10 Ways to Minimize Fear and Build Resilience in Uncertain Times
And why the unwanted and unexpected lessons are the most valuable
We live in uncertain times. Challenges came our way in the middle of the night, and we woke up confused and dazed. It’s enough for many of us to lose our mental footing.
This isn't the first time we’ve been through hardships. It isn’t the first time unexpected mental boulders are placed in our way.
Here in the US we recently went through a ten-year recession. We’ve been through earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires — lows that for a while seem to take away our ability to collectively breathe as one.
In other parts of the world where the economic situation is weak to begin with, and opportunities to make a living are severely limited, the struggles to get in an upright position during times like these are even more challenging.
In no way do I want to trivialize the loss of human life, the loss of employment or the struggles we now face due to the economic downturn that followed in the wake of this virus. The pain from each loss and each fall or stumble is real.
It would be wrong to expect anyone going through something so severe to take the situation we’re currently in and use it to become stronger at this specific time.
Instead, my advice is aimed at those among us who struggle with an overall fear of the unknown. How do we best work through our feelings of uncertainty and anxiety? How do we make the best of our current situation?
Here are 10 concrete ways to help keep anxiety contained and build resilience in the process:
1. Write down your worries
Write down all of your concerns. Start with your biggest worries. How many items on this list are within your control at this very moment? Write down as many solutions as you can possibly come up with.
How many items on the list are unlikely to ever materialize or are out of your control? Draw a line through those items but don’t delete them. Part of building long-term resilience includes being able to look back six months to a year from now to see what your specific worries were at this time. Which ones came true, which ones you were able to solve, and which ones never became an issue?
By writing them down and methodically going through the list you’ll get a chance to compartmentalize your concerns and look for common threads. And by writing them down it also becomes easier to let things go.
This step will minimize anxiety. And when you return to the list in the future, you’ll be able to use your current worries as teaching tools and as a confidence builder.
2. Consider all options
Pull back the lens. Look at the big picture. Are there long-term options you’ve missed because you are standing too close to the situation?
3. Keep your fear in check
Fear is not to be avoided nor should it be dealt with head-on. Fears are messages often created by parents, teachers, siblings, and employers but maintained and enlarged by us to the point where the fears too often become debilitating.
Be patient. Take the time to analyze the origins of your fears. Listen to the voice within. Then make a decision whether or not you should allow your fears to take the wheel or if the fears ought to be delegated to the backseat. Because fears are only valuable at the right time and in the right amounts. And it’s our job to figure out how and when to use them to our advantage.
By separating our worries and fears into those we have the power to change and those we don’t have enough information to deal with at the moment, we can minimize what we allow ourselves to bring forward.
4. Stay in control of your information intake
Just like fear, information is good. But consider the source and the amount. Too much data leads to information overload which leads to increased anxiety.
Although you cannot control much of what’s going on, you do have control over what and how much of it you let in. You know when it’s time to tune out and turn off.
5. Maintain a balance between productivity and total rest
When things seem out of control, it’s time to find balance within. Productivity comes in many forms. And the best way to remain productive is to know when to stop and do nothing. If possible, use this opportunity to create a life of perfect proportions.
After working on a project, take a break. Besides giving your mind a chance to shut down, the most creative ideas will come to you when you least expect it: while you’re taking a bath, while you’re out for that morning stroll or right before you fall asleep.
This might also be a good time to look over those tiny tangible aggravations in your life — the ones you manage to push aside during busier times. Change those lightbulbs, set up a system for incoming mail, go through your medicine cabinet and throw out expired medications. Clean out closets. Go through files on your computer.
By eliminating tiny stress factors, you become an eliminator of problems. It’s liberating and you’ll build self-esteem in the process.
6. Surprise yourself
This might also be a perfect time to work on all of your hidden and ignored talents. Remember that guitar stuck in the back of your closet, the balls of yarn you bought when you wanted to learn how to knit, all the photos that need to be organized and turned into creative photo albums or the sourdough bread recipe you always wanted to try? If not now, when?
Your mind cannot occupy two thoughts at once so replace your worries with a new activity — one that is both challenging and fun.
Or you can start a brand new project. Start journaling, write a poem or two, paint, or learn a hundred words in a foreign language. As a teen, I learned to say “I Love You” in a bunch of different languages. Strange, I know. But it became a very effective icebreaker whenever I met people from different cultures. And spreading universal love is never wrong.
And there’s no better time to learn something you know absolutely nothing about. You might never develop an interest in astronomy or cooking or chess but it doesn’t mean you can’t spend a few minutes expanding your knowledge.
Envision your future. There’s no better time to make a long term and a short term vision board for what you want your future to be like when all this has settled.
7. Challenge yourself by doing something you dislike
Doing what you love is easy. Doing what you hate is hard. But if you can do what you hate for a set time each week, everything else becomes so much easier. And there’s no better way to gain self-esteem than to overcome obstacles.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never become a great gardener. Yet for four hours every Thursday, you’ll find me doing what I hate. Why? Because the sense of accomplishment I feel once I’ve filled a trashcan with weeds is impossible to describe.
Besides, many of our passions are often accidental. Great things often happen between our present state and before we’ve reached our perceived goal.
Wouldn’t it be great if you manage to create a new hobby at a time like this, a hobby that started off as nothing but a dreaded chore?
8. Have faith in your ability to adapt and adjust
Look back at your life. Chances are this isn’t your first challenge. Yet you’ve had the ability to analyze the situation, learn from it, and use your lessons as stepping stones to reach higher and move on.
9. I know you’ve heard it before but count your blessings
At this moment it might seem as if bad news is everywhere. But when you think about it, isn’t much of what you hear the same news being repeated with only slight modifications?
When the bad seems to outweigh the good, shine the light in another direction. Because what we focus on we’re more likely to find. Look for those four-leaf clovers, those poppies among the weeds and before you know it the negatives will fade into the background. Will it solve any problems? Maybe not, but by changing your focus you’ll put yourself in a mindset that will help you withstand challenges.
10. Visualize resilience
Create an image in your mind of what resilience looks like — an image to refer to whenever anxiety levels rise. Maybe you see yourself as seaweed swaying back and forth in the strongest storms with roots secure but with an ability to move with each oncoming wave. Maybe you envision a deeply rooted tree withstanding strong winds and reaching for the light. Maybe there’s a specific person who inspires you during tough times. Or maybe there’s a saying that brings you the strength you need to go with the flow when you feel worn out.
Whatever your vision, start and end each day by focusing on your very own symbol of resilience.
True resilience is seldom achieved by fulfilling our dreams no matter how difficult the journey might seem. Instead, true resilience is born from enduring and learning from unexpected setbacks — challenges outside our control that stop us in our tracks and take us in a whole new direction.
During times like these, our individual and communal resilience are put to the test. And our ability to adjust is what will make us move forward.
Elizabeth Edwards said it so beautifully:
“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”