7 Practices to Keep Calm in the Face of Uncertainty

“Uncertain” is likely a mild way to put how we’re all feeling right now. This year has presented so many shocks to our systems, many of us are struggling to retain any sense of equilibrium. The deer in the headlights feeling of “what comes next?” has our anxiety at peak levels. While there are real circumstances in our lives that are causing us concern, there are also real techniques we can and should use to calm down. It’s okay to give ourselves permission to seek a little bit of peace right now. Here are five ways to help you do it:

1. Feel Your Feelings

Although, we may feel like our emotions are all over the place, our anxiety can become even more overwhelming when we’re attempting to bottle our deeper feelings of sadness, fear, or anger. Take a time out to simply sit with whatever you’re feeling. Allow yourself to cry, shout, or express whatever core emotions may be stirring beneath the surface. When we give ourselves the space to fully feel a primary emotion, the feeling tends to pass through us like a wave and leave us more calm and centered.

Finding healthy, safe ways to connect to our feelings tends to help us feel more clear-headed and present and to take more effective actions thereafter. Of course, if these emotions feel “out of control” or you do not feel relief or a sense that your intense feelings have passed, it’s a good time to seek help and support from a therapist or trusted loved one. Remember, it’s an act of strength to reach out if you’re in trouble.

2. Practice self-compassion

Always try to treat yourself with the kindness you would a close friend. Recognize that you are going through something really hard right now. Try to dismiss any judgmental thoughts toward yourself that arise. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings but don’t feel pressure to get swept up in them and carried down a dark path. Finally, reflect on the reality that you’re far from alone in your suffering. Getting through challenges is part of the human condition, and you shouldn’t feel isolated or “other” because you’re having a hard time.

3. Breathe

This may sound like a tired bit of advice, but it is absolutely one you should take any moment when you feel yourself spiraling – breathe. Breathing can be a powerful tool for managing our anxiety. Even making ourselves yawn can have a calming effect on our nervous system. A simple and helpful practice to try is 4-7-8 breathing. Start by putting the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth behind your two front teeth.  Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Then hold your breath for a count of seven seconds. Breathe out through your mouth for a total of eight seconds. Try to make a “whooshing” sound when you exhale. Immediately, start again, breathing in for a count of four and continue through the steps a few times before returning to your normal breath. The exercise has been shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and even induce sleep.

4. Connect With Nature (Using Your Senses)

If it’s safe to do so where you live, try to take a walk or engage in an activity that connects you to nature or any setting that offers you a sense of peace. Even if you have to stay indoors, try to tune in to your five senses. Take time to observe anything from a bee pausing on a flower to a leaf blowing outside your window. Notice any smells, sounds, textures, or tastes that surround you. This exercise helps connect you to your body and regain a sense of calm and presence.

While your mind may be racing, feeling like you’re in a marathon, you may notice that you are actually okay in the present moment. Let yourself marvel at and appreciate the small things, preferably the things that aren’t moving too fast or causing you any stirrings of unrest. Again, give yourself the time you need to seek out whatever offers you a sense of quiet, beauty, or peace.

5. Take Breaks From Technology

It’s important to be informed, but we all need breaks from the Wild West that is the internet. It’s perfectly okay to put our devices away and be present with whatever we’re doing or whoever we’re with. We can designate a specific amount of time we choose to be on or offline, or we can just make sure to pause once every so often to check in with ourselves and do something else.

Take a walk, talk to a loved one, play with your dog, exercise, read a book, or play music. Whatever activity we do as a distraction from screens is fine, but it’s best to try things that feel more soothing and centering. For instance, we may seek out a friend, but we should choose one who doesn’t make us more anxious. Or, we may listen to music that makes us feel slowed down, etc.

6. Slow Down to Connect

Anxious moments are a good time to slow way down and connect with the people who make us feel relaxed and more like ourselves. It’s easy to get frazzled and reactive when we’re stressed, and we can have the tendency to act in ways that push loved ones away rather than bringing them closer. It can be a gift to ourselves to press pause on whatever is going on and take time to connect to our partner, a close friend, a relative, or our kids in a way that’s genuine and personal.

We may open up about how we’re feeling or try to share a more lighthearted moment or activity like playing a game. Whatever we share, we should give ourselves permission to be present. We may notice anxious thoughts arise, but we can meet them with a mindful dose of curiosity and acceptance. Remember, we do not have to be carried away by these thoughts. We can simply bring our attention back to the person we’re with.

7. Ground Yourself in the Present

Some moments are really hard to live through, but rarely does harping on the past or catastrophizing over the future serve any purpose other than making us suffer. Sure, we can learn from mistakes and make changes, but the only moment we can ever experience is the one we are in. We must meet these moments with all of the aforementioned practices: an acceptance of our feelings, a sense of self-compassion, a return to our breath, a break from technology, and a personal connection with something or someone we value. If we give ourselves permission to seek out this sense of inner peace, we are much more resilient to handle the challenges life throws us at us, and we are less likely to allow our anxiety to skyrocket out of control.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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