Ten strategies for keeping your sanity in uncertain times

Many Americans are concerned about what will happen when Donald Trump is sworn in as our 45th president next week.  Which of his outrageous campaign promises will he keep?  What will happen with immigration and civil rights?  How will other countries react?  Is the zombie apocalypse on the horizon? No one really knows what will happen.  And that is uncomfortable, to say the least.

When my brother was six years old, I asked him what he thought happened when people die. His reply?  Maybe we're not meant to know. I thought that was incredibly profound for a young child. (He was always a really smart kid, now he has a Ph.D and is researching cures for cancer.)  That bit of precocious wisdom has stuck with me through all these years.  

Some things just cannot be known.

Do your best to prepare in whatever way makes you feel comfortable, but accept that there’s no way to know for sure what will happen after the inauguration, bad or good. Make peace with uncertainty. Welcome tomorrow with openness and a sense of curiosity. 

As President Obama said on election night, the sun will come up tomorrow.  That much we can count on. I'm still me, you're still you, and we still have the same strengths, talents, and gifts we had yesterday.

Hold on to that.

I’ve always loved the Serenity Prayer:  God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.    Here are some other thoughts on how to feel more at peace in the upcoming days, weeks, months, and years:

  1. Become aware of fear-generated, irrational thoughts. Notice them, challenge them, and replace them. 
  2. Use positive self-talk. Replace statements like “I can’t stand the uncertainty” with “I don’t like uncertainty, but I can handle it”.
  3. Take inventory. Identify what you know, what you don’t know yet, and what you can’t know.  Then learn what you can.
  4. Let go of the idea that you must know what you can’t know. Accept that life is like a box of chocolates, as Mrs. Gump used to say.  
  5. Make decisions based on what you do know. If you have to bet on what you don’t know, make sure you can afford to lose if it doesn’t go your way.  
  6. Trust your intuition.
  7. Develop contingency plans as well as you can.  But don’t go overboard, otherwise life becomes a big, complicated flowchart. 
  8. Know that uncertainty is tough to sit with, and take good care of yourself. Learn self-soothing strategies, like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.  Focus on where you feel the anxiety in your body until it dissipates. Eat healthy foods, exercise, and try to get enough sleep.
  9. Live. If you can’t know, there’s no use in sitting around worrying. Go about your life, do the things you enjoy (or used to enjoy, or think you might enjoy). Stay in the present moment.
  10. Know that clarity will come eventually.  If you can determine a timeframe, wonderful.  If not, trust that the truth will emerge in its own good time.

Once you’ve peeled away the layers of irrational thought, created contingency plans, and identified the things you do know, you’ve arrived at the kernel of uncertainty where there is just nothing else you can do.  You can either drive yourself nuts or accept it.  Call up your inner serenity and accept that which you cannot change. Or cannot know. 

The cost of suppressing emotions

Came across this nugget of wisdom today while doing some research:

"Suppressed emotions don’t go away; they putrefy into toxic thoughts and habits, eventually evolving into mutant forms that relieve the pressure in less conscious ways, undermining health, happiness, and usually a few innocent bystanders."

     - Linda Kohanov, from "The Tao of Equus"

Yes.  They always come out sideways, as my mother once said.  I love the part about innocent bystanders.  :)

Better to acknowledge your feelings, process them, and accept them. Emotions always have important information to share. We ignore them at our own peril.

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