Not too long ago, a friend of mine was going through a difficult period of her life. She had recently graduated university (with a major she regretted), was having difficulty finding a job, was mourning the end of a relationship by bouncing from one guy to the next, did not know where she wanted to live, and to top this all off she was sick and slowly becoming depressed. According to her, everything was awful and life was not worth living.
We’ve all been there. Maybe not to the same extent, however everyone has gone through a period of time where something was uncertain. And this is far from a pleasant experience (to say the least). People are faced with decisions every day and do not always have enough information to confidently choose one action over another. High school students need to decide which university to attend; college students need to decide what to major in and what career they want to pursue; graduates need to decide where to apply for work. Young professionals must choose where to live, how much they are willing to put into relationships, and how to achieve a healthy work/life balance. Over time we face more and more decisions about ourselves, our young children, and our aging parents. As long as we live, we must deal with making decisions we are not 100% ready to make.
Although uncertainty is a part of life, it can generate a great deal of stress. Why is that? Why does something so essential to life cause us so much anxiety? The reason is surprisingly simple. We crave certainty. We want to know what to expect so we can be better prepared to deal with it. Of course, it is not possible to be entirely certain about anything (we cannot see into the future), however this illusion of certainty brings about a sense of comfort. Imagine looking at a map with a hole in the middle. You can see the roads leading to and away from the hole….but what do you do when you follow the route and reach the torn off area? How do you navigate your way through the hole and back onto the map? When we do not know what to expect, or what to do next, our bodies respond to the situation as though it were a threat to our safety and well-being. The fight or flight response is activated in our nervous system, just as it would if we had been presented with a physical threat.
So we know that life is uncertain and that uncertainty can lead to unwanted stress. What now? Are we all doomed? Not at all! As with anything else in life, it’s all about how we approach the situation. Here’s what we can do:
- Accept that life is unpredictable– The only constant in life is change. Yes, it can be hard, but that is the way of life. Simply because we observe Joe entering a coffee shop every morning for a month does not guarantee that he will enter again tomorrow. In the same vein, circumstances can change quickly and without warning. Accept that this can happen and remind yourself that you are capable of dealing with whatever changes come your way (you are!).
- Embrace uncertainty– Rather than worrying about and avoiding uncertainty, embrace it wholeheartedly. Not knowing something provides us with an opportunity to try new paths and to gain something positive. Do not fight the circumstances, but rather allow yourself the freedom to learn and grow.
- Practice mindfulness– Remember to ground yourself and stay in the present. It is tempting to think about the future and worry about how everything may play out. Although planning is important, getting too absorbed in it will prevent you from appreciating the present moment. You are living in the now, stay there. The future will come whether you worry about it or not. For tips on how to be mindful, click here .
- Utilize positive self-talk– At moments of very high stress, remind yourself that you can get through it and come out stronger. Tell yourself that you are capable of dealing with the situation at hand. If you believe that, it will become the truth. Most of all, remember to be your own best friend and treat yourself with kindness and respect.
These practices will make you feel calmer and more in control of the situation. Let’s go back and revisit my friend from earlier. Her life had felt out of control and overwhelming. As time went on, she learned to tell herself what she would tell a friend. She reminded herself to have patience and remember that it takes time to find one’s path, and that this is okay! It is a process and the key is to keep going and pick yourself up every time you fall. Eventually things will come together. She learned to be more accepting of her circumstances and not hide from the world when things got difficult. Instead, she would tell herself that every unknown was a reason to get excited, because it provided her with a new experience. This new outlook made all the difference. She has come a long way since then and is so much happier now. Life will never be perfect, but that does not mean it cannot be bright, positive, and happy.
Feel free to share your comments and experiences with us on Twitter @yogatailor or in the comments section below!
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