So, how do we help ourselves?
Step 1 – Recognise
When we’re fearful, we may experience a fight-or-flight reaction. This is a natural response to the feeling that something isn’t right, and that we’re under threat in some way. But recognising that this is happening is the first stage in being able to manage it that little bit better.
Otherwise, there’s the risk of going into an anxiety loop – the more we worry, the more we realise how much we don’t know, which leads to us worrying even more.
Step 2 – STOP technique
By adopting the STOP technique, we can remind ourselves that when we start getting these negative emotions from our bodies and minds, we’re struggling with what’s going around us.
STOP stands for:
S – Stand back and don’t act immediately
T –Take a breath. Use purposeful breaths, breathing in deeply for 5 seconds and out for 7. Doing this can start to calm down our stress response.
O – Observation. Give yourself the opportunity to ask some questions, such as “What am I uncertain about?” or “What’s the best or worst thing that can happen here?” It’s about taking back control, re-prioritising and thinking about whether the answers to these types of questions are fact or opinion.
P - Proceed. Provide alternatives to what you thought was happening and re-focus; proceed with a chosen, rather than your instinctive, reaction to the situation.
The few seconds it takes for us to do this allows us to learn an important skill: to respond to our experiences rather than react to them.
The following tip might help you to master the technique:
Download and print off some stop signs and stick them around your house or office. Take some time out when you can feel discomfort rising and allow yourself to re-engage with your mind to think the situation through.
Step 3 – Ambiguity
This is our ability to not think in a right or wrong way, but somewhere in the middle: the ‘grey area’, rather than taking a more black and white view.
We sometimes set our bar too high and recognising this can help us become more tolerant of ambiguity. We can be more patient with ourselves and apply the STOP technique; we don’t need to have all the answers, all of the time.
Unhook yourself from situations, or even technology, that increase your sense of uncertainty and instead focus on the things that you can be sure of. Certainty is always present in times of uncertainty; we just need to be able to identify it.
Step 4 – Manage your thinking
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, there are various techniques we can use to engage with more helpful thoughts and behaviours, to better manage feelings of discomfort.
Looking for the evidence – when we’re struggling with anxious thoughts about uncertain situations we sometimes only imagine the worse-case scenario, so it can be helpful to ask ourselves where is the evidence that this will happen? Am I just guessing or trying to make predictions? What is the likelihood of this occurring? Can I have more balanced view of this? These questions can help us reframe the situation and reduce our anxious feelings.
Learning to breathe and relax – this style of mindful approach allows us to relieve our brains and be in the present moment. This can calm our mind and body. It helps us to bring back a logical mind to take us forward and stop that reactionary part of our brain taking over. Take a look at our mindfulness breathing tips article to get you started.
Sharing your concerns and talking with others – we must remember that we’re all learning. No one has all the answers. If we’re demanding all the answers then we’re not allowing ourselves the opportunity to grow from the experiences that difficult times bring.
Applying a growth mindset – rather than seeing an uncertain time as a threat, if we’re more open minded we see opportunities to learn and grow. Being curious allows us to see the world in a way that’s possible and not threatening and help shift our discomfort into a chance to learn.
Through any time of uncertainty, talk, breathe and be kind to yourself.