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These days it can feel like there’s a lot to worry about. But when nothing is certain, anything is possible, our experts reassure Christabel Smith.
- Travis Bradberry, PhD, co-wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and co-founded an emotional-intelligence training company.
- Psychologist Nina Dhiman is a yoga and mindfulness teacher who focuses on alleviating stress and anxiety through holistic wellness classes.
Times of great change can make us feel the world’s spinning too fast and the floor is shifting under our feet. If life today has proven anything, it’s that things we believed would last forever aren’t as permanent as we thought, and we have little idea what the future might bring. Whenever we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to turn turbulence into a full-on crisis in our minds. Here, we say stop… breathe. There’s always a bright side, and we have six ways to help you find it…
1 Wise Up
Our brains are wired to react to uncertainty with fear, but this may lead to poor decision-making, which will only make us feel more out of control. We go down the path of thinking everything in our world is unstable, but that’s hardly ever the case. Information has never been more accessible than it is now, so read up, get googling, and counter your irrational thoughts by gathering facts.
Do It: Take stock. Make a list of what you know and what you don’t. For example, if you’re worried an elderly relative’s memory is failing, jot down what you can do to help (seek a GP’s advice, keep a diary), and what you can’t (make a diagnosis, predict the future). Putting pen to paper takes power away from the unknown.
2 Meet Your Inner Cavewoman
When our most pressing concern was whether a woolly mammoth was lurking in the bushes, our ‘fight or flight’ response kicked in. Today, our inner alarm bells still ring in the same way when we face a threat. The trouble is, with no actual beast to fend off with a stick, our heightened anxiety levels hang around. This is an ancient reaction, so don’t judge yourself harshly when you’re feeling panicky and stressed. The greatest solution is also the simplest: breathe.
Do It: Close your eyes and focus on your breath. If you’re with other people, place one hand on your abdomen and slowly inhale, then exhale, counting if it helps. It may seem too easy, too difficult, or even silly at first, but you’ll soon find your mind calming down.
3 Embrace The Chaos
Imagine yourself as a feather being blown this way and that by the wind. Does that terrify you, or is there a sense of freedom? It’s natural to want to feel in control, but the desire backfires if external forces make you believe you’ve failed in some way. Stressing about climate change or the country’s politics is understandable, but it won’t help a thing. You can recycle your plastic and keep tabs on your bank account, but you can’t solve global warming or the economy single-handed. Recognising there’s only so much one person can do makes you human, not powerless. We tend to see loss before gain, so if, for example, we lose our job, we may think “I’ll never work again”. But if we don’t ‘catastrophise’, we’ll see new opportunities.
Do It: Ask yourself, “In 10 years’ time, will I be worrying about this?” It’s unlikely. Picture life as a long car ride. Isn’t it realistic to expect a few traffic jams and bumps in the road?
4 Keep Your Feet On The Ground
When life’s particularly uncertain, bad times from the past can taunt you as fake ‘evidence’ of where you think you went wrong, making the future even scarier. So bring yourself back to the present. Yoga postures are a great help with this, but you don’t need to sign up for three weeks on a retreat in Goa (though that does sound nice!). Take a deep breath in and out, then stand with your feet hip-width apart (or lie flat with a book under your head) and feel the reassuring ground holding up your weight.
Do It: Go outdoors for a few minutes and engage your senses. Listen to birdsong, or watch the clouds.
5 Trust Your Gut
Along with the head and heart, the tummy acts like a third brain. Listen to that gut instinct and learn to recognise when it’s tugging. Practise with small things so you can spot it when the bigger ones turn up. And don’t let other people drown out your own intuition!
Do It: Tune in to yourself. Einstein got his best ideas when sailing, while Apple genius Steve Jobs would go for a walk.
6 Train Your Brain
We tend to overestimate risk and negative consequences, and our thoughts can be like wild elephants trampling through our minds, particularly at night. Tame them with positives. Remember that you’ve faced uncertainty before and you made it through. That makes you a powerful survivor, not a helpless victim.
Do It: Whatever the scenario, practise imagining the best possible outcome, not the worst. It will soon impact on your clarity and confidence.
By Christabel Smith