You just received word from the doctor. It’s not good. Time is limited and you need to make a decision soon. A thousand voices fill your head, but nothing is making any sense. Nothing fits together. You have never dealt with this before. You have no idea what to do with this information. Your mind flits from one thing to the next trying to grasp at something normal, something you can relate this to, something you can work with. But there is nothing. Nothing in life has ever prepared you for this moment. This is unknown territory for you and you are so alone with all of this.
It isn’t hard to imagine the fear that would naturally spring up from this situation, whether it’s happening to you or someone you love. A fear or sense of panic, worry and even terror emerges. Your brain just can’t keep up with the emotions let alone know how to form a question or complete a thought to describe what you are going through.
What do you do now?
Angela Percival MBACP wrote a very helpful article in understanding how our brains handle this type of fear in her article from April 2013 entitled Fear of the Unknown and How the Mind Works. Percival says that our minds store things in clusters of similar experiences. When something new comes along, our mind works to find the right cluster of experiences to store the event.
What happens when we are faced with something totally new? How does our brain work then? It still tries to find a place to put this new situation in an already formed cluster. And when there is no cluster that fits, your mind continues to search and that’s when panic and worry sets in. Your mind cannot categorize this event and doesn’t know what to do with it. It is unknown and your mind is perplexed. What happens from there depends on your personality and how well you adapt to change.
I would like to propose that it is at this very moment in time that we have a choice to make and that choice will determine the way this unknown event plays out. It doesn’t determine the outcome, but heavily influences the process. This key point in time may be very short and almost unnoticeable, but how you deal with and respond to it may make a big difference.
Everyone Is Different
Everyone is different. You’ve heard that before, but it applies to this situation as well. Each person’s unique personality will approach this in a different way, but I would like to suggest that a positive mindset and a willingness to work through it will help you get through the process in a healthier, less stressful way. And we’re all about less stress here.
When you first notice your brain beginning to panic with fear, that’s when you need to be intentional about helping your brain find a place to store this new situation. It may be new, but maybe there are pieces of it that remind you of something else you’ve been through. Help your brain make that connection. Maybe you need to create a new cluster for this, but remind your brain that you’ve been through other new situations and learned from them. Maybe you’ve watched someone else go through something similar. Remind your brain that you have potential support in that person and are not alone. Whatever self talk you need to do to get your brain to find a place to hold this new circumstance, do it. Your brain will continue to spin until you help it locate a home or “cluster” for this new information to live. Helping your brain find a home for this new event in your life to live is the first goal to slowing down the spinning in your mind. And, if you can simply recognize that the panic is being induced over your mind’s incessant need to organize, that may help you take a step back and fix that problem.
Processing in a Healthy Way
Once you’ve found a place inside your brain, how do you begin to process this in a healthy way? It would be too easy to drink yourself into a stupor so that you don’t have to worry about it, but that is ignoring a problem that won’t go away and it’s not approaching this in a healthy manor. What do you need to do to cope? How do you process? What helps you accept change? What brings you peace over fear? How do you get there?
Now is the time to dig deep and discover a positive way forward. Here are some suggestions that have worked for me and others I have watched go through difficult situations. Try some out and see if they work for you.
1. Research – learn all you can about this unknown
2. Sit with it – allow your mind to wander over the situation within the guidelines of healthy self-talk
3. Write about it – spill your emotions onto the page, but don’t forget to follow up with some positive words of wisdom from the Divine
4. Share it – find someone you can trust to share your worries and concerns
5. Take a break from it – go clean the bathroom, go for a run, do something physical, then come back to it
6. Sing something positive – sing at the top of your lungs in the car as you are driving down the road. Let it all out
7. Craft or work on a hobby – do something to completely get your mind off of it for a short while so you can come back to it and deal with it from a rational place instead of from a sense of panic and being overwhelmed
8. Pray or meditate – whether you are religious or not, spending time in silent meditation to clear your mind and listen for guidance can be a great way to find direction.
Whatever route works for you, come back to the problem at hand when you can break it down one step at a time and maintain a sense of internal balance while working through the issue. In other words, give yourself time to let the panic pass before you move forward.
Maybe you know of other ways that you find peace and deal with the unknown that you’d like to share in a comment below. I’d love to learn what helps you.