The unknown is defined as a place, situation, or thing that you do not know about or understand, it is something you are yet to experience.
The unknown can be an uncomfortable place and because of that, we may shy away and avoid those unfamiliar situations.
The trouble is, by doing so we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to learn what this unknown thing is all about. We miss out on growing and developing as an individual and widening our experience.
We tend to fear what we do not know because we are unsure whether we have the skills to cope in that moment. I appreciate that being unsure can feel: scary, uneasy, worrying, tense and overwhelming.
However, the unknown is something we have all been through.
Doing anything for the first time means that at one point you had never done it before, but as we age we tend to forget that we’ve actually coped in those moments. The unknown event may have been better than what you anticipated or even worse than you imagined. The bottom line is, the unknown became the known and whatever the outcome, it is now part of your experience and has given you a template for similar situations.
It’s about reminding yourself of this fact when faced with these new circumstances.
Anthony De Mello said, what you are aware of, you are in control of and what you are not aware of is in control of you.
The above quite nicely captures what I think the unknown does to us and our feelings surrounding it. Not being in control of something can induce feelings of anxiety which makes sense as we are oriented to keep ourselves out of harms way. The function of the anxiety in that moment is to ensure we are alert to prevent us from being in danger / keep ourselves safe. With this knowledge, being aware that going into a new circumstance can make me feel a level of anxiety almost ironically calms me down because I know this is normal for me to feel that way.
This what I’m trying to get across through this post and that is, new situations will make you feel anxious which is normal. My hope is that this anxiety wont lead you to avoid those uncomfortable feelings, rather allow you to embrace them and feel confident that you can cope by tapping into tools to help you manage those feelings.
Here are a few tools you can tap into to help you cope in that moment:
The breath gives you the chance to pause. When anxious our breathing can become quick and shallow and breathing techniques are useful to regulate yourself and get your breathing back to a natural rhythm. Breathing also helps to calm the nervous system and help you to relax and be calmer.
There are several breathing techniques that exist and here’s a couple I know:
- Box / Square breathing
- Finger breathing
- Balloon Belly breathing
This is probably one of my favourite techniques because I believe that most, if not all of our worries live in a past that has gone or preparing for a future that is yet to come. Grounding techniques focus on bringing someone back into the present moment and helping them to get out of the negative cycle of those emotions, by thinking about the here and now.
Grounding techniques can include:
- 5,4,3,2,1 senses (5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste). The numbers are only for guidance and you could imagine these things as an alternative way of doing this technique.
- Room search – think of a category and search the room for it. For example, everything that is a red colour or everything that is a square shape.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Sometimes when we feel stressed we may hold that stress in our body. I know that I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders when I feel stressed or uneasy and have to remind myself to loosen up. PMR is an exercise that helps to reduce stress and feelings of anxiousness in the body. The idea is to slowly work through the body tensing and relaxing each muscle.
Squeezing lemons is an analogy I like to use to help people understand PMR by asking them to imagine squeezing a lemon as tight as they can and then releasing, often people report that they can feel a tingling sensation on release. Individuals can imagine this across all body areas such as in their hands, between their arm and forearm and even in their cheeks!
The problem with the negative cycle of worry / anxiety is that it will keep going unless it’s broken, so another useful technique to use in the moment is distraction; it’s about getting your mind to switch to something else.
There are so many different kind of mind games, and a few are:
- Name as many items belonging to one category as you can e.g. how many countries can I name beginning with A
- Count backwards from 100 by 7
- Recite the lyrics of your favourite song
- Spell your full name and the names of 3 other people backwards
- Do a puzzle, crossword, word search, sudoku etc.
Positive Self Talk.
Self talk can be useful to change those thinking patterns that keep us in that ongoing cycle loop. It’s about reframing or shaping the negative thoughts that pop into your mind for more positive thoughts.
Self – talk can be done in a number of ways:
- I am affirmations e.g. “I am strong”, “I am brave”, “I am deserving”
- Positive statements e.g. “I’ve overcome challenges before, and I can do it again”
- Use positive opposites e.g. changing from “what if I’ll never be good enough?” to “what if I already am?”
The unknown is something we all have to deal with and to feel worried / afraid / anxious / nervous / fearful are feelings that are all okay. The most important thing is how we respond to them and to try out best to not allow them to impact our ability to go through life.
Hopefully at least one of the mentioned techniques could be useful to you, I’d like to encourage you to give them a go and see what works best for you 🙂