Living in Limbo

In a coaching conversation this week, I was told “life is a series of limbo situations”. If this is your experience, it means you know that you have survived previous episodes of limbo. What did you lean on to get through then? How could that be useful now?

In the midst of this limbo we find ourselves in, where so much is uncertain, it may be helpful to focus on the truths we do know.

We do not know when the corona epidemic will be under control, but we know that this too shall pass. Uncertainty in whatever form is an unavoidable part of our lived experience. It is uncomfortable, but it ends eventually. Knowledge is given, wars and pandemics end, and we move on, all be it as changed people.

Worrying feels like you have some control but actually often reduces the energy you have to improve the situation. What is the likelihood that the worst outcome will happen? We’re not all statisticians but often we overestimate the worst scenario and underestimate the many other possibilities, and as a result spend a lot of energy imagining and preparing for the unlikely. If we focus on making good choices in the areas that we have some control over, it can increase our energy to broaden our circle of influence. What are your uncertainty triggers? Sometimes we find ourselves on an ever tightening thought spiral of worst-case what-if scenarios, but sometimes we are influenced by what we expose ourselves to – social media, negative focus of news stories, rumours, speculations, fake news, only communicating with anxious friends. Emotions are just as infectious as viruses! What triggers can you limit?

Let’s explore our emotions a little. We know that suppressing our emotions long-term can make the situation worse. Internalising anxiety and stress can make you physically and mentally ill. It may feel uncomfortable, but it is wiser to allow yourself to experience those difficult emotions and investigate what is going on beneath them. This is where you will find the clues to what it is you need to change. These may be uncomfortable growth points, but they have the potential of bringing you to a place of blossoming joy. But give yourself grace – it may feel quite overwhelming. Don’t isolate yourself in response, we are already distant enough from each other. Reach out to someone you trust to walk this road with you.

We know that when we are in the thick of the problem, we have a limited view of the situation. We cannot see all the possibilities there are, because our vision has become narrowed by uncertainty. A bird’s eye view can reveal a more hopeful perspective, but sometimes we need someone else to listen to us and help us zoom out. What would we think about our own situation if we were watching it on a screen happening to someone else?

To get practical, we know the importance of a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate sleep. Focusing on the news late at night, catching up on social media before bed-time or watching tense disaster movies is probably not going to help us get to sleep. Each of us probably knows some tips that have worked for us in the past, like dimming the lights, having a set bedtime routine, a hot bath, journaling, praying, reading, listening to relaxing music…

In conclusion, we may currently feel overwhelmed, but we are actually the people who know ourselves and our situations the best. We are most likely to come up with coping strategies that will work. As part of that process, it may be time to become more self-aware. Notice the cues that indicate that you are feeling out of control: what is going on in your body that points to rising anxiety – tense muscles, clenched jaw, beating heart, a rushing sound in your ears…Notice your thoughts when you start worrying about what could happen, or evaluate a situation as worse than it is. Then, zoom out, hold your thoughts lightly. Ask yourself, is this really true? Realise what underlying emotions you are feeling, and that this is actually in response to a longing for more control. Allow yourself to pass through the experience in its discomfort. This too shall pass. It may feel scary but you have probably been through something similar before. Breathe deeply. Pray quietly. Hold on. When the most intense emotion has passed, ask yourself if this feeling points to some deeper work that needs to be done. What new thing have you realised about yourself? What are the things that are really important in your life? Is there some shift in priorities that is needed?

Reach out if you would like someone to walk this road with you. Get professional help if necessary.


Comic from Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle.


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