If you have ever experienced a crisis, a medical condition, a major change, or been impacted by the current COVID-19 situation, you may probably have noticed the secondary effect of a level of uncertainty and discomfort. I wish I could wave a magic wand and help it disappear for you. Instead I have hard truths and some hard work to practice, which is well worth the effort for your mental and emotional well-being and for those around you.
This will be uncomfortable and we will want to do anything we can to get rid of that feeling. We just have to sit still and get used to being uncomfortable. It doesn’t go away and it can feel easier with practicing your awareness of it. Everything is temporary. This too shall pass.
Sitting with uncertainty and staying with uncomfortable feelings is a really difficult task in this day and age. We will do just about anything to try to rid the feeling and stop ourselves feeling this way. Something makes us feel uncomfortable or uncertain and we can easily access anything that is distracting to stop us feeling anything. We can avoid anything if we keep busy enough with work or family obligations, with food and drink, with our phones and social media. Sometimes when we slow down enough, that also can feel uncomfortable because it brings to the surface everything we have avoided dealing with or haven’t given time to process. Just writing about uncertainty now makes me want to eat all the chocolate and snacks in the house, or scratch my way out of my body.
I have never been good at dealing with uncertainty and I am a professional at trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings. I always try to do whatever I can to be in control of the situation or outcome, and it is really difficult for me to accept if it doesn’t go to plan. I used to fill every moment of every day with tasks and stay busy to avoid how I was feeling or the pain I felt in my body. I would go and go and go until I crashed – either into sleep or into a medical crisis. It is still my default setting, but I now have other settings to refer to that are much more beneficial and safer. I can switch out of autopilot default mode before it takes hold. It has taken a lot of practice and many experiences to gradually get better at dealing with uncertainty and being uncomfortable.
When I first became unwell, there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going on with my body, it was really hard for me to accept that I couldn’t control everything and I avoided dealing with every emotion I felt. I just ignored them, distracted myself from it and hoped it would go away. We all know that if we don’t deal with something, it’s just going to return again later, more powerful and stronger. Unfortunately, chronic conditions usually include chronic uncertainty and discomfort.
I learnt very early that stress was a major component of my medical condition and I had to do anything I could to reduce it, which included dealing with emotional stressors. I couldn’t avoid emotions any longer and learning how to manage my emotions is an every hour of the day challenge, even after years of practice.
When we first end up in a crisis situation we can be flooded with uncertainty and it is incredibly uncomfortable. We are a species that needs to know how the story will end and that makes us feel reassured and safe. When a medical crisis occurs, it threatens our mortality, our deepest core fear and sends us into shock, grief and fear – all of which are very uncomfortable feelings. We also look for other people who have experienced the same thing we have for their guidance and reassurance that it might turn out ok for us. If we don’t have enough information about our condition we may not be able to see ourselves reflected in other people’s journeys. It is a scary place to be and involves so many emotions. All we can do to resolve and lessen these feelings is to accept them as they are.
We have to practice getting used to these feelings. When we realize what we are feeling, in that gap in between where we notice and before we act, we can then choose what behaviour flows next. We step back from trying to numb the pain with distractions like comfort food, alcohol or social media. We can try mindfulness, meditation, or just being still until the raw strength of the feeling passes.
To quote Joan Rivers: “I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t. You get better”. She may have been talking about a comedy career but the same message applies. Sometimes the situation doesn’t get better or change, instead we have to take it upon ourselves to adjust how we respond and manage it.
Every time you notice you are having a feeling that you don’t like and want to avoid, try acknowledging what you feel. How it feels in your body, the thoughts that accompany it, any side effects you notice. Know that every emotion you feel is valid and ok. As soon as you name the emotion, it lessens. It may not disappear completely but it will have less hold over you and less likely to drive you towards other unfavourable behaviours. The more we practice acknowledging how we feel when tough, uncomfortable situations arise, the better we handle it. The years of practice I’ve had has given me valuable information about myself; how I respond to situations, what my default emotional responses are, what my triggers and preferred distractions are. This information is priceless and helps me respond in better, more helpful ways. I hope you will be able to learn this knowledge about yourself too.
So take a deep breath and practice acknowledging the emotion. We are all in this together.
Take heart Readers, I’ll keep the light on.