Dealing with the Anxiety of Not Knowing Anything (in Times of Change)
By Dr Becky Spelman
Uncertainty is the mother of all anxiety. Dealing with the anxiety of not knowing anything is the unavoidable side-effect of changing times, which prompts us to question whether things are going to turn out in our favour – or against us. It’s a natural response. But one that can often lead to us down the rabbit hole of despair unless it’s kept in check. You can’t have control over everything your life. It’s an impossibility. There has to be an acknowledgement, that, at some point, you’ll be faced with situations you hadn’t banked on or predicted. Unfortunately, in the times that we’re facing with a potentially lengthy pandemic, the anxiety of not knowing anything is alive in all of us.
The Uncertainty Factor and Its Hold on Our Reality
It’s ironic that during the coronavirus outbreak, the most viral contagion we’re dealing with isn’t the virus, itself. The one thing that you cannot escape no matter how much you self-isolate is anxiety. You don’t need to have an official diagnosis, or to experience it in prolonged bouts. It can come in pangs that chip away at your psyche little-by-little – an emotional contagion that we’re all having to manage on some level. As we continue to make our way as best we can through an ever-changing landscape, it’s the uncertainty that gets us.
The false-promise of anxiety is that it affords us a sense of control. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it allows us to feel that we’re giving direction to our future by engaging in what-if scenarios. There is a feeling that by exploring all the many possible futures it will better prepare us for any that comes our way. But it’s the most poisoned of poison chalices. The over-intellectualising of your future doesn’t set it in stone. It simply leads to more questions. At the end of the process, you still don’t really know any more than when you began. The uncertainty that was your sponsoring thought still holds sway over your emotional state. Anxiety is still an ever-present.
The variable that makes our current situation so hard to manage on the emotional level is the genuine concern people have for their health. The uncertainty that’s currently at play is fueled by a genuine loss of safety. That’s what makes the anxiety so much harder to deal with than any other situation. It’s the fear of death, accompanied by social restrictions that have made financial stability and meeting our basic needs an uphill concern. But the presence of these circumstances represents a challenge, and nothing more.
Getting a Firm Grip on Your Anxiety
As we’ve already alluded to, anticipatory anxiety is normal. It forms part of the spectrum of human emotion, and to deny it would be akin to removing a primary colour from your palette. However, that’s not to say you have to invite this feeling or put up with it governing the state of your mental health. Just as you can express a preference over many other facets of your life, you can choose to engage with different emotions other than anxiety.
It is a fundamental waste of your energy. That’s not to devalue how you feel or suggest that you just ‘get over it,’ but it’s simply to reinforce the point that you can funnel your emotional energy into other, more useful states of being. There is always a choice, and sometimes those choices may represent something closer to a process more than an event. But they still function as something that can affect the outcome of your reality.
The process of moving past your anxiety is a multi-stage affair. That may sound intimidating, but it’s not. You may have already gone through these same steps to rationalise your feelings in the past. But now, because of the increased stakes we’re facing, those same thoughts don’t feel like they would do much good. But they will… You can apply these steps to any form of anxiety no matter what the source or intensity of feeling they bring up within you.
You first need to understand that you’re not in your ‘normal’ range of thinking. Anxiety has a way of justifying its presence by leading you through countless what-if scenarios. But these are simply the result of your heightened state of emotion.
Once you’ve come to the awareness that what you’re thinking – and feeling – is a just a narrative, you can label it as such – in whatever way helps you personally identify it whether it be as an “unhelpful thought,” or simply a basic unknown or uncertainty.
It can be hard to turn off the feeling of uncertainty at will. Emotions tend to linger and then taper off before they disappear. During that time, try not to empower it further, but accept that what you’re feeling will pass.
If you’re still finding yourself struggling with the letting go process, engage with your thoughts, objectively. Challenge your narrative and look for all the reasons why your worst-case scenarios are just that.
Moving Past Your Anxiety Self-Limiting Beliefs
To truly move past your anxiety and take back control of your emotions, there needs to be a balance between acceptance and proactivity. Learn to greet your anxiety as something you that is present in your field, but an issue that you ultimately have control over – much like a stack of paperwork or dishes. It’s simply a finite experience that you can and will overcome given by following the proper steps.
The worst thing you can do is feed into your emotions with helplessness. If approached in the wrong manner, anxiety can often lead to more anxiety – a perpetual feedback loop. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of feeling anxious about becoming anxious. The way you respond to adversity is as much a belief system as well as an emotional mechanism. Commit to the process of creating a new story for yourself – one that subverts the fear of uncertainty and allows you to embrace the unknown as just another challenge.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with anxiety related to the COVID-19 outbreak and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here
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