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How to Navigate Through Uncertainty.

This is a time of powerful collective uncertainty.

And, most of us are facing levels of stress unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

We haven’t really lived in a time where so many things keep taking turns we don’t expect, where change is so sudden and completely out of our control so it’s no wonder it can feel disorientating and a bit scary. 

When we can’t predict an outcome, anxiety and worry can surface. If our brain can’t work out what’s going on, and we can’t escape the “threat” regardless of whether it’s a physical one or a product of our thinking, fear is aroused and stress hormones are released.

If we stay in a state of fear for too long, it can begin to take a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing. It can mess with our serenity, make concentrating difficult, put us on edge, make us restless, jumpy and snappy, and increase headaches and muscle tension. 

From a quit perspective, it can also make people previously dependent on something, relapse which is why adapting to uncertainty in healthy ways is needed now more than ever. Self care, for our minds, bodies and spirit is ever so helpful. Love, connection, kindness and helping others feels good and creates a sense of belonging and purpose and helps keeps things in perspective.

Some things can be controlled and others just can’t. It’s up to us to figure out which is which, and then focus more on the things we can control and let go of the things we can’t; like other people’s actions and opinions, nature events, and time.

Pretty good advice really considering that not only do we get to attend to the usual kinds of very real struggles and worries in our own personal lives, but the last two years have bought many other unexpected stressors and consequences from the ongoing, ever-changing pandemic.  Add to that the  horrific acts of aggression being inflicted right now upon vulnerable Ukrainians by Putin's senseless invasion and we have yet more heartbreak and powerlessness. While the climate change crisis may feel like it’s taken a bit of a backseat, it’s not going away anytime soon unless the world overhauls energy systems, redesigns cities and revolutionises how we grow food.

Because life doesn’t always play nice, we’ve also had quite a long stretch of time where our news feeds have projected both national and global surges in protests into our living rooms which more and more frequently have had a tendency to advance agendas unrelated to public health and escalate hostilities.

(If you’re scratching your head wondering what can drive a pocket of people down rabbit holes into conspiracy theories, very briefly it’s usually because they are looking for simple explanations for complex phenomena. What keeps them there is a lack of fact checking/information source verification and a desire to be a part of something that validates their fears.)

When events and situations in life go wrong or when we feel frustrated that things don’t play out the way we expect them to, and people don’t behave like they’re “supposed” too, it can feel overwhelming. Our natural human tendency is to over focus our energy and attention on the problems. 

No matter how many incoming uncertainties try to add to the pile of hopelessness, we must keep hope alive and not let any events steal our energy. Our quit journey, our health and wellbeing, our families our community and our planet needs us to focus and contribute to creative solutions and be the best we can, and do the best we can.

How do we respond to crazy stuff outside our control?

Let’s remember that we have control over our effort and attitude.

While we can’t control what others think, say or do or what they think of us, we can:

  • Remind ourselves that other people can handle their lives however they choose.
  • Detach from their beliefs and behaviours and not take it personally.
  • Let go of the ideals and expectations we have about others that cause unnecessary frustration, arguments, and bouts of anger.
  • Agree to disagree and to do that well, give up trying to control how the other person thinks or feels.
  • Make a commitment to remain neutral or silent on some topics or say “I’m not going to debate this.”
  • Continue to take personal responsibility and try to post and say things that have been information source verified. 

There have been some great positives that have arisen from trying times. We’ve learnt that:

  • focusing on maintaining self-protective measures is collectively helpful
  • engaging respectfully with each other, as our authentic selves rather than anonymous profiles keeps respect and kindness alive 
  • even one foot down the rabbit hole is too many
  • there’s enormous benefit in seeking, asking for, and sharing factual expert information 
  • everything that happens in the future carries some level of uncertainty and we can edit, accept and alter what we can
  • it’s helpful to shut the internal “what ifs” down
  • uncertainty makes our brains more open to absorbing information than usual
  • When the news and social media focuses on the sensational, it can add to the feeling that nothing is going right and stepping away or consuming less is helpful
  • we can choose to keep believing in our ability to manage whatever comes our way
  • connecting in with all the tiny wins and looking out for and celebrating community and system changes is uplifting
  • solitude, sanctuary and time spent in nature refuels our spirits
  • the more we meditate, the greater anxiety relief we experience and the more control we start to feel over any anxious thoughts or worries
  • giving feels good
  • healthy stress relievers like meditation, engaging hobbies and time with friends are better at building resilience and keeping our immune systems strong rather than unhealthy stress relievers like complaining, drinking too much, smoking and eating junk food.

Uncertainty doesn’t guarantee that bad things will happen; it just means there are unknowns right now.

The Top 10 Tips.

  1. Acknowledge and accept uncertainty.
  2.  If the worry isn’t solvable, surrender resistance to the problem and also to the emotions about the situation. 
  3. Gain knowledge. 
  4. Have flexible thinking. 
  5. Make good use of accurate information. 
  6. Use the RATIONAL MIND rather than the anxious mind in order to determine what is probable rather than what is possible. 
  7. Reduce behaviours that reinforce fear. 
  8. Self soothe. 
  9. Reduce stress. 
  10. Increase joy.

Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.

Healing and adjusting to change is helped by healthy expression of feelings. A good cry without spiralling into uncontrolled sadness helps us re-emerge cleansed and committed to new action. 

Take deep breaths.

Overwhelm invites shallow breathing, which spikes stress. Deep breathing invites calm. It reminds us that we can control our breath, even when there’s little else we can control. Deep breathing releases tension, calms down our fight-or-flight reactions, and allows us to quieten our nerves so that we can choose more considerate and constructive responses, no matter what the situation.

Stay focused on the present. 

Mindfully paying attention to the way our body feels, to the rhythm of our breath, to our changing emotions, and to the thoughts that drift across our mind, increases peace and contentment and helps us navigate through unavoidable life stressors.

Put things into perspective.

Nothing is permanent. Life is ever changing. Think about the important things that have stayed the same, even while the outside world changes. If you have trouble, look to the stars and mountains. When we talk about bad times, we need to make sure we talk about good times as well. 

Self soothe.

Let’s be grateful for all the little things that are going well and remember that denying ourselves of pleasurable things and experiences that increase joy never lessens the suffering of others. 

Joy expert, Ingrid Fetell-Lee says “Joy is essential to our survival. Joy is our defense against numbness. Joy allows us to endure great suffering and not give in to despair. When the world around us is broken, joy helps keep our hearts whole.”

Quit counselling doesn’t always just focus on triggers and quit plans. It can help you explore what rejuvenates you, calms you and brings you joy. Life can be a can of worms and expert help can ensure you tackle obstacles, reduce stress and find creative solutions. Keeping worries to yourself can cause them to build up, but writing or saying them out loud can help you make sense of what you’re feeling, help you move through any fears, navigate uncertainty and put things into perspective. Two super helpful things you can do right now: Join our private Facebook support group. It's a fun, interactive advice filled insiders club. You can also register for free email or telehealth quit counselling. Both start at the beginning of every month. Do it now while we still have spots available! www.quitnow.nz/register



 

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