I first encountered mindfulness during a difficult time in my life. I was suffering from depression and anxiety after a close family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia; I experienced new feelings of confusion and a loss of control. I found mindfulness to be a really helpful technique to help with these feelings. Mindfulness has since remained a constant theme in my life and, as an MHRUK scholar, I feel privileged to be able to further study its benefits. After a turbulent 12 months for us all, I have come to reflect on how it has helped me cope, and how it can help others.
It is human nature to crave certainty - ‘knowing’ – so that we might be prepared for whatever may come. However, if 2020 taught us anything, it is that nothing is certain. This can be a difficult concept to deal with and can cause many of us unpleasant feelings.
How, then, might we create a fresh perspective and a sense of openness? How might we become more at ease with uncertainty and change? I find that mindfulness fosters an openness to experience, approaching each new situation with a pair of ‘fresh eyes’ without pre-conceptions. It promotes awareness of thoughts, feelings and emotions,and an attentiveness to the present moment in an accepting way. I have learnt that this is an invaluable tool to help with uncertainty.
5 Ways that Mindfulness can help with uncertain times:
1. Reacting vs. responding
Reactions are automatic and habitual – we often react to a stressful thought or situation before we’ve had a chance to process it. Mindfulness cultivates an increased ability to make conscious responses; instead of reacting to uncertainty with fear and resistance, we can respond to it with a calmer, open state of mind. This creates better space to deal with situations and helps maintain better wellbeing.
With non-reactivity comes better acceptance – a cornerstone of mindfulness. Resistance to change or uncertain situations manifests in many forms – anger, fear, anxiety. By softening resistance and opening ourselves up to accepting difficult
situations, we can make new choices about how to deal with them with more clarity.
3. Connectedness and self-compassion
Distress about uncertainty is a shared human experience – you are not alone. Reminding myself of this has really helped me in stressful situations. Mindfulness training has been shown to increase pro-sociability, empathy and compassion; for example, this study showed that after mindfulness training, people were more likely to give up their comfortable seat to someone displaying discomfort. The realisation that anxiety and discomfort is a universal experience allows us to be more self-compassionate in troubled times which, in turn, can alleviate anxiety (e.g., as demonstrated in this study).
4. Remaining grounded using the breath
It’s easy to get lost in worried thoughts or anxious feelings. Regularly connecting to the body via the breath brings us back to the present moment, allowing us to step away from becoming overwhelmed by ‘sticky’ thoughts about the past or future. I’ve found developing a habit of pausing regularly each day to take a minute to connect to my breath helps me remain grounded in the ‘here and now’. When you notice your mind distracting you from what you’re doing, simply pause, take some deep breaths, and gently bring yourself back.
5. Connecting to nature with mindful walking
One of the biggest benefits for wellbeing is spending time outside, near nature. Why not try doing it mindfully? Bring intentional awareness to the experience – notice the air against your skin, the sounds, the sensation of your feet against the ground. I have found that fully tuning into the walking experience this way leads to a feeling of groundedness and calm, providing a ‘gap’, to come back to the rest of the day feeling refreshed.
The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty; it’s presence.
If you are interested in mindfulness and would like to explore it further, there are many freely accessible resources online and via your app store.
Mental Health Research UK PhD Scholar