6 Concepts of Positive Psychology to Manage Uncertainty

“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” ~Abraham Maslow

Just one month into a year where I set the intention of being more mindful, I notice a ripple effect of change unearthing my life. I started paying attention to how I spend my energy and what I focus on. I cut back on multitasking, and generally avoid anything that prevents quality time with my family.

Mindful 2017 initially brought serenity to my life, but one day I woke up to the realization that a really big change was on the horizon. My wholehearted commitment to mindfulness called for upheaval, so I chose a bold step towards growth over the safety of complacency.

Ultimately, this means I must surrender something I love. Letting go is never easy, but a few times in my life, the most authentic voices in my heart have nudged me to the precipice of change. In hindsight, I notice the hardest, most unexpected choices laced with great sacrifice were fruitful with reward.

Experience lends confidence; I am certain my current decision is the right one. But quite frankly, I find that transition always sucks because it brings added anxiety to my life. I anticipate remaining in a place of vulnerability until this storm of uncertainty passes by.

A framed quote on my desk reminds me to dance in the rain and not wait for the storms of life to pass. I strive to do this, but lately, panic prevails, so I’d rather hold my breath. Given I have studied positive psychology, I know the techniques I should be practicing to more gracefully endure this transition. Yet sometimes, even the most skilled optimists among us get stuck.

Yesterday, I let myself fall into negativity, and tumbled down the rabbit hole of rumination. Thankfully, I landed at the kitchen counter of a girlfriend who offered me a cup of coffee and my toddler a bag of goldfish while I cried.

About twenty minutes later, I was calm enough to notice a trail of golden crumbs and tissues were scattered about my friend’s kitchen. The carnage of my emotional turmoil fully processed made me laugh and I moved forward into uncertainty just a little stronger.

In the aftermath of this expression, I am feeling better, even courageous enough to confess my ungraceful moment. Since that “goldfish breakdown,” I have crawled out of despair by leaning on a few concepts I have learned from the science of positive psychology.

Here are the six skills I put into practice to manage my anxiety, and how I will my resilience during this period of uncertainty:

1. Other People Matter - Try as I do with all my effort and skill, sometimes I can’t shift my perspective without help. In the presence of a friend, I felt free to run through my worst-case scenarios. She listened intently and gently countered my pessimism with an optimistic thought. Then, I found myself working through a list of best-case scenarios and I settled on the realistic scenario likely. After practicing the resilience technique called “putting it in perspective,” which successfully stopped my catastrophic thinking, I noticed my girlfriend organically initiated the exercise. My subsequent shift in perspective might suggest how much other people matter.

2. Gratitude – After my kitchen rumination, another girlfriend called me, and was subjected to a more optimistic version of my distress. She offered her empathy, but concluded our conversation with, “It’s time for you to put your big girl panties on and deal.” Laughter ensued and this positive emotion inspired a moment of gratitude for my friends. Recognizing a blessing, I automatically reached for two more: I said a quiet prayer of thanks for the four healthy kids I have. Then I thought of my husband who is enduring this transition with me. Instantaneously, my blessings were distracting me from despair.

3. Self-compassion – With genuine gratitude came a moment of guilt for my rumination. What I am enduring is really NO BIG DEAL; my life currently is nothing short of amazing. This made space for shame to rise. But my 2016 resolution of self-compassion is one that helped me move away from a place of shame and guilt, so I squashed my rising negative self-judgment with the notion of the beauty in imperfection.

4. Resilience - What doesn’t kill me always makes me stronger. Adversity can be painful and vulnerability unnerving; but the growth we might gain through struggle can help us flourish. Remembering what I have already endured and all I have gained in the aftermath of adversity inspires me to pull out those big girl panties my girlfriend suggested and soldier on.

5. Optimism: The productive nature of optimism has brought some of my most far-fetched dreams to fruition. The rainbow baby I was blessed with reminds me of this (she has since grown into that gold fish-tossing toddler above). Yes, life can be gut wrenchingly painful, but also unfathomably beautiful. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but given I have a rainbow to hold onto both physically and metaphorically, I choose hope.

6. Mindfulness –After a coffee intervention and upward spiral from despair to hope, I maintained a more positive perspective long enough to notice the winter weather was mild and I could go for a walk. I passed on the stroller, choosing to put that rainbow toddler of mine in a sling on my chest, and pushed worry out of my mind. Then, I noticed the her soft ringlets tickling my nose and delighted in the sweet scent of her hair. I kissed the palm of her little hand that grows bigger every day and we both smiled.

Following this mindful moment with the daughter I faced uncertainty for, I found peace. My intentions are dramatically shifting my life, so I give reverence to the thoughts in my mind. Then I seek solace in remembering our greatest opportunities for growth and reward can be the scariest steps of all.

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