Are you finding it difficult to cope with the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic? Well, you are not alone. We tend to fill the void of not knowing what will happen with worry. This creates a downward spiral that is difficult to bear. The good news is that the negative emotions you feel during times of uncertainty are mainly a product of your thoughts (and essentially a valuable one too!). Because uncertainty does not necessarily result in the negative incident you may anticipate. And since you are the creator of the negative thoughts, you can find your way out of it! Here are eight tools to help you regain trust and inner strength.
This year has provided a real challenge for our mental wellbeing. The world has been turned upside down by a virus. As a result, many things around us, at work, in our community, and our lives have changed. If anything, 2020 has made it obvious that nothing in life is ever certain. And while this is not news (after all, nothing in life is ever certain, not even or especially not life itself), we tend to discard this fact.
When we become conscious of an event’s uncertain outcome, we get caught in thinking traps such as catastrophizing, which may lead to negative emotions. This feels as if you lose ground under your feet — you feel vulnerable and unsafe. Yet, there is no reason to think the worst when we don’t know the outcome of an event.
Uncertainty is, in fact, neutral
By definition, uncertainty is a consciously perceived lack of security. It means we are aware that we don’t know how something will turn out. Thereby, we fill the void of the missing certainty with all the negative things that can happen. When, in fact, uncertainty doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen. It may, but it also may not. So, uncertainty is not a bad thing, it’s a neutral fact. The problem lies in how we judge uncertainty and the negative stories we attach to it.
Have you ever been waiting for a friend who was late and your mind went crazy catastrophizing what may have happened? What if they were hit by a car? Or did they fall and break a leg? When it turned out that she just couldn’t find parking.
The benefit of seeing negative consequences
The skill to anticipate negative consequences is a function of our brain which is vital for survival. The oldest part of our brain, the reptilian or primal brain, is in control of our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns. The act of anticipating what could possibly happen ensures our survival and that of our species. What an amazing and important quality!
However, it doesn’t serve us when we use it to catastrophize during times of uncertainty. So how can you win a game when so much control is lost on the outside? By concentrating on the inner arena and regaining trust.
8 simple and effective tools to regain trust
The good news is that you’re only one step away from changing how you feel! Here are eight useful positive psychology and coaching tools to get out of feeling vulnerable and back into strength and trust.
1. Reality check – chose which train you’re boarding
You know now that your brain can go wild and come up with horrendous stories of what could happen. And that this is in fact a self-preserving tool. Since you are in charge of your thoughts, you don’t have to believe everything you think. So, step back, observe and subject your thoughts to a reality check. Ask yourself: how else could I be thinking?
What if your friend who is late for a coffee has met the man of her dreams! Or what if she is late because she took part in a TV street quiz and has won money!
By observing your thoughts, you can become aware of unnecessary catastrophizing. Imagine every thought is a train. It’s your decision which train you are getting on! And once you realize you are going in the wrong direction: change trains. It’s as simple as that because you are the one who thinks your thoughts! Meditating regularly, for instance with an app such as Synctuition, also helps to become more aware of your thoughts.
2. Change your perspective
This is a very quick and easy way to get out of a negative train of thought. On a piece of paper, draw a vertical line in the middle. On the left, write down everything which you perceive as negative or threatening. All the things you cannot change and that bother or scare you. Once you’re finished, write down all the good things in the right column. Note everything you are in charge of, everything you can change. What do you notice? How are you feeling now?
3. Choose a supportive environment
Family and friends are very important during uncertain times. Even a short conversation can help you change your perspective and get out of a negative spiral. However, it is important to choose your environment wisely. Become aware of who you feel comfortable with and make sure you share all your worries and concerns openly with them. On the other hand, keep away from people who tend to pull you down and make things worse. It’s fine to choose who you want to spend time with. You must surround yourself with people who help you recharge your batteries.
4. Create a positive image of the future
As you know now, we tend to think “what if things go wrong”. And we fail to spend equal amounts of time concerning ourselves with “what if things go right”. Take time to create a positive image of the outcome using a technique called journaling. Take 10 minutes of your time (it’s best to set the alarm) and write down everything that comes to mind in response to the following question: If everything turns out in the best way possible, what will my life look like in one year from now? Don’t stop writing until the time is up. You will find this exercise very strengthening.
Another very effective tool to change into a mindset of trust and inner strength is called 3 good things. It’s very simple! Every evening, write down three good things from that day. This is not about your achievements but about the good things that life provided for you. It could be a sunrise, your neighbor opening the door for you, or an uplifting text message from a friend. Make sure you do this exercise for 21 consecutive days. As you may know, this is how long it takes to establish new neural patterns in the brain. This tool works well because unconsciously you will know all day that in the evening you will need to come up with three positive things. So, your brain will be alert during the day to spot those good things along the way.
6. Provide for balance
When you can’t get away from a challenging topic because the news is so full of it, for example, make sure you provide for balance in your life. Switch off the radio, put your mobile phone on silent and go for a walk. Read a book (for instance a biography) to get a perspective change or “park your thoughts” in a diary. Constantly checking the news can have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing and you don’t need to expose yourself to that.
7. Look at “the monster” in the eye
All the tools mentioned so far are strength-oriented. But, sometimes, you can allow the negative thoughts to run freely. For this exercise, create a worst-case scenario. Think of everything that can possibly happen. Yes, you may lose your job and without a job, you may not be able to pay bills. You may lose your partner too. Allow yourself to look the monster right in the eye. Because once you look- at it properly, its power will weaken.
8. Manage your “inner team”
You have different voices in your head, right? I remember how relieved I felt when I first learned about this concept. Yes, we all have a team of voices or actors who talk to each other and help us make decisions. For instance, when you decide what to have for lunch, the health voice might say “have a salad” while the voice of enjoyment may vote for a steak. The financial voice may argue that the steak is too expensive while the relationship voice might want to go for what everyone else is having so that you can enjoy the same dish together.
One way to regain trust is to become aware of your voices and consciously decide who gets time on your stage. After all, you are the director! So, focus on one voice at a time and listen to what it has to say. In uncertain cases, one voice might say: “Everything always goes wrong for you”. Give that voice a name, for instance, “the pessimist” and think of all the sentences this voice typically comes up with. Then, take the next voice or actor, listen to it and name it.
There are actors which you perceive as negative and others that are supporting. Make sure you spend a great amount of time getting to know your positive actors. You will find that once you know your inner team, you can recognize the actor when they start talking. And you can decide actively whether you let them be on stage rather than endure their babble.
Want to learn more?
These tools will get you out of a negative spiral and find your way back into trust. But instead of trying them all, choose the one which feels most appealing right now. Let go of expectations and see what happens. Do you want to learn even more powerful tools for a better life? Join Birgit’s free Facebook group Find your happy place and get ready to take your life to the next level with the free happiness challenge which will take place in January 2021!