This year has been one for the record books with chaos, division, fear and uncertainty unlike anything many of us have experienced in our lifetime. Anxiety is best defined as a fear of the unknown. But the unknown is also a collection of infinite possibilities. Choosing to correlate uncertainty with possibility can help us embrace it and make friends with fear.
In my last year of college, I was engaged to my high school sweetheart. The wedding plans were complete, the invitations about to be sent. I had paid for the dress, which cost four months’ rent. It was all a big deal, something that family and friends (and I) had been anticipating for years.
One conversation with a favorite college professor, though, changed my fate. Sitting under a sprawling oak on the morning of my graduation contemplating his simple reminder, “security is a falsehood,” I decided to alter my path completely. I embraced possibility and the unknown to see where it could take me.
After breaking the news to a very unhappy fiancé and garnering the blessings of my confused but supportive parents, I got into my Toyota Corolla and headed out of town with a dozen AAA maps of the U.S. in the passenger seat. I was 22 years old, hungry for change and untethered. My decision to travel, distinctly poor and alone, was spontaneous to the point of irresponsibility and it was the best decision of my life. I met beautiful people and had extraordinary experiences, which have sustained me to this day. Perhaps most importantly, I learned my first great lesson in embracing the wonder of uncertainty and fear. If I walked through this relatively thin veil, a great and previously unknown light was waiting on the other side.
A global pandemic and the possibility that our democracy might be in question do not level with a young woman’s decision to choose adventure over marriage, but all our experiences are guideposts to the others that follow. Courage is grown and when we exercise it, like a muscle, it becomes strong.
We are transformed by our courage, not our fear. Ask anyone about his or her most defining experiences – the moments that translate into identity – and that individual likely will tell you about hardship and acts of courage. It is not the times of comfort and ease that tell us what we are made of, but rather our fortitude, courage and ingenuity through the difficult chapters that shape and define us.
Gratitude, a sense of wonder and curiosity can all play a role in how we experience moments of stress and discomfort. If we can question, with an appreciative heart and curious mind, how we will grow and ultimately what use we will make of the unpleasantness, we have already begun to transform suffering into grace. We begin to see and feel differently.
There are many reliable ways to procure greater happiness and reduce anxiety. Here are a few:
Practice gratitude: Keep a gratitude journal. I know you’ve heard this before, but seriously, if you haven’t already tried this, it’s an excellent time to start. Describe three things in detail, each day, for which you are grateful. Make them different each day and write some descriptive detail.
Log a positive experience. Each day, take two minutes to describe one thing that brought joy or satisfaction. I write this in my gratitude journal, along with documenting the other things, below.
Reach out. Connect with at least one person each day to let someone know how and why you appreciate him or her. This may be in person, by phone, handwritten note, email or text.
Exercise. It’s been shown to be more effective than anti-depressants for alleviating depression and anxiety. Thirty minutes a day, especially outdoors, is a good start. Morning exercise is best.
Breathe. Taking only two minutes per day to focus on your breath can have profound effects on your stress level and your ability to feel more patience, gratitude and joy. Imagine what doing a brief meditation three or four times per day could accomplish. There are guided meditation apps like Calm and Headspace that can help, but simply taking a few minutes throughout the day to attentively ride your breath can be a goldmine of centering peace. In any moment of stress, try the “Pause. What a Pleasure” approach. Stop where you are, take a breath and identify some source of pleasure in that moment.
Create. Whether in the kitchen, workshop, with an instrument or on a page, take some time each day to make something. The creative process is where our spirit finds solace and gives birth to new life.
Remember impermanence. This, too, shall pass. All things and circumstances are temporary. It is the great truth.
If you need supplemental or pharmaceutical-like support for anxiety and depression, there is a host of plant medicines and supplementation, including amino acid neurotransmitter precursors that can support mood, sleep and sense of well-being. For this kind of help, I am available for appointments.
Although we carry much of the strife of 2020 into the coming year, we can take with us a set of tools and a change in our orientation. Stay with gratitude, wonder and curiosity. Climb on and ride them all the way through to the other side. They will help smooth the path, bring sparks of joy to the journey and deliver us to safer shores. Most importantly, love everyone and everything you can along the way.
May we all find peace in this holiday season and in the new year to come. FBN
By Kären van der Veer, NMD
Dr. Kären van der Veer has more than 20 years of experience as a physician, acupuncturist and educator. Her career has been defined by her passion for and devotion to serving others. She currently teaches at Northern Arizona University and sees patients at Aspen Integrative Medical Center, located at 323 N Leroux, Suite B, in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-213-5828.