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Episode 175: Anxiety Of The Unknown

Over the last couple of years I've had a few messages from listeners about their fear of an uncertain future, and it's cropped up in the consulting room quite a lot too.
One thing that has been a big cause of it has been Brexit. Not knowing whether something about your future is going to be easier, more difficult, or exactly the same isn't helpful.
We like routines, our brain loves the idea that tomorrow is going to be the same as yesterday. If we're alive today then yesterday must have been safe and so our instincts want tomorrow to be the same. And life just isn't like that.

Even if leaving the EU had never been proposed, we still don't know what the future holds for us because so much is outside of our control. Any one of us could get a letter in the post from the local authority saying there's a proposal to put a train line through our house.
It doesn't matter how hard we work or how good we are at our job we could still be made redundant.
Whether its about our health, our job or whether our kids might get bullied at school theres so much that COULD happen in our future.
It's obviously easier said than done, but the secret to a lot of this is simply to have faith in yourself that you can deal with it THEN rather than now.

Leaving the EU means that things are going to be different. Not dangerous, just different. Any problems we have will be overcome. This isn't going to be like the pilgrim colonists of the new world who ended up eating their own shoes. We aren't going to starve, things will just be different.

But that doesn't make for good TV.
Different, but safe, isn't as capturing as different and dangerous, so it's likely that in the run up to when we do eventually leave there will be some fear mongering. In order to grab your attention there'll be angry folk on twitter and angry folk on the TV. Because of this media companies will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of making you scared so that they can sell advertising space.

If you're becoming one of those angry folk, then you may need to limit your exposure to the media somewhat. Keep up to date with what's going on by all means, but do it in a way that isn't going to make you bang your head against a wall. Watch the satirical TV programmes instead of the news and just read highlights of the days news rather than full articles.

Whatever it is that upsets you about an uncertain and unknown future, whether it's about where you live, your job or your health, having good foundations of emotional regulation is key. Having the ability able to deal with intrusive thoughts by focusing on something more appropriate, being able to enjoy what you ARE experiencing rather than worrying about what MIGHT be round the corner, these are the key things to a lot of issues we have in life. But those are the things that take the most amount of effort to practise.
With practise though, we are able to trust ourselves to deal with the worst case scenarios. So that when our brain says;

"Yeah, but what if...?"

We can mean it when we say to ourselves;

"I'll deal with it, it'll be alright."

"Yeah but what if I get cancer?"
"I'll deal with it, it'll be alright."

"But what if it's terminal?"
"I'll deal with it, it'll be alright."

Because it will be. If we have to move house because our finances have changed, it'll be alright. If our partner falls out of love with us and leaves us, it'll be alright, if our most treasured person on the planet is killed in a car accident, it will be alright. And I know its hard to think that way, almost belittling to someones emotional state when they're going through something traumatic. But even the worst things still become a part of the past. Even if life will never be the same again, you will be able to accept it and live with the changes. Even losing your job. Even moving house, Even leaving the EU.

If your mind goes into overdrive what can help is to look past the worst case scenario. Often when people get their thoughts stuck on a topic all they focus on is the problem. So if it's losing your job then all that they think about is the loss, but if you did lose your job what would you do? You'd spend time looking for another one until you found work. So move forward in your mind to after the thing that worries you has become the past and recognise that everything is OK.
But what if the only job we can get is half the salary and we have to sell the house and downsize? So, move it forward what happens? Well we have a smaller house now and we make our own pizzas on a Tuesday instead of getting a Domino's. And guess what everything's OK.
If we know that we'll recover and move on then the thought loses its hold over us as we fear it less.
Our brain likes to focus on the things it fears the most, as a protection mechanism. A million years ago Homo erectus needed that ability, and those that didn't have it were eaten by hyenas. So here we are today with way more worst case scenarios to consider because our lives have become so complex compared to our ancient ancestors.
The idea of moving to a new location because food was scarce would have been quite normal to us a million years ago. Maybe that's what has made us such a dominant species. We found this perfect middle ground between being cautious and being inquisitive. We liked the safety of familiarity but also were willing to take risks to make our lives better.
Sometimes we have no choice but to face changes because some things are outside of our control. Whether that's about Brexit or simply what clothes our teenage kids wear when they go out. There are some things we just have to accept is happening. Even if you shake your head at it and ask "In what way could that ever be a good idea?"
Feel free to voice your concern, your opinion is valid, speak out if you have to you don't have to accept things quietly, just do it respectfully. We're all different with differing values and priorities.
Sometimes we have to say to ourselves;

"It is what it is."