Working through our
We don’t know how things will be this year or the following, or whether normal, to which we will eventually return, feels like it did before. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be a source of fear or fear or loss of purpose.
Keith Kurlander and Will Van Derveer are the founders of the Integrative Psychiatry Institute, which trains mental health professionals to manage the causes of mental illness. They find that we can manage our future fears if we Find the silver lining in the challenging circumstances. And while those silver linings may be elusive – no one said it would be easy – Kurlander and Van Derveer believe that this practice of reshaping our future worries can not only help us survive the next few years, but the kind of too Creating a future that we look forward to.
How to overcome existential fear in uncertain times
We are all feeling a lot of immediate stress right now. We are in the middle of a pandemic. It feels like life has changed forever, and for understandable reasons: our stressors don’t go away anytime soon. The pandemic will likely affect our social habits for years before we can return to a pre-pandemic way of life, meaning our current stressors are only half the story.
When we’re stressed and worried about things that haven’t happened yet but could happen, that’s fear. It is important to realize that we can only influence these events to a certain extent. We need to find a balance in how much focus we give them: focusing too much on stressful external events can lead to feelings of anxiety, restlessness and anxiety, while not paying enough attention can cause apathy, separation and despair.
Fear is mostly driven by the importance we attach to events around us.
Balance the story
Viktor Frankl, a doctor who survived the Nazi concentration camps and later wrote the classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, said: “Anything can be taken from a man, only one thing: the last of human freedoms – one’s attitude in a certain sentence choose the circumstances. “In other words, the way we understand events and circumstances is a key factor in determining our stress levels and psychological wellbeing.
Too often the human mind automatically generates a negative story about what is happening and what is to come. For example, the pandemic causes great fear in many people. Sometimes this fear is appropriate: it can help us plan ahead and protect ourselves. But some of that fear is not useful and can damage our sanity.
Here is an example of a negative story about the pandemic: A lot of people think: The next two or three years will suck. My kids will be home schooled, I won’t hang out with my friends and the economy will collapse.
These predictions about the future assume that we will have more disadvantages than advantages. Whenever we take this perspective, of course, we are concerned because we predict that the challenges ahead will only harm us.
Here’s a more balanced perspective that incorporates the challenges of the pandemic into the opportunities that could arise from it. We may think I’ll have more time to be with my family because I won’t be with my friends that often. Or: Maybe it means that I don’t see my friends for a while, that I don’t take them for granted. Or: I save a lot of time by no longer having to commute to work so that I can cook good food at home and save a lot of money by not eating out as much.
We can commit to balancing our perspective by seeking the benefits of these challenges, which in turn reduce our anxiety and open our minds to future opportunities that may benefit us.
Mindfulness Practice: List the possibilities
A simple exercise that anyone can do is make a list of the benefits of external stressors. Ask yourself, “What opportunities does this challenge offer me?”
Generate answers until you feel like there are many pros and cons.
At first it may seem paradoxical that great challenges have advantages. The above exercise can be self-challenging: It may not be intuitive to consider that there are occasions within events that we would prefer if they did not occur at all. Balancing the story is not about avoiding the pain of what we are dealing with or not acting. It’s about adopting a mindset where your story, mind, and emotions are a strong foundation for staying focused, strategic, and effective in difficult situations.
You may even find that this balanced outlook is contagious. Together we can create a better future – and cherish the journey along this path.
Keith Kurlander, MA, LPC, is a co-founder of the Institute for Integrative Psychiatry and the Centers for Integrative Psychiatry, and a member of The Higher Practice podcast. He earned his Masters in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University and has practiced integrative psychotherapy and coaching with individuals, couples and groups for over fifteen years.
Will Van Derveer, MD, is a co-founder of the Institute for Integrative Psychiatry, which teaches clinicians how to identify and correct the causes of mental illness. His clinic in Boulder, Colorado offers integrative psychiatry and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. In addition to his psychiatric practice and teaching, he was involved in several MAPS-sponsored studies investigating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for chronic treatment-resistant PTSD. He is trained in somatic experience, EMDR, internal family systems, and other psychotherapeutic techniques. Van Derveer received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and his MD from Vanderbilt University and is a Diplomat on the American Board of Integrative Medicine.