Let’s face it. Life can be uncertain, stressful and messy. Uncertainty produces anxiety, fear and insecurity and is a major cause of anxiety, depression and other stress-induced diseases.
Uncertainty is triggered when circumstances are ambiguous, complex, or unpredictable. Our mind likes to know. When information is unavailable or inconsistent, we feel ungrounded and unstable.
Findings from the APA Stress in America Survey highlight common ways that uncertainty stresses us out:
- Two-thirds of Americans report health-related worries as a source of stress.
- Almost two thirds are stressed about possible changes to healthcare policy.
- More than a third of Americans report unexpected expenses and economic uncertainty as a source of stress.
Research shows that people react differently to uncertainty, and that those with a higher intolerance for uncertainty may be less resilient and more prone to low mood, negative feelings, and anxiety. In this article, we’ll explore uncertainty along with small and big strategies to increase your resilience in the face of rapid change.
We Try to Secure Stability
It is natural that we try to find security in the midst of what can feel like chaos. We rely on certain things not to change in order to face a changing world.
Most of us have a picture of the way we imagine our ideal life to be. Much of our life is spent trying to get things into place to fit that picture. When we arrive there, we tell ourselves everything will be okay. We’ll be able to relax. We’ll feel good about ourselves. We’ll be able to enjoy. We won’t have to worry anymore.
Many of us have an accompanying mental “to do” list that must be accomplished to arrive at this image. Maybe we do all we can to get our job to go the way we want it, or all our debts paid. We wait for the day that our colleagues will behave the way we think they should. We perfect our persona and our accomplishments to be positively perceived and recognized by others. We strive for the day when we’ll have enough money to not have to worry anymore. We look forward to the title and respect we hope we will get after years of dedication. We spend days, weeks, months and even years trying to get everything to fall into place so that we can finally be at peace.
We Are Willing to Be Miserable to Be Happy in the End
We wake up day after day chipping away at these things. We work long hours, forego rest, skip healthy meals and neglect deeper friendships in favor of quick interactions –telling ourselves that when we “get there” things will be different. Then we’ll relax, take care of ourselves and enjoy our life. The only problem is, we never seem to arrive, and if we do—it is often fleeting. Before we know it, something else has fallen out of our picture and we have to fix it. Our life can feel like years of working hard to get to a place we like, only to have to keep defending and maintaining it. In name of peace we have to keep on running, keep on fixing and keep on waiting for things to get better. Our life becomes about long stretches of “fixing”—all for the fleeting moments of contentment that seem to come and go before we know it.
Even areas of success rarely turn into lasting peace. The habits we forge all along the way become so much a part of us that we rarely stop to notice that we are still living the same way. Even though we may have arrived, we may still be in the habit of not taking care of ourselves or enjoying the life we have. We have become so accustomed to looking to the future, we cannot enjoy where we are.
Trying to Control Uncertainty is Like Trying to Control the Weather
The only thing we know about life is that it is guaranteed to change – just like the weather. We have two choices. We can spend our life doing all we can to try to get the weather to stay the way we like it, or we can learn to face the weather as it comes. The first strategy delays our happiness until things are just the way we want them. The way of the Yogi, on the other hand, is this; Rather than waiting for circumstances to bring us peace, we find peace in the midst of life’s circumstances. If you are ready for a new strategy – the one Yogis discovered thousands of years ago – the first thing to do is to get the mind on your side. That means learning to develop a relationship with uncertainty, rather than trying to control it into submission.
Yoga Nidra Helps You Accept the Flow of Life
No matter how many efforts you make to rule out the changing nature of life, the matter of fact is that life is uncertain every day, in almost every action. Learning to accept the fact that life isn’t always going to be secure will free you from your fear of uncertainty.
Existence has no allegiance to our plans. It has been going about its business millions of years before we arrived and will continue long after we are gone. Just because we don’t want it to rain, rain will come. Just because we spend a lifetime trying to keep it away, it will come nevertheless. Nothing we do stops life from doing as it will, and the sooner we face this truth the better off we will be.
We are uncertain and afraid because we are relying on the externals to give us a sense of safety. But we are relying on something that by its nature is meant to change. The only thing we can count on in life is that it will change. What we need to do is learn to develop a relationship with the changing nature of life. We need to find stability not in the things outside of us, but in the unchanging being that resides within.
Relationships, jobs, health, money, image – all these things are subject to change. These are all, to some degree, out of our control. But there is one thing that we can always access –that never changes – and is the ultimate source of stability. That is the peace that resides within.
The teachings of yoga tell us that in the midst of the changing waves of life, there is a deeper peace that is always present and can always be accessed. We don’t have to wait until our “To Do” list is done and our picture is achieved to feel okay – it is available now.
How to Begin
Let’s start with a few small things that can help you begin to make this shift in perspective. The mind is going to be a help or a hindrance to you. When you see yourself getting lost in negative self-talk about the fears and uncertainties you are facing, re-direct your mind here:
- Think of your previous successes / When you’re at a surprising turn of events, remind yourself of all the times you have faced the unknown in the past. See how these events have shaped you into the person you are today. Look back to see how everything in hindsight has its own wisdom even if you could not see it at the time. Reflect on what you did in the past that was helpful and approach this new experience in the same way. Trust the process.
- What can you do? / While it’s true that a lot of life is made up of uncertainties, it’s also true that we’re not totally powerless. We can’t control a pandemic, losing our job or a loved one, but we can control the time and energy we put into thinking about the uncontrollable aspects of our life. Ask yourself what you can do. Take action on the aspects that are within your control, like spending time online to find work, or running down leads. By focusing on the aspects of a problem that you can control, you’ll switch from ineffective worrying and ruminating into active problem-solving. This short circuits the feeling of powerlessness and the anxiety that can arise from it.
- Enjoy life for now vs. then / Notice the world around you. Stop to smell the flowers. Smile at random strangers. Taking conscious note of the little things around you to help cultivate a positive experience of life. In fact, research evidence shows that people who are capable of discarding thoughts about the past and the future are generally happier. Rather than delaying your happiness until your “To Do” list is done, enjoy the process of doing what you are doing. Give yourself a break and take a moment to call a friend or sit and have a cup of tea. Just a few moments a day of enjoying being alive NOW will start to build a habit that will grow with time.
- Smile / Scientific American Mind magazine reports that the emotions we express on our face influence how we feel. If we feel happy, we smile. If we smile, it makes us feel happy. Our face communicates our state of mind to others and to ourselves. So smile — it will make you happier and help you appreciate life in the moment.
- Let go of the self-judgment / Everyone has a different tolerance for uncertainties. Some of your friends, peers or colleagues might be better at handling certain stressors than you. You might be stronger in areas they are not. It’s important that you remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
- Practice Yoga Nidra Meditation / Below the waves of the mind and the crests and valleys of life, there abides unchanging stillness. Yoga Nidra is a powerful and easy way to reach this place. The more you begin to live there, the more you have the capacity to allow situations to come when they come and go when they go. You realize that you are more than what comes and goes and that you are still here even though the event has come and gone. This experiential knowing not only builds self-trust, it builds your trust in life. It gives you a place from which to live in the midst of change.
Yoga Nidra Builds Your Immunity to Uncertainty
Yoga Nidra is a sleep-based meditation technique which can be performed lying down. While seated meditation works and has many benefits, it requires daily seated practice of 20-40 minutes to reap its benefits. Yoga Nidra by contrast boasts high accessibility as it is easy to practice, comfortable and enjoyable, yet highly effective.
The process of Yoga Nidra aims to work at the root of our problems rather than the periphery. This wonderful meditative technique is guided with focal points that create a natural state of concentration to the mind. As the mind is focused, it becomes calm and the nervous system can begin to relax. It helps increase our awareness and in turn, helps us become more present in the moment at hand and experience life not in yesterday or tomorrow, but today.
- Helps you to accept the uncertainties of life by building your perspective as the sky through which the clouds of life are moving.
- Supports you to find security and stability within.
- Works with intention to build in helpful attitudes that will serve you.
- Boosts brain chemistry to anxiety resistant levels.
- Balances the nervous system and increases your ability to keep calm.
- Helps you process rather than avoid fears and makes room to let them pass. Continual avoidance doesn’t build your capacity. Facing your fears, and then meeting the situation with calm, clarity and conviction builds your muscles. Eventually, what felt scary will become normal and easy for you to handle.
Yoga Nidra and the Power of Intention
Feeling insecure about the future has to do with our attitudes, perceptions and habitual stories about life. Here are some of the thought habits that reinforce fearful thought cycles:
- Looking to the past through rose-colored glasses (e.g., “Those were the good days,” “Things will never be the same.”)
- Imagining the worst outcome in the future (“It’s only downhill from here,” ““This is never going to work.”)
- Black or white thinking (e.g. “All people who belong X or Y political party are bad or evil,” “This always happens to me”)
- Not being able to see past the current circumstance. (“It will always be like this.”)
- Feeling alone, isolated (e.g. “I’m on my own,” “No-one cares about me.”)
- Reinforcing the negative and ignoring the positive
Whether you recognize one or more of the above, we all have habitual thinking “grooves” that have built up over time. Think of it as a broken record in your mind, telling you the same thing over and over again. After a while you begin to believe it and live from that assumption as if it is true. At some point, it hardens into a fact and you don’t even question it anymore.
One of the most powerful ways to neutralize these unhelpful conversations is to redirect or reframe them. Instead of “If I make a mistake, I’m a failure,” we redirect to, “I do my best and let go.” If we are stuck in unmet hopes and expectations, we reframe to, “I release my attachment to how it should be and allow it to be as it is.” Instead of, “I can’t do this,” maybe your reframe is, “I face the moment with calm, clarity and conviction.” Other examples are, “When I stand in myself I am unbeatable,” or “I have all I need to face what life brings me.”
These reframes are very helpful to use while in everyday life, but they are made even more potent when repeated in a deep state of relaxation during Yoga Nidra. Usually when we are awake the doubting, resistant and fearful parts of our mind are awake too. We are afraid to believe it can be different. Even if we repeat these reframes to ourselves, our fear can still win out.
In Yoga Nidra, the mind is silent. When you place your intention during Yoga Nidra, it is received fully at the core of your being without any other conflicting voices to diminish the power of your reframe. Planting your intention in the Yoga Nidra and then using it in life when you need it is the most powerful combination of all.
- Peace is always present. We can find it one day, or we can find it now. The choice is yours.
- We have two strategies for life: we can try to plan life into submission or learn to ride along with the change it brings.
- If you are ready for a shift to finding peace in the midst of life, begin by shifting some of your basic attitudes towards lighter, more helpful ones that allow you to be in the flow of life rather than afraid of it.
- Life will always change, but there is a part of you that is unchanging.
- Yoga Nidra is ideal in many ways to build your immunity to fear and ground yourself in the unchanging part of you.
For more information on Yoga Nidra, you can find guided I AM Yoga Nidra experiences on YouTube or on a convenient app such as this one: I AM Yoga Nidra for Apple and Android.
For an immersive experience to short circuit the anxiety and fear in your life, consider taking a Yoga Nidra immersion, online and at your own pace!
Originally published online at www.kaminidesai.com on August 26, 2021