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My day started fairly normally

Embracing Uncertainty and Breaking Free from Fear

Embracing Uncertainty and Breaking Free from Fear

My day started fairly normally. I got up, got dressed, went to the supermarket, and as soon as I got home, I washed my hands. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve all been encouraged to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. So there I was, washing them thoroughly for 20 seconds, singing Happy Birthday to myself twice to time it. As I was drying my hands, I heard a familiar voice in my head, “What if you didn’t wash them enough? What if the virus is still on your hands?”. So I thought, “Yep, you’re right, better do them again, just in case”. Next thing you know I’m washing them again, and low and behold, as I’m drying my hands for the second time, I get the same thoughts.

At this point I stopped: was I going to wash my hands for a third, fourth, fifth time? Or was I going to accept the uncertainty and move on with my day? You see, I’ve struggled with this kind of behaviour at various points in my life, not just with washing my hands, but with loads of things: checking the door is locked, checking the oven is off, driving back routes I’ve just driven to check I didn’t cause an accident, constantly seeking reassurance from others that I didn’t do or say anything wrong in social situations. And I do all these things “just in case”. We often call these kinds of behaviours “safety behaviours”.

In recent years, I’ve learned how to spot these safety behaviours and deal with them fairly quickly. But I’ve faced a few challenges in recent months, and COVID-19 has been a struggle. At the start of lockdown, some of those safety behaviours were rearing their ugly heads again. However this time, when that voice said, “What if?”, I chose to step away from the sink and get on with my day. And the following day when I was out for a walk and my mind said, “What if you forgot to lock the door?” I chose to carry on walking. What I’ve learned over the years is that I can never get certainty in these situations, my mind will always say “what if?”, and the more I do these safety behaviours, the more my mind says “what if?” I can quickly get caught up in a vicious cycle between my thoughts and my behaviours, and I know from experience that often the only way to break those vicious cycles is to stop the safety behaviour. In the long run, these safety behaviours just keep feeding our anxiety and fear around different situations.

During difficult and uncertain times like COVID-19, it’s natural that we would seek out certainty and safety. But the reality is we’ll probably never get that certainty. Life is full of uncertainty, and accepting that can bring us peace. If you’re finding that you’re stuck in those vicious cycles, there are ways out. We’re running a free workshop online called Breaking Free from Fear which teaches ways of embracing uncertainty, facing our fears, letting go of these safety behaviours and getting out of those vicious cycles. We’re also running workshops on Stress Management and Anxiety and Panic, we recommend you attend these sessions before attending Breaking Free from Fear. I’d like to end this blog with one of my favourite quotes about certainty…

“There is no certainty; there is only adventure” – Roberto Assagioli

Rather than thinking of what we fear or what makes us anxious because it is “uncertain”, perhaps we could view these situations in life as adventures to be pioneered?

By Bethan Jones

Course Wellbeing Practitioner