Reduce Anxiety, Create Inner Peace Despite Uncertainty

Reduce Anxiety, Create Inner Peace Despite Uncertainty

Anxiety seems to be at an all-time high. Some are experiencing problematic anxiety (anxious thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms that interfere in daily life) for the first time, while others who have lived with it, including those with anxiety disorders, are finding that their symptoms continue to worsen. While there are no quick-fixes for anxiety (and anxiety itself is part of the human condition), I offer you here a way to reduce anxiety and create inner peace in spite of all the uncertainty around us. 

Uncertainty, Uncertainty, Uncertainty, Anxiety

While the causes of anxiety are complex, one contributing factor is uncertainty. We’re currently facing a whole lot of uncertainty. Will we get a handle on COVID-19 so that life returns to normal? What will school and activities look like for our children today, tomorrow, the rest of this year, and next year? People in the U.S. wonder when will the election results be finalized and if it even matters (Will people on both sides accept the results?). What will life be like with whatever president and party are in power? This is the tip of the iceberg (hmmm…this phrase reminds us of climate uncertainty) regarding the societal uncertainties we all face, plus each of us deals with unknowns in our personal lives. 

Studies show the strong relationship between uncertainty and anxiety1,2,3. The less able we are to tolerate uncertainty, the more anxiety we tend to experience and the more it negatively affects our lives. There are no immediate solutions to the big uncertainties the world is currently dealing with, and while of course we can choose to take action to contribute to outcomes we find positive, much is outside of our control. We can’t directly and instantly affect how or when things will settle down. It’s normal to experience heightened anxiety because of this. 

Does this mean that we’re doomed to be anxious and agitated every day for the foreseeable (or maybe unforeseeable is a better term here) future? Absolutely not. We can reign in our racing, anxious thoughts and emotions and create inner peace even amongst high degrees of uncertainty. 

A Mindfulness Meditation to Create Inner Peace, Reduce Anxiety Despite Uncertainty

Mindfulness is a way of living that involves intentionally focusing your attention on your present moment. It involves using your senses to pull yourself out of your mind and into your tangible here-and-now no matter what you are doing. Meditation is a practice that often involves sitting still and concentrating in order to make your monkey mind less active and dominant. Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that involves focusing attention on something in the present moment of the meditation (your breath, a sensation, etc.).

The following mindfulness meditation is useful for calming racing thoughts and fears created by uncertainty. It centers your thoughts, emotions, and body so you can experience inner peace. It won’t being answers to life’s big questions or end the uncertainty. What it does is much better because it relates directly to you rather than things outside of you. It allows you to be calm and peaceful in this moment of your life (the only moment that matters, after all, because the future doesn’t exist now). 

Ripples of Calm and Peace

Use this meditation anytime you notice yourself feeling anxious and agitated. You can make it as long or as short as you wish. 

  • Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths. Focus on the sound and feel of your breath as it enters, fills, and leaves your body.
  • Visualize yourself standing at the shore of a large lake. At first, the water is choppy and wavy (much like the anxious mind).
  • Look at one point on the lake as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply. With each breath, imagine the waves flattening out, settling down.
  • As this area becomes calm, expand your focus to the wavy water around this original point. Again, with your breath, imagining this part of the water becoming calm.
  • Continue to breath and broaden your focus so that the lake becomes calmer and calmer, in a reverse ripple effect. 
  • Feel your body mirror the lake and notice your breathing becoming even slower and deeper and your muscles relaxing, letting go of tension.
  • Visualize the ripples of calm washing over your mind, soothing and smoothing your thoughts and emotions.
  • Continue to breathe and imagine the calm water around you and inside of you.

Pausing several times throughout your day for a brief mindfulness meditation like this one can help your mind gradually shift its natural state from anxiety to calm so you can deal with uncertainty rather than it overwhelming you. 

Sources

  1. Berenbaum, H., et al., « Intolerance of Uncertainty: Exploring Its Dimensionality and Associations with Need for Cognitive Closure, Psychopathology, and Personality. » Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22(1):117-125, 2008.
  2. Carleton, R., et al., « Anxiety Sensitivity and Intolerance of Uncertainty: Requisites of the Fundamental Fears? » Journal of Behavior Research and Therapy, 45(10): 2307-2316, October, 2007. 
  3. Carleton, R., et al. « Fearing the Unknown: A Short Version of the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale. » Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(1): 105-117, 2007.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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