The great unknown

Strategies to understand and overcome the fear of the unknown

by Dolores O'Donoghue
Words Dolores O’Donoghue

We humans are generally creatures of habit and seek comfort in regular rituals such as eating identical breakfasts every day, doing the same grocery shop at the same store week in and week out, sticking with a tried and trusted hairstyle and dress style, and take comfort in drinking from a favourite mug.

When things go as planned we feel in control, and routine establishes safety and predictability. For some, any small irregularity can cause agitation, such as when the supermarket re-arranges the aisles. But when life throws a major curveball, it can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.

We can’t avoid the unexpected or the unknown. But these simple tips can help in facing life’s uncertainties:

Practice Acceptance

Acceptance is about meeting the reality of a situation in the present moment and allows us to move forward, rather than remaining paralysed by fear. It will not make the uncertainty go away, but it will save time and energy in not striving to control the uncontrollable.

It must be emphasised that acceptance is not the same as resignation. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that it will never get better. We don’t accept that things will always stay the same; we just learn to become present-focused.

Focus on the Positive

When the mind and body are racing, it is only natural to concentrate on the stressors and wonder how to deal with them. A better approach is to think about your strengths and resources and ask, ‘What can I do to solve or cope with the problems and uncertainty that I’m facing?’

It’s always a good idea to get off to a good start each day, so each morning, consider tackling a task or activity that gives an upbeat feeling.

Melt your worries away by doing a good deed for someone else. An act of kindness is not only hugely beneficial to the receiver but it can also bestow great benefits on the giver. The concept of the ‘helpers’ high’ is now recognised as being an important element of well-being, as it increases the production of serotonin, commonly known as the ‘happy chemical’ that provides healing and calm.

‘When things go as planned we feel in control, and routine establishes safety and predictability.’

Engage in Self-care

For parents, business owners, educators and care workers, self-care and care of others can be a difficult balancing act. Self-care includes all the things necessary for well-being in four key dimensions – emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual health. This is essential for managing stress, preventing burnout and mitigating compassion fatigue – all common occupational hazards for caring individuals.

It is vitally important that we take time out to take stock of our own needs, health and goals.

Infuse the Day with Physical Activity

What is commonly known as ‘runner’s high’ describes the release of endorphins that the brain experiences when engaging in physical activity. Regular exercise also helps balance the body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline. This plays a crucial role in fight-or-flight responses, but persistent surges of adrenaline can have negative effects on our bodies.

Exercise can also distract from worries and improve confidence, which is often negatively affected by anxiety.

Eat to Heal

A balanced diet, staying hydrated and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help relieve anxiety. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are a much healthier option than eating the simple carbohydrates found in processed and fast foods.

Having regular meal times is recommended as, when meals are planned, it is more likely that they will be wholesome and nutritious, which is beneficial for overall health. Don’t skip meals, as it may result in a drop in blood sugar causing the body to produce more adrenaline to cope, which can increase anxiety.

Sleep Well

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential as it enables the body to repair and be fit to face another day. Anxiety can cause serious sleep issues resulting in exhaustion and fatigue. In her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington points out that sleep deprivation is having devastating effects on our health, our job performance, our relationships and our happiness.

The key to a good night’s sleep is routine. It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Good sleep helps with psychological functioning, including improved emotional regulation, better cognitive functioning and enhanced attention span and memory.

  • ‘The great unknown’ is published in Anthology Volume 15. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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