Unpredictability – the state of something or someone being unexpectedly changeable – is a common cause of anxiety. It can feel unsettling, or even destabilizing, to perceive that an important situation is largely out of your control.
Given that this is an unpredictable world, how can you better manage your thoughts and emotions so you can ride the waves of life, rather than being pulled down by the current? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) outline several techniques you may want to try.
1. Identify your irrational thoughts. Human beings are constantly thinking, and many thoughts are not only completely false, but also highly destructive. It’s important to monitor your cognitions, and recognize those that are heightening your unease. When you notice these thoughts, it’s essential to reframe them in a more realistic way. For example, instead of thinking, “Five people from my company have been laid off, and I’m probably next,” try thinking, “Five people from my company have been laid off; more people might also lose their jobs, but it’s also possible the lay-offs are finished.” In other words, distressing thoughts should be rephrased in realistic ways that account for the facts. If it sometimes seems impossible to reframe your disconcerting thoughts, keep reading.
2. Examine the evidence. In anxious times, the human brain is a pro at finding evidence to ‘prove’ your catastrophic thoughts. For example, if you’ve come up with a mental list of evidence you’ll never meet a romantic partner or get married, make a point of writing out (using a pen and paper) the evidence that you probably will meet someone amazing. Can’t think of any evidence right away? Think a while longer, or enlist the help of a friend or therapist to assist with this task. Writing the evidence down, and being able to see the evidence in black and white, helps to shift your thought stream in a more positive direction.
3. Focus on solutions. When you’ve decided that a problem is, in fact, real (and not just a product of your panicked thinking) focus your effort on what you can do, despite the uncertainty, to improve the situation. Once you’ve come up with a solid plan, develop a contingency plan. That way, you know you’re ready for whatever comes up.
4. Focus on what you can control. If things feel as though they’ve spun out of your grip, bring order to areas of your life that are malleable. Clean out a closet, alphabetize your spice rack, or tidy your email inbox. Simply put, take control of your own little corner of the world, and make it as systematic as possible. This will enhance your sense of power and security.
5. Breathe. When the unpredictable nature of a situation becomes overwhelming, and you’re unable to slow your racing thoughts, breathe. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and simply focus on your inhales and exhales. Observe each breath without trying to modify it. You may also find it helpful to focus on the way your belly rises as it fills with air, and deflates like a balloon as it empties. Upsetting thoughts will likely try to steal your attention; as best as you can, maintain your focus on your breath. Do this for at least five minutes, and you should feel calmer, and more in control, by the end of the exercise.