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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finding Inner Peace During Uncertain Times

In Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert 's op-ed piece in the New York Times called What You Don't Know Makes You Nervous he wrote that most people feel worse when they think that something bad might happen than when they know something bad will happen.

Finding Inner Peace During Uncertain Times

Initially, this concept might not  seem to make sense, and you might think, "But wouldn't you feel worse if you knew for sure that something bad was going to happen?" However, according to Dr. Gilbert, what the research shows is that when people know that something bad will happen, after their initial reactions of fear, shock, anger or whatever other feelings bad news brings up, most people can then mobilize themselves to take action to deal with the bad news, as opposed to just worrying about it.

For most of us, knowing what we're up against is better than the uncertainty of not knowing. According to Dr. Gilbert, "...we can't come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don't know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait" (see Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D.)

Taking action, whether it's changing our behavior, changing our attitudes, or making plans, helps us to feel better and find our emotional balance again.

How to Find Inner Peace During Uncertain Times:
Considering that many people today are living in uncertain times, how do we find and maintain inner peace and happiness to sustain us through the uncertainty?

To start, based on Dr. Gilbert's research findings, if it's possible to find out whether you'll be facing bad news, in most cases, it's better to get the information than to avoid dealing with it.

So, for instance, if you're worried about a health concern, rather than procrastinating and avoiding going to the doctor, it's better to be proactive, go to the doctor and either relieve yourself of the anxiety by finding out that you're fine or finding out what you need to do to get better.

Finding Inner Peace During Uncertain Times

I'm bringing up this particular example because many people avoid going to the doctor when they fear they're going to get bad news. But, in most cases, the earlier an illness is addressed, the more likely it is that you'll have a better outcome.

If there is no way to find out if you're going to be facing bad news (let's say, you fear that you might get laid off from your job, but no one knows for sure), then you need to find ways to maintain emotional and physical balance to sustain yourself through this uncertain time. If it's important to you, this also includes spiritual balance.

This could mean finding time during the day to meditate; exercise at the appropriate level for you, possibly taking a yoga class; and maintaining regular contact with supportive friends and family. Managing your stress is crucial. In particular, yoga can be a good stress reliever and restorer of balance and calm. It also means eating nutritious meals and getting enough rest.

When you feel anxious about what could happen, it also helps to remember times when you've actually dealt successfully with adversity in the past. Most of us are usually more resilient than we realize during hard times. If you think about it, you'll also probably realize that there were many times when you worried endlessly about something that never happened.

The Serenity Prayer
Knowing what we can control and what we can't can also help to relieve anxiety. You don't have to believe in God, a Higher Power or be a spiritual person at all to benefit from remembering the Serenity Prayer that says, in part:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference." When we can distinguish what we can and can't control, it helps us to either take action to make changes or to do what we can to relax and stay calm while events unfold.

Serenity Prayer

If you find that you're already doing all of the things that I've recommended in this post and you're still struggling with anxiety, you might benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist to help you get through times of uncertainty. Sometimes, even brief treatment to help you develop better coping skills can be very beneficial and can make the difference between feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and maintaining a sense of peace.

I'm a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many clients to overcome anxiety and uncertainty so that they can lead happier lives.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.

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