Finding Meaning in Times of Uncertainty
by Jenna Gidman, M.A.
Right now, during a time of required self-isolation, you may find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, unmotivated, or ambivalent. Many of us are struggling to find a balance of productivity and relaxation.
While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for managing this season of uncertainty, it is generally true that people thrive when they have a clear sense of meaning and purpose. If you find yourself feeling lost, stuck, or confused right now, exploring the following concepts can help connect you with your purpose, both during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
We are living in a time of face masks and quarantining. Nevertheless, this is our current reality. You may find yourself fighting the reality of what life looks like today. It’s natural to feel scared, and to look at the future as ambiguous right now.
The current state of uncertainty will not last forever, but we do have to contend with it today. So, how do we manage? How do we connect to the present moment, when it’s such a bizarre time?
The key to tolerating the present is through acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like, want, or enjoy what is happening in the present. It just means you recognize that it’s out of your control, so you aren’t going to fight reality.
If you feel yourself slipping into denial, or getting angry and frustrated that this is what’s happening right now, try processing your thoughts and feelings through journaling. You can also try an exercise called “leaning down the hill,” where you intentionally lean in to feelings of discomfort, and stop fighting them. The more you practice this, the less anxiety you will feel and the easier it will be to accept change.
Mindfulness and acceptance are two sides of the same coin. Mindfulness helps root you in the present moment when thoughts or feelings become overwhelming, by keeping you focused on the various sensations happening without judging them or getting too attached to them.
Here are a few mindfulness strategies to try:
What is your body telling you? Notice the feelings within your body (i.e. warmth, tenderness, tightness, stress, pain, etc.). What emotions do these physical areas provoke?
Take deep breaths. Notice the pace. Try tracing the fingers of one hand with the pointer finger of the other. Start with your pinky finger—as you trace up the finger breath in, and as you trace down each finger breath out.
Use your 5 senses. Look around the room: what is one thing you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste? Let go of your worry and transfer your mental energy to the details of your surroundings.
Self-compassion. Self-compassion is extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or personal distress. Be gentle with yourself. This chapter of history is new for everyone.
Try this self-compassion meditation to get started.
Gratitude. Overall, gratitude has been shown to correlate with greater mental health and feelings of happiness. Research has shown that “gratitude is related to a variety of clinically relevant phenomena, including psychopathology (particularly depression), adaptive personality characteristics, positive social relationships, and physical health (particularly stress and sleep), (Wood, 2010).”
Sometimes, feelings such as anger, frustration, or sadness can be felt within the body (i.e. muscle tightness, tension, or fatigue)—so does the feeling of gratitude. This can be experienced as a warming sensation. By practicing gratitude, you may notice yourself become more mindful of the present and appreciate what you already have, which boosts mood and life outlook.
Valued Living. Values are unique attributes, characteristics, life activities, etc. that individuals hold important to them. These are unique from person to person. Once you discover what your values are, ask yourself if you moving toward or away from your values? Sometimes when values are inconsistent with our actions, anxiety, discomfort, and overall dissatisfaction develops.
To identify your personal values are, you may write in a journal in response to any or all of the following prompts:
What are some things that bring you joy?
What gives your life meaning?
What do you prioritize—family, solitude, exercise, honesty, etc.
How would you want to be remembered in your eulogy?
Reflect on a time you felt you were living your most meaningful life.
You can also try this exercise for clarifying your personal values, and write about your chosen values to identify how specifically they can shape your everyday choices.
While these tools can help you along the path to a more fulfilled version of yourself, remember that pain is a natural part of life. No matter how much purpose you find, this chapter may still be a difficult and confusing one.
Use self-compassion and take life as it comes, one day at a time. If you are looking for some support amidst this strange time in the world, we are here for you. Contact us to set up an initial appointment today.
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890-905.