Unpredictability creates anxiety and fear of the unknown. It is uncomfortable not knowing how to proceed. Uncertainty creates fear of the future.
Faced with traumatic change, we look for anything to stabilize us again. Life as we knew it no longer exists. We were in control of our destiny – now we struggle just to stand upright. We are knocked off balance. And we do not know how to regain our sense of stability.
When we don’t know what to do we become apprehensive. We worry about doing the right thing or making the right choice. We may be faced with life and death decisions that are required right now. Or they may be decisions that can have long term consequences. How do we make those choices?
At times like this, old fears, emotions and thoughts from long forgotten events often surface and add to the emotional turmoil we are experiencing.
If we had difficulty resolving problems in the past, we will feel incapable of doing so now. Our self talk predicts what will happen now based on the past. We minimize positive solutions while maximizing perceived failures.
“I screwed up again. I never do anything right. I’ll never make the changes I want to. Others seem to handle difficulties real well, why don’t I. Why do bad things keep happening to me? I guess life is over – there is nothing I can do to make it good again.”
And we want to run away or crawl in bed, cover our head and shut out the world. We re-run all our failures, difficulties, hurts, etc. and forget about all the accomplishments we have made.
While challenging and replacing negative thinking is an important life skill to acquire, we need to have some immediate ways to reduce the fear and anxiety we are experiencing right now to lower our stress.
Here are some things you can do:
1. First, reach out for support. Others have faced similar situations and have survived. This is not a time to be independent or stoic. Old mindsets of have to, should, and ought to can trip us up. No matter how independent you have been, we need support.
2. Calm your mind with positive statements and affirmations.
“Life is not over”; “Good can come from this”; “God will give me the strength and wisdom I need”; “Others have been through similar events and have survived”; “I only have to take one step at a time” and “I can do this.”
3. Along with affirmative thoughts, do some simple relaxation and breathing exercises. Breathe deeply and slowly from the diaphragm. As you release the air repeat the words, “letting go.” Internally visualize your fear and tension melting away.
You can do this anywhere: waiting for the elevator or appointments, sitting at your desk, etc. If you are in a safe place, close your eyes and visualize your body relaxing. Bringing your body back to a relaxed state will enable you to think more clearly and problem solve.
Facing our fear and anxiety honestly, lowering tension and stress in our bodies and affirming our ability to be flexible and find solutions regardless of our past are the first steps to stabilizing our lives again.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC