Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Last week, I touched upon how the current political environment — where anger seems to be the animating force — is resulting in turmoil and distress at such a level that health experts fear it could be generating serious negative consequences for the mental health of millions of Americans. We are talking about symptoms like sleepless nights, damaged friendships, constant fatigue and mounting depression.
We are best prepared to deal with these mental health challenges when we are in good physical health and find time to downshift, exercise regularly and have good social connectedness with friends, family and co-workers.
Humankind has always disliked uncertainty in most situations. Now this condition frames our lives in unsettling global proportions. In response, a recent study showed that we are becoming less tolerant of uncertainty in our lives at all levels. According to Jelena Kecmanovic, adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University, this does not bode well for us. “Numerous studies link high intolerance of uncertainty to anxiety and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, PTSD and eating disorders,” Kecmanovic writes.
Writing in The Conversation, Kecmanovic points out, “Avoidance of uncertainty leads to relief in the short run, but lessens your ability to tolerate anything short of complete certainty in the long run. Tolerance for uncertainty is like a muscle that weakens if not used.”
As Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist and ordained nun once wrote, “It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share.”
People “tend to underestimate their coping abilities,” adds Kecmanovic. At the same time, most of us overestimate how bad we will feel when something bad happens. “Humans are generally resilient, even in the face of very stressful or traumatic events. If a feared outcome materializes, chances are you will deal with it better than you could now imagine.”
“Repeated attempts at predicting and controlling everything in life can backfire, leading to psychological problems,” Kecmanovic warns. “The fantasy of humankind’s absolute control over its environment and fate is still just that — a fantasy.”
In the pursuit of decreasing intolerance of uncertainty, she recommends bolstering resilience by increasing our self-care. Finding or rediscovering your life purpose can help us deal with uncertainty and the stress and anxiety related to it. Possibly the best tool for coping with uncertainty is maintaining an active and meaningful social life. “Having even a few close family members or friends imparts a feeling that ‘we are in this all together,’ which can protect you from psychological and physical problems,” she adds.
The quantity and quality of sleep is also related to your ability to deal with uncertainty. According to one study, roughly one-third of Americans say they lie awake at least a few nights a week. According to a report by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, sleeping less than seven hours a night or more than eight hours a night produced an increased risk of death in both men and women.
As noted in a recent study published in the Journal Psychology and Health, there is a practice we might consider to help resolve our sleeping problems: forgiveness.
For this study, researchers asked 1,423 American adults to rate themselves on how likely they were to forgive themselves for the things they did wrong and forgive others for hurting them. As reported in The Washington Post, “The results suggest people who were more forgiving were more likely to sleep better and for longer, and, in turn, have better physical health.” This echoes the findings of several studies in recent years that point toward better slumber for those who are able to let go of their anger.
The article continues, “People who don’t forgive, researchers explain, tend to linger on unpleasant thoughts and feelings, such as anger, blame, and regret. This can involve painful rumination … While we know sleep is important for overall health, this study offers a new perspective on forgiveness as a key factor in achieving healthy sleep.” Let us not forget what the Bible says about forgiving others their trespasses. It is also important to keep in mind that, if you’re not kind and compassionate to yourself, it’s hard to do the same for others.
To be clear, this study does not prove conclusively that forgiveness causes better sleep. It suggests that people who tend to forgive also tend to sleep better and that it might be worth trying out. Among all the shouting headlines, words like “tolerance” and “forgiveness” might be the antidotes we need if we are to decompress and keep from going crazy.
Write to Chuck Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com.
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