12 Tricks for Coping With the Unpredictability of Our World
We can't predict the future, but we can control our action in the moment.
Posted Oct 05, 2020
1. Take Care of Your Body Because Your Body Takes Care of Your Mind
Physical well-being totally supports emotional well-being. This is important first and foremost. Eat healthily, stay hydrated, get exercise, and attend to your sleep hygiene. All of these are proven to lower anxiety and depression. These are two disorders that have been more prevalent over the past several months. Getting a full night’s sleep is key to staying mentally sharp, reducing the effects of aging, helping our bodies regenerate and regroup, and promoting cellular regeneration. Beauty sleep isn’t just a myth—a good night’s sleep is what keeps us beautiful inside and out!
Regarding “breathing,” there are few things more calming than taking slow, deep breaths. It calls your focus back to the basics and increases the supply of oxygen to your brain. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Deep breathing, as a practice, can take some time to master, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to master stressful events much more masterfully
2. Give Up on Trying to Be a Mind Reader
Trying to mind-read just generates fear and anxiety which makes us feel worse than actually getting satisfaction from finding out another’s thoughts. If you’re wondering what someone is thinking, just ask. We tend to project the worst-case scenario on the thoughts of others, so finding out the “real deal” can be a big relief. And do not expect others to read your mind, either!
3. Focus on Controlling Your Controllables
We don’t have the power to control our world or other people’s actions and decision, only our own. Once we accept the limits of our power to control, we can let go of a lot of stress and anxiety and misplaced responsibility. This frees us up to focus on becoming our own best selves.
4. Invest in a Guaranteed Sure Thing: Your Support Network
There is just no way to overstate how important your support system is to your overall well-being! Feeling a sense of belonging and feeling that you matter to others can truly change your life for the better. Especially during stressful times, our friends and family can increase our feelings of happiness, security, and safety. One of the most consistent predictors of life satisfaction is the presence of a strong support network—whether it’s friends or family, being needed by others, feeling that you matter to others, and being cared about by others really do have a positive and measurable effect on our physiologies. We heal faster, rehab faster, and live longer.
There is one caveat—don’t over-invest in relationships that only bring you distress or discomfort. While relationships are the glue that keeps us together, bad relationships will do as much damage as healthy relationships do well.
5. Do Something Good for Someone Every Single Day (and for Yourself, as Well)
Altruism is an evolutionary behavior that illustrates our commitment not just to our personal survival, but the survival of the species and humankind. Altruists tend to live longer lives, enjoy better health, and feel better overall. One study showed that engaging in an altruistic act results in a change in our biological make-up. What could be cooler than helping ourselves by helping others? Giving back to others not only helps the recipients of our altruism but also benefits us physically and mentally.
6. Go Cold-Turkey From Media That Incites You
Limit your exposure to social media or news that generates negative feelings. When you purposefully engage in activities that compromise your mental or physical well-being, it just doesn’t make sense. When we obsess over the things that upset us, like too much time on social media that presents the “highlight reels” of others’ lives or on news reports that are designed to engage our energy and sway us to one belief or another, our bodies go into the same mode of functioning that they would if we were facing down a real-life enemy. Our heart rates rise, our blood pressure goes up, our brains drop down into their most reptilian functioning—none of these are supportive of calm, peace, or clear thinking. In fact, when we stress ourselves out, our blood glucose levels spike, our thyroid function is compromised, and even cellular health is affected. There’s no reason to choose to damage your basic biological functioning or your mental health.
7. Express Yourself Creatively
Find creative ways to express your feelings and emotions. There are as many ways to do this as there are people in this world. When I integrate the arts into therapy, one of the most challenging hurdles at the outset is the belief that we are not “artists.” We focus so hard on these external measures of “competence” that we crowd out personal satisfaction and even joy that we can experience when we engage in creative activities. For instance, writing out your feelings can really help you take a more objective look at what’s going on inside of your head. They call psychotherapy “talk therapy,” because just expressing our feelings and thoughts, fears and joy, anxiety or dreams, can be healing in itself. Do you have a favorite song you like to hear when you’re down? Or getting ready for a challenging day at work? Or need to just unwind from a hard day? That’s a simple example of how the creative arts—and music therapy, by the way—are actually well integrated into the human experience today.
When we smile, our brains kick into “happiness gear” and dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released—all “feel good neuropeptides.” We feel less stressed and even less pain—research shows that when people smile during uncomfortable medical procedures (like immunizations, blood draws, and so on), they feel less subjective pain than those who grimace or frown. Smiling is contagious, too, which is pretty cool because seeing someone smile at us is emotionally and mentally healing.
9. Laugh ... Laugh Hard
Laughter protects us against stress and anxiety—and it’s also a natural pain reliever. Learning to laugh at yourself is a crowning achievement that puts you in a good place to control the way you react to life when things don’t go as planned. Whether you laugh alone at silly YouTube or TikTok videos or share a laugh with others, it helps us disengage from distress, regulate stress, reduce pain, and connect us with those around us. In this age where everything in life seems fraught with reasons to be worried or anxious, it is especially important that we make time to escape the heaviness of things and let our minds and bodies get a break.
10. Be “OK” With Being Imperfect
There’s a Japanese word, “wabi-sabi,” that describes the perfection found in imperfection. While we should all strive to be the best that we can be, accepting our limitations relieves us of the burden of trying to be more than we are or to meet some external standard that doesn’t take into account individual variations in life. We don’t get through life unscathed by challenges or struggles—and the battle scars we pick up along the way do not detract from who we are, they are woven into the fabric of who we become.
Gratitude and Mindfulness can save your sanity no matter how crazy the world can become. Gratitude changes our perspective to one of appreciation and acknowledgment of the good things in life—what has been beneficial to us along the way. When we turn our attention to positive thoughts and experiences, those crowd out the negative ones.
Mindfulness is about “taking a beat,” and dropping into the “here and now” present moment. When we spend our lives worrying about things that happened in the past or focused too much on the future, we lose sight of the present. And the present is truly the only moment over which we have control of ourselves, our actions, our thoughts, and beliefs. I can’t undo any of the mistakes I made in the past. I can’t guarantee that I won’t make the same mistakes in the future. But at this moment, I do have the power to control my thoughts and behaviors. Think about that.
12. Learn Something New Every Day
Give your brain something to focus on besides worries and fears, our brains were designed to solve problems and acquire new skills—so take up a new language, learn to play an instrument you’ve always wanted to play, take an online course in calculus, or particle physics or cooking or gardening. Play online games that require creative and timed responses. Take up chess and play with online opponents. Just because we are facing real-world limits on our ability to gather with others doesn’t mean that we need to impose similar limits on our virtual lives.