We are all dealing with plenty of uncertainty right now. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a chronic worrier and self-proclaimed overachiever when it comes to handling the discomforts of uncertainty. Those who are not accustomed to dealing with the unknown, COVID-19 has thrown the world into a tailspin, providing an abundance of unanswered questions—ranging from how can I keep my loved ones safe? What do I need to have available? How long with this continue? Will I lose my income? Where the hell am I going to find toilet paper? When will I see my loved ones next? The list goes on, and the questions become daunting and uncontrollable. Your anxiety kicks in, and you fall into the cadence of this thought process. Yikes. How do you stop it? Woah, how do you even explain it? Am I going crazy?
I have grown through severe anxiety throughout my short lifetime. My elementary years revolved around the constant worry of being left behind. At the age of eight, I met with my first therapist; he identified the impending stress and conversations in my head as anxiety. Well, that was a start, a name, a simple word that said, "Hey, this is normal, and you're not alone." As I grew up, my little friend, anxiety, came along with me, and she changed as the years advanced. Social settings, confrontation, crowds, public speaking, fear of making mistakes, even loud environments, all joined forces to make me question my existence. It was rough. When both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer, anxiety tightened her grip. It was the bottom of the barrel, the brick wall, the end of my rope; the fears became life or death; it was my worst fears coming to fruition––being left behind, unable to help those I love. I was helpless and tussling with thoughts. I knew it wasn't going to be possible to continue living a worthwhile life with these impending fears. I had to stop my manipulative friend from controlling me any further. It was time to put in the work (and let me tell you it is intense hard on-going work) to end to the looming thoughts and chatter.
My unsolicited advice that may (or may not) help will be left here. These are five things I have found comfort in during times tested by uncertainty.
1) Take a step back. It doesn't have to be a hop, skip, or a jump, just a simple step will do. Once you do this, take a moment to evaluate what is happening from the outside. If you are capable of differentiating your physical self from your thoughts, you can see that these are two separate entities. Take a deep breath. Listen to it. Feel your core expand and compress. Feel your feet grounded to the earth, I am an avid floor dweller, and I even recommend laying on the floor if you need to feel more grounded. The universe has a story, and you are apart of it, just as the billions of people before you have been apart of it. Beyond the fear you harbor at this moment, life will go on. Take a step back and remember that it is out of your control.
2) Count your blessings. Stop what you're doing and make a list of all of the things that are going right. There are plenty of things that you can think of to reframe your current situation (favorite memories, happy place, favorite scent, a good book, the oxygen you are breathing, etc.). Take a moment to shift your perspective. I start each day with the 'Miracle Morning' and write a list of things I am thankful for. I position myself to begin the day, feeling grateful for what I do have. The more we allow ourselves to pour pitty into our skittish thoughts, the worse they become. If you are capable of raising your mental blinds to shed a little bit of light into your destructive thinking patterns, you can replace them with the things you find optimistic. The power of positive thinking is strong, but the rest remains out of your control.
3) Don't play the 'what if' game. Just don't. There is absolutely no good that comes out of going down the rabbit hole of 'what if.' There are unlimited scenarios that most likely will not happen, so why traumatize yourself with made-up outcomes. What will happen will happen, and it is what it is. You cannot control the big picture when you run into those 'what if' statements pause and count back from ten. Do not pass go; do not collect 200.
4) Lighten your grip & let go. I get that you're used to sporting a set of white knuckles, clenching to whatever might help you feel better. Substances, shopping, binging television, exercise, eating, we overwhelm ourselves with things that cover up our pains and temporarily patch over our fears. Look within for your acceptance of the situation. It is okay to explore how you are feeling, whether it be terrible, numb, alone, all of the above, take time to feel and then let them go. I have learned that you cannot have the good moments without the bad, for you would never quite appreciate them without their full contrast. I find this to be true when looking at how my relationship with my parents has improved through thick adversity. Our struggles have unified us and brought our family closer. By letting go of the things, we cannot control and be open to letting the good in. Exposing our pains takes vulnerability and can be life-changing. The best parts of life can be brought forth through adverse times. So, don't hold onto the bad, nor latch onto the good, strive to welcome the lessons they both have to offer.
5) Love a little bit harder. I have never been an outwardly loving person, but when I learned to love a little bit harder, there is comfort in knowing I was contributing my most sincere sentiments to every situation. If you can replace your fear with love, the universe's story begins to take on a rosier hue. Love yourself—love one another. Open up to the love and allow it to help you work through your anxieties, stresses, and pains. Lead with compassion. It is easier said than done, but when you begin only to integrate acts of kindness and love, you will be raising your spirits as well as others. Laughter is also a form of love, so go ahead send your long-distance best friend that meme or FaceTime your cousin just because. Anxiety doesn't thrive in happy environments. Replace the uncertainty with unconditional love for the world.
There is no secret sauce for growing with anxiety, but if you begin to embrace it and learn from it, I promise there is good to come. You're not going crazy. Your feelings are recognized, and you are simply human. The universe will not change its path, and uncertainty is inevitable. Take a step back, count your blessings, don't play the what-if game, lighten your grip, and remember to love a little bit harder. I have seen a variety of different professionals who have helped me learn countless strategies on how to combat these feelings. It has been very helpful, and I highly recommend finding a counselor therapist, coach, 'personal cheerleader,' to encourage and support you. In this universe, it is all happening as it is supposed to, but you can write your own story. If you're still reading this, know that you have a friend in me, and together we will get through the toughest time, and perhaps one day we will be able to share our secret sauce for how to navigate this crazy thing called life and all its uncertainty. Until then, stay well and healthy to all of you wonderful people.
Hugs + unconditional love,