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It’s Us not Them Part 3

Embrace the Anxiety of Uncertainty Humans have formed and created a modern society of structure and routine. We’re told from a young age when to wash, when to clean our teeth, when to go to bed etc. Our work lives are clocked in and out. We conform here in Britain to queue quietly, to have manners, to not break the ‘norm’. Society can frown upon a person who swims against the tide, or more so, some people find not doing certain things in the way they were always shown makes them feel anxious or uncertain. This in turn can breed anxiety or fear within us, giving negative energy that traps us from exploring our own development and finding our own way. However, there is research that highlights turning fear into positive energy can promote growth.


It is overlooked that there is a positive impact of experiencing uncertainty in your daily life - and we all experience this at some point. It’s contrasting, as the assumption is that uncertainty is stressful and can harm your health, and of course there is evidence that it can. However this new research by the journal ‘Emotion’ found that tolerating, and even embracing the unpredictable nature of life stimulates greater appreciation for simply being alive, for enjoying what it is, a moment in time. I’m sure you’ve heard or seen stories of someone having a near death experience for example, be it a nasty accident or severe ill health. After they have survived this traumatic episode, their outlook on life changes, they appreciate things more. Family time, nature, health or finding God. On another level, when you escape the humdrum of the daily grind and take yourself away somewhere to relax, maybe on a holiday, you have moments where you appreciate your life, a nice view perhaps or a special moment with a loved one. We’ve all had these small moments or mini euphoria where we have thought, “It’s great to be alive!”


Savouring the ‘small things’ in life pulls you out of the pit of daily ups and downs, the negative fears and worries that impede our lives which we constantly try and control, but inevitably are unable to. Be it our workload, trying to reply to all those emails and empty the box, but of course the response to sending one email is normally to get another in reply, so the box never empties. We try constantly to appear well and good, or do things to please others, however all these types of things are not always beneficial to our own wellbeing. We end up feeling pressured or unheard, resulting in negative thought patterns or unhappiness. These things encompass our daily lives and routine, so suffering with mental health problems is actually, sadly, an almost regular occurrence for us all in modern society.


Unfortunately those who suffer more acutely get even more trapped in the process of doing things in a certain way and the thought of it not being that way can be uncomfortable, anxious and sometimes terrifying. OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is one example of this. I personally believe this has become more and more prevalent in society over the past 30 years. I know of countless friends who have obtained different levels of this over time. A few people I know shut their front door, and even though it is latched and locked, they still have to go back and press the door 2 or 3 times just to check it, even though inside they know it’s shut and locked, the impulse is there to check. Some have been obsessed with hand cleaning since the pandemic began. They wash them or sanitise them 10-20 times a day, even after briefly using the work kitchen to make a coffee. So the thought of not doing these things - the uncertainty - makes them feel odd and out of their comfort zone. The hardest part is to break this cycle, but break this cycle you must. This is embracing the anxiety of uncertainty. Training your mind to say, ‘it’s ok, i know the door is locked, i just closed it’. But we all know that things are easier said than done, so how would one approach it? Baby steps. A little bit at a time. It is purely irrational thought patterns that have been ingrained into our mind by patternistic behaviours over time. The reverse can be achieved by doing the same thing backwards, with a bit of positive thoughts and practice. For example, when you go to shut the front door, stand in front of it, look at it, close it and say to yourself, “I have shut the front door”, and repeat this to yourself as you walk away. You naturally will feel awkward about it because your brain will send signals of worry or fear that you haven’t because you are used to doing this in a certain way. But before long it will settle on the fact that you have actually shut the front door and you are not required to return down the path to check it.


Putting these kinds of positive thoughts into our minds on a daily basis is something we can all do to stop the anxiety of uncertainty, but at the same time we must embrace it, as they are sometimes natural fears too. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I enjoy risk taking, albeit calculated. My mind naturally tells me that what I'm about to do is dangerous or risky to my nature, but I tell myself that I have done all the necessary planning and assessed the risks, and that I will come out the other side safely. I override my brain’s natural instinct and show it that it can be achieved. We have all achieved this in our everyday lives. If you live in a city or town, how many times have you crossed a busy street? Plenty, and you do it pretty much without thinking, however there is real danger there. Human vs vehicle normally only has one outcome. So why then is there more of a fear of doing something like a bungee jump? Simply because on the first time of doing it we feel uncertain of the outcome. We are unsure of what is going to happen. Even though millions have done it, and more die from crossing roads, we’re more fearful of jumping off a bridge with a secure and safety checked harness and elastic rope tied to us, because we can not directly control our outcome.


In mental health issues this is the principle, however the structure of the mind is a lot more heavily ingrained with anxiety and uncertainty. We lock ourselves away from the erratic world and settle to feel safe in solely our own spaces. Therefore finding it hard to leave the house or socialise with friends. This in turn creates a negative spiral and the ingrained behaviours take hold and we become more and more introverted and don’t want to do anything that makes us fearful or uncomfortable. But breaking this cycle requires us to embrace the fear of uncertainty and do things that show our brain that it’s ‘ok’. It might be taking a walk, something that seems impossible to people with severe anxiety, but even if it’s only 200m from your safe space, upon returning you get a feeling of achievement and positivity that you can do it and are in control. An old Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and this is true.


Life can seem a long road, and sometimes we find it hard just to see past the end of the day or even the next few hours, but ultimately it’s a long game and we must enjoy the little bits of everyday life along the way. To understand this adds to a healthy recognition of how impermanent things are. For life can be taken away at any time, as we’ve recently seen with the pandemic. It helps you appreciate the moment you occupy here in your brief lifetime. To savour and enjoy small wins and achievements, and to remember that ultimately you can break the negative cycle by giving yourself the opportunity to embrace the anxiety of uncertainty. Positive action causes a positive reaction and this in turn can help to break our own negative cycles. In the final part, we’ll be looking at the importance of talking and listening to others. I wish you all well and good health. Try to stay strong unto yourself.

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