Want to reduce stress? Try the mindfulness practice of “not knowing.” Rather than living with anxieties about an unknown future outcome, simply keep your attention on the present moment.
For instance, let’s say you get an unexpected call from the nurse’s office at your child’s elementary school. Your son is crying inconsolably after a tumble from the playground equipment. As you rush to the school, your thoughts cycle. What if he broke a bone? Do we need to go to the hospital? Will he still be able to play on his basketball team?
Or perhaps your middle schooler enjoyed a weekend sleepover at her best friend’s house. As Monday rolls around, you get a call from her friend’s mother. One of the children at the sleepover just tested positive for COVID-19. The news sends you into a tailspin. Will my daughter get sick? If she becomes ill, will she suffer from long-term effects? Are the other members of my household safe?
Much of the stress from these scenarios comes from anxious thoughts about the future. If you were to become aware of your thinking, you’d realize that you’re reacting to events that haven’t even happened. Maybe they’d happen in the future, but maybe they wouldn’t. You could remind yourself that you simply don’t know what will happen next.
To practice the mindfulness technique of “not knowing,” pause and and notice any anxious thoughts about imagined future outcomes. See if you can release these thoughts and simply accept the unknown. Each time another anxious thought arises, remind yourself that you don’t know. Did he break a bone? I don’t know. Will we need to go to the hospital? I don’t know. Will he be able to play basketball? I don’t know. All you know is that your child is hurting and that you’re deeply concerned. Keeping your attention on what you do know, rather than on what you don’t know, helps free you from anxieties. As an added bonus, when you reduce your own anxiety level, your child’s anxiety level is likely reduced as well.
Although not knowing is a simple concept, it’s not always easy to practice, especially if you have a busy mind. Like learning any new skill, this technique becomes more accessible with repetition. The next time you notice yourself getting caught up in anxious thoughts about an unknown future, simply remind yourself that you don’t know — and it’s okay not to know.
Mindfulness is the ability to keep your attention in the here and now, rather than caught up in judgements, anxieties and stories. The health benefits of mindfulness are profound, including reduced stress, increased focus and enhanced positive emotion. You can learn more about mindfulness at joyrains.com.