As we are going through these uniquely uncertain times, most of us are struggling in some way. However, for some of us, anxiety and thoughts spinning out of control in absence of clear and definite answers and certain future is especially challenging.
As our minds grasp to create some certainty and without being able to do so leave us feeling even more anxious and stressed out as a result, and since right now we can’t possibly control many aspects of our lives we are used to counting on, it’s helpful to ask a question:
What are some effective ways we can calm our minds and let go more?
I composed seven ways to accomplish just that. They can be approached in any order and no need to achieve perfection in either one. Scan through the list and pick one that speaks to you the most and lean into it 1% more each day. Celebrate every little win!
Let’s dive in deeper into following seven effective steps to let go more in times of uncertainty:
Get clear on your “why”
When outside world and our place in it are too complex set of conditions to navigate from A to Z to achieve what we want (to keep safe; to be recover financially; etc.) we must switch our focus to what is driving us. We must dig deep. Our “why” has to make our heart come alive.
For instance, when I start feeling stressed, I switch my thoughts to travel with my children. I see us all healthy, vibrant, radiant and filled with joy of adventure. I let it stay with me for a few minutes and make it as vivid as possible.
I learned this tool at a time of my life I needed it most from Viktor Frankl in his memoir “Man’s search for meaning” in which he describes his observations of life in Nazi death camps. He observed that prisoners that had a clear reason to survive for inexplicably made a myriad seemingly small decisions that led them to survive, while others, who lost sight of what’s meaningful to them, while they made seemingly good and logical decisions to survive, died at higher rates nonetheless. It’s a riveting book and beyond worth reading, if you haven’t yet. In the meantime, get clear on what is meaningful to you. Is it your job? Your children? Your desire to find a life partner? Find your “why” and keep it close. Invoke it in your mind’s eye as much as possible. It will orient you and guide you to make decisions and take actions that will get you there.
Take stock of your resources
When we suddenly find ourselves with our life turned upside down and things and routines we are used to counting on taken away, it’s natural reaction to grasp for what’s gone and focus on that. Unfortunately, it keeps us in the negative loop, feeling less and less capable and more helpless.
Instead, I’m asking you to deliberately make a list of resources available to you. Ask a friend do it with you. Or imagine someone caring and supportive do it with you. What would they say your strong traits are that are helpful in this situation?
Perhaps, you are hilarious and can lift anyone up in any circumstance. Or a great cook. Or super resourceful. You have killer sales skills? A fast learner? In great health? Put it on the list. Then add all external resources you have. Your car is paid off? Don’t have a mortgage? You have an amazing landlord that is working with you? Supportive friends or family? Amazing therapist that gets you? Partner who’s got your back? Ride or die friends?
Add it all up and take stock of all the things working for you. Notice if your body posture changes as you are taking in the list. I bet you are sitting a little straighter and breathing deeper. Now you are in a more resourced state of your nervous system and can also access your decision making abilities better as well as your creativity. Score!
Engage your senses to land in the present moment
It is time to get our senses and primal selves onboard. When we engage our senses, we become more present in our bodies and present moment. Don’t just quickly read through this step. Reach for the surface closest to your right now and slowly run your fingers over it. Inhale scent of whatever is available to you right now: your own hair, perfume, essential oils, fresh cut flowers by your bed. Mindfully indulge in a piece of chocolate or mango. Actually taste that coffee or wine you’ve been gulping down, as if you were in a wine or coffee tasting with a group of connoisseurs. Now check in with yourself. What are you feeling? Your primal nature is a source of enormous stream of sensory information. Right now especially (and always as a rule) you don’t want to limit your information intake to reading news. Your want your body’s input: sensations and emotions. Don’t be afraid of fear or anxiety, they are only ramping up in volume, because you are trying to drown out their noice. Much like a toddler, as soon as they are heard, their attention moves onto something else. Fear gets really bad rep. When we think of fear, we conjure up images of toilet paper hoarders, it’s so out of control. Except it’s not real. Integrated emotions are our friends and guides that are quicker and more informed than our minds “solely” are. When we have all our resources working together as a team is when we have the best chance of succeeding in life and, well, survival. If you don’t believe me, check out “The gift of fear and other signals that protect us from violence” by Gavin de Becker.
Complete stress cycles
Not only majority of us are under unprecedented amount of stress and pressure, many are having old or new challenging patterns and behaviors come up. We are carrying this charge of life force energy that is meant by nature to help us fight off a bear attack, but instead we are surrounded by invisible enemy with nowhere in particular to apply this energy. The answer is to find ways and openings to express. I started playing video games with my children and as I was expressing to them superfluously and with much emotion how difficult it was for me to achieve some task, I could feel myself express some bigger unnamed frustration at the same time. We all laughed when I was through with my rant and air felt lighter all around. I am weary to recommend a specific way to complete your specific stress cycle, because right now everyone is dealing with their uniquely complex situation. Strenous exercise is helpful to burn off stress for some, but too much for others and would put them in overwhelm. Be your own best mother and therapist and feel into for what feels right. Dancing with your kids or friends or partner, playing board games, singing, making art, sex – they all could be helpful to express and release excess trapped energy out of your system and make you new again rather have it fester and cause havoc. Get curious and get experimenting.
Grieve your losses
This one is important and have to be approached uniquely with each individual. Many of us are grappling with losses, some of them hopefully recoverable in near future, others possibly lost forever. Cancelled sport events and proms, babies born and elders dying not in the way that was envisioned, and that can never be done over.
This is the reality and I don’t believe it’s helpful to downplay it. It is OK to grieve as much and as long as you need to. Unfelt grief fester inside, much like trapped stress, and keeps us from living our life fully and showing up completely.
If we are not ready to face our losses right now, it is also completely OK to keep ourselves busy or even have that glass of wine or indulge in chocolate chip cookies or binge that show. I’m right there with you. However, we also don’t want to make it a long-term pattern. As long as we understand, that we must grieve our losses to move on with best our life, not pretend they didn’t happen, if we truly want to be resilient, not just act as if we were.
Unravel the story mind creates
Our minds can be amazing tools and they can also nearly drive us crazy. Right now, it’s especially important to know the difference between stories our minds create (especially if they are grim and negative) and facts – real time objective things or events that we could literally record on a video and watch over and over. Facts are not our thoughts about them. Feelings we have based on these facts or our thoughts about them are welcome, but with a disclaimer, that they are exactly that – our feelings and thoughts. Use all of this information to learn about yourself more right now, and to chart a course of action, but put your best self in charge. Don’t get into reactive mode based on the negative images your brain, that is wired for survival first of all, creates. Listen fully to all your internal sources first. Then breathe for a while. Slow it down as you exhale to hack that vagus nerve. Speak and act from the place of calm. Don’t feel calm? Breathe and slow down some more. Get a safe and trusted person to give you feedback if you are struggling to do this on your own, before you “run” with your story.
Strengthen your spiritual connection
Last but not least, right now is our time to come together as humanity. Like Brene Brown said, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives”. We must step out of our little worlds and lean into our belonging. Together we can create belonging and safety enough, so everyone knows they are not alone and we can collectively exhale and let go. We will be OK. And if we are not, we will not be alone.