Stress Was Winning Till I Did This…

Emily ColwellInner Dialogue, Anxiety, Mindfulness Leave a Comment

As I moved into a ‘Soft I Don’t Know’, I felt relief.  My shoulders became lighter.  I started laughing again. It became easier to be present without working so hard at it. My mind relaxed even though all the solutions weren’t yet here.  My anxiety and sense of responsibility to find all the fixes for my stress dissipated and my list of worries grew shorter despite the fact that uncertainty remained.

Ok, so that first month of isolation felt somewhat manageable to me.  What about you? Quarantining was new and different.  The slower pace was even a relief. The time with family felt nourishing.

But then somewhere between weeks 5 and 6, something began to feel different. My tolerance to stress decreased. My normal ability to multitask waned. My anxiety increased.

Without realizing it, I kicked into using what I call a ‘Hard I Don’t Know’, which is an old-time default of mine. Maybe you’ll recognize it. It’s when uncertainty shows up and you work harder and harder and with great intensity to find the answers.  Your mind identifies more and more things to worry about and then it works like a hellion to figure out how to fix them.

The tricky part is that when I’m in a ‘Hard I Don’t Know’, I feel increasingly anxious and it feels like all the responsibility to fix things lies on my shoulders.

I periodically consider turning this stuff over to God when I’m in this mode.  And sometimes I do, but my jaw usually tenses, my hands clench and my muscles tighten as my mind yells, “Ok, God, what the hell am I supposed to DO?! Huh?!?! Where are the solutions!”.

And as soon as I finish saying this, I turn back around and pick up all my worries and start hauling them around again, searching for the fixes. And you know what? It feels terrible!

Has a ‘Hard I Don’t Know’ visited you through this time?  It often leaves you with growing anxiety and a sense of urgency to find the answers to an ever increasing array of worries and uncertainties.  The more you look around, the more worries you find.

I sat in this ‘Hard I Don’t Know’ for a challenging, uncomfortable week before I found myself thinking about other times of uncertainty in my life.  There have been so many experiences when uncertainty ruled and then clarity moved in or when solutions felt impossible and then new answers not on my radar showed up. Many of the times were smaller moments, but some of them were bigger, like the first time I fell in love with a woman at 35 years old or when I was diagnosed with cancer. Some of you may even remember the story I shared about my neighbor and the dead tree! (

I’ll bet you can think of times like this in your own life. Times when the uncertainty was so present. And so overwhelming. And sometimes even paralyzing.  Solutions felt impossible or limited and unhelpful, which only made your anxious, worried mind spin more.

And then answers showed up. Creative solutions unexpectedly plopped into your mind. A random conversation with someone suddenly allowed new perspectives to sneak in with a different angle to the uncertain situation. Solutions you’d never seen coming materialized.

The pressure and anxiety I’d been feeling softened as I remembered these times of uncertainty  that ultimately worked out, often in ways far better than I had envisioned. Hope reawoke in me.

This enabled me to quietly shift from using a ‘Hard I Don’t Know’ to a ‘Soft I Don’t Know’ and they’re VERY different!  A ‘Soft I Don’t Know’ doesn’t have any fight to it. It doesn’t feel desperate.  Instead, it feels curious. 

I started writing letters to HP in the morning. That’s the nickname I’ve used to write to God over the years. It’s short for Higher Power and HP has become my chummy, casual term.

“Morning HP. Well, all I know is that the weight of stresses I’m carrying on my shoulders, the uncertainty, and the number of things I feel like I need to fix feel WAY TOO HEAVY.  So I’m just gonna surrender them to this journal and you and let them go for the day. Huh. I wonder how things will turn out?.”

I did this the next day. And the next. Each day I turned over whatever the heck was stressing me out, even the little stuff.  I surrendered it ALL to the pages of that journal and to HP and then went on with my day feeling a bit lighter.

And you know what happened?  I felt relief.  My shoulders became lighter.  I started laughing again. It became easier to be present without working so hard at it. My mind relaxed even though all the solutions weren’t yet here.  As I practised this ‘Soft I Don’t Know’, my curiosity about the solutions grew bigger while my anxiety and sense of responsibility to find all the fixes dissipated. In fact, my list of worries grew shorter despite the fact that uncertainty remained.

It was no longer necessary to get rid of all my stressors or solve all my worries in order to find relief because my reactions to them softened.

You see, when you move into a ‘Soft I Don’t Know’, curiosity begins to lead you rather than worry and anxiety.  It creates space and time for possibilities to show up rather than demand immediate solutions before the timing is right. And it invites you to purposefully identify the things that are causing you stress and then turn them over to something other than yourself and your ever-willing-to-work mind.

If you have a belief in something bigger than yourself, great! But if you don’t, that’s ok, too. This isn’t about forcing you to believe in something that doesn’t feel authentic to you.  This is about finding a way to lighten the load on your shoulders.

During times of uncertainty, like the one we’ve been moving through, I invite you to purposely notice the times in your life when periods of uncertainty ultimately DID turn out well for you.

Couple that with taking action to identify and then dump those stressors and worries in a journal or on a higher power of your understanding or both. And then LEAVE THEM THERE FOR THE DAY. Give yourself a break from the worry. From having to solve the problems or fix them. Just for the day.  Or even for a few hours.

If you’re in the midst of a giant, ‘Hard I Don’t Know’ and you’re feeling the weight of your growing worries and trying to find the solutions to them, I TOTALLY get it! If you’re ready to move into a “Soft I Don’t Know’ but it feels too hard and you want help, shoot me a DM. We can schedule a time to chat about what it might look like to work together and help you find relief.

Here’s the thing. When worries and anxieties abound, your mind often tries to convince you that putting more time and effort into finding the solutions will finally give you relief.  But what if it turns out that finding ways to put those worries down, even for a few hours, creates space for solutions to more easily slip in? Again and again I find this to be true and you just might, too. Curiously ask, “Huh, I wonder what other solutions are gonna show up that I haven’t even thought of yet?” And then step back, let the question go and see what happens. The results just might surprise you! ❤️

P.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell).  I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!


Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND

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