful when we think of suffering and loss. People are experiencing frustration at being at stuck at home. The ground we are on feels shaky. Even though we like to believe that life is certain, it rarely is. The problem with anxiety is we tend to overestimate the possibility of something negative happening to us, and we tend to underestimate our ability to handle it. The nature of the mind is to grapple with things and catastrophise. As Rick Hanson says, our mind is like teflon for the positive and velcro for the negative.

What do we do when we feel vulnerable and scared? There are many ways that we try to make ourselves feel grounded when we are feeling shaky. We avoid pain through food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, constantly checking our phones, obsessively following the news and social media, striking out in anger, ordering people around and obsessively making lists, we binge watch Netflix. We create more drama. The frightened part of us goes into fight, flight or freeze – it’s survival mode. So if you notice you are eating mindlessly or binge eating or if you are drinking more than you normally do, it’s normal. We are living in an unusual time. Simple day to day life, without a pandemic, leads us to comfort with food – so how much more now? If you feel stuck and unable to tackle projects – it’s okay. If you feel confused and that there’s no structure to your day,  let it be. Take the pressure off. Especially now, it’s important to practice compassion and kindness for yourself. Be careful of the word ‘should’ – I notice my mind saying – “you should be using this time productively” – that thought just keeps me more stuck and less likely to do anything. I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to write this blog!

How can we deal with the discomfort of the unknown?

How can we skilfully work with our struggle right now?

How can we find peace in this uncertainty?

None of those things is easy. One way is to practice the FIVE A’s.  Here’s a step by step process.

Step 1: Aware

Awareness is the first step. It could be that you become aware of anxiety or that you are worrying or stressed. Or you notice that you are eating mindlessly.

Step 2: Acknowledge

When you acknowledge something is happening you could say to yourself “Fear is Here”, “Anxiety is here” or simply label to yourself  “I am stress eating.”

Step 3: Accept

This is an active step of accepting the moment as it is. It may be useful to say to yourself  “This is a difficult moment” or “I am having a hard time right now”. Very often we resist the pain by saying we shouldn’t feel a certain way. This resistance creates more pain.

Step 4: Allow

Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. Notice where you are experiencing it in your body. Is there a tightness in your belly or throat or chest? Breathe into it as much as you can, when working with difficulty it’s important only to practice as much as you can and not push yourself.

Step 5: Attend with kindness

Once you have gone through the four steps, it is possible you may be feeling vulnerable. So it’s important to check in with yourself and see what is it you are needing or what might you need later? To offer yourself some tender words like you would to your best friend. Something like “this is hard but we’ll take it one step at a time.”

As a result of the pandemic, a dear friend had to cancel a trip she had planned with her family for a big family reunion. Family members were coming from all over the world. She was angry and disappointed at herself for feeling sad and frustrated that they could not travel. She told herself she should be okay with this as others were suffering more and there were more serious issues in the world. I suggested that she accepts the feeling of loss and sadness at the cancellation and to honour her pain. It’s okay to feel what you are feeling.

Here are some simple things you can do in this time to help ground you when you are feeling shaky.

  • Practice being in the moment by simply sitting and breathing and noticing feelings, sensations, not attaching to them, simply watching, breathing and letting go.
  • Turn off the news for a while. In fact, try switch off your phone for half a day!
  • Be selective of who and what you follow on the news and social media. Limit your social media if it makes you anxious.
  • If you can go out, go for a walk. Walk barefoot on the grass.
  • Sit under a tree. Look at the trunk and roots of the tree.
  • Create a zone of calm in your home.
  • If you experience an anxious moment, here is a free meditation to help you through it.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
— Viktor Frankl —

We are all in this together. If we can find it within us to open our hearts in a compassionate way; if we can set the intention to take skilful and positive actions then we will be more able to transform the situation and act for the greater good of all beings.

Here are some questions you can reflect on:

  • How have I treated this challenging time so far?
  • How have I suffered by my own attitude and reaction to it?
  • How can I make the most of this?
  • What hidden gift might I find in this situation?

Let’s actively look for the good and appreciate the blessing of an ordinary day. Appreciate the smell of an orange, the night sky. What if, instead of looking at the situation in despair, we looked at the possibilities for creativity and new ways of living that are emerging out of this situation? Who knows what hidden blessings will be born in this time? How can we use this time to retreat, reflect and re-evaluate our lives? Perhaps it’s a return to a simple life. A slowing down for a time, until the pandemic passes and we get busy again.

May we all learn to accept things as they are in each moment.
May we all be free from inner and outer harm.
May we all make wise choices for the sake of all beings
May all beings be healthy and safe.

Stay home if you can and stay safe.

With love
Xen

🍂 My gift to you is a free “slightly different advent calendar” for you to print and enjoy during the festive season.

🍂 Is handling the combination of holidays + food + a global pandemic stressful for you? This online course may be what you need… How To Handle Eating in the Holidays is designed to support you through the festive season.

🍂 Interested in healing your relationship with food? Book a free mini-session.

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