Managing uncertainty in life isn’t easy. Even when there isn’t a pandemic, a radically polarized political climate, and racial trauma and violence happening in this country, life is uncertain.
Managing the stress of uncertainty is difficult to do even under normal circumstances. We’ve always had to navigate life’s uncertainties. The anxiety and stress of life’s uncertainty didn’t magically start during the pandemic and current political climate. The stress of worry about keeping or finding a job, providing for your family, navigating and maintaining relationships, etc. is enough to drive us to our breaking points.
The Effects Life Experiences Have on Managing Uncertainty
Depending on your life experiences, managing uncertainty can be even more challenging at times. If your early childhood was chaotic or traumatic in some way, you may already be primed to feel more anxious or depressed in general. Therefore, it can be especially hard to deal with the difficult emotions that come up when life feels uncertain or unstable.
Likewise, depending on the quality of the relationship you had with your caregivers when you were a child, you may not have been taught the skills you need for managing uncertainty. The close adults in your life may not have been able to teach you how to self-regulate or self-soothe when you felt scared or uncertain about something because they may have had a hard time managing uncertainty for themselves. Because of this, you may now have a hard time managing uncertainty for yourself.
The Impact of Sensory Overload on Managing Uncertainty
In today’s world, there’s also the added dimension of managing sensory overload. This is because there is a wide variety of things vying for your attention and sometimes this can feel overwhelming. Sensory overload can make managing uncertainty difficult because your attention is divided and you’re therefore unable to effectively process the information.
The overwhelm from this sensory overload can also cause feelings of anxiety that makes managing uncertainty hard to do. This can be especially true for those who have sensory processing issues or sensitivity to various kinds of sensory input. In these instances it can be helpful to take some time for stillness and silence.
How Do We Focus When There Is So Much Uncertainty?
In times of uncertainty, it can be difficult to focus. Maybe you’ve found yourself struggling to do your work or even sit down to read a book for pleasure. Finding and maintaining equilibrium is crucial to mental health.
When our lives feel unstable, that’s when we need to find stability the most. Our brains prefer predictability. Our limbic system overloads and releases adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. This can increase anxiety and depression. 
It is during these times that we need to retrain the brain to calm down. We do this by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that calms us down and takes us out of fight, flight or freeze mode. If we don’t tap into our parasympathetic nervous system, we’ll be in a prolonged state of anxiety and heightened awareness that affects our mental health.
Using Music Therapy to Find Balance in Managing Uncertainty
Of course, we never know what life has in store for us. Early childhood experiences like I described earlier can make the unknown feel more unstable and frightening. This can be further complicated if you’re feeling overwhelmed by sensory overload.
Needless to say, the stress and anxiety of this uncertainty are enough to drive us all into unhealthy habits. It’s my job as a therapist to help you manage these emotions. Together we find healthy ways of coping with stress and anxiety.
Managing Uncertainty with Mindfulness and Music
At SoundWell Music Therapy I use tools such as mindfulness practices through music therapy to help you manage difficult and uncertain times. I also provide tools and resources, such as this video I created about anxiety. When using music as a mindfulness tool, I work with you to use music to center and ground you. The goal is stabilization.
Listening to Music as a Way of Managing Uncertainty
One way that I do this is by listening to short pieces of music that ground you. The goal is to get you back to your center. We identify the parts of a song to listen to intently. We listen to the nuances and are reminded of times of stability and focus.
Making Music as a Way of Managing Uncertainty
Making music is another way I support you in finding stability in uncertainty. While the music itself is important, the silence between the sounds can be even more powerful and grounding. Finding stillness and silence is how we restore ourselves and get into the present moment.
Music-making also helps us receive information about how we’re feeling. Through the process of making music, we become more mindful of difficult emotions. We explore what is coming up for you during this process.
Vocalizing as a Way of Managing Uncertainty
There is something known as authentic movement, which is “a simple form of self-directed movement. It is usually done with eyes closed and attention directed inward, in the presence of at least one witness. Movers explore spontaneous gestures, movements, and stillness, following inner impulses in the present moment.” 
While I don’t use this movement practice in music therapy, there are ways that I use music that are like authentic movement. One way I do that is through the use of the voice. We vocalize by making sounds, humming, toning by using vowel sounds and creating chants or mantras.
Vocalizations help my clients express what they’re feeling without having to put words to it, which is what music therapy is all about. We’ll process later what came up for you during these sessions. But using the principle of authentic movement to vocalize is a powerful tool for using music in a mindful way.
Of course, due to COVID-19, we are unable to vocalize together in person. Humming is fine, but any other vocalizations are too dangerous, even in masks at six feet apart. Teletherapy sessions are an opportunity to vocalize, however. Even though music therapy looks different now, we can get creative and make it work.
Managing Uncertainty by Connecting with Yourself Through Breath, Sound, and Music
In line with my use of mindfulness in music, we also notice body sensations and give them a voice. It can be sounds of any kind, breath or even sighs and grunts.
I shy away from using singing to navigate uncertainty through music because there is an added layer of expectation. It can feel like there is pressure to perform. Sounds and breathwork can happen simultaneously and don’t need to be “performed.”
Connecting to the breath is another way to navigate difficult feelings of uncertainty and the lack of equilibrium. Breathwork calms the nervous system down. Slowing the breath down requires you to focus on your breathing instead of thoughts and feelings that can be overwhelming.
Similar to the way I use sounds and vocalizations, improvisation is another tool that we use together in a music therapy session. Like authentic movement, improvisation can come from any impulse. There is no right or wrong answer. Improvisation should be done without censoring or judging. You simply follow the journey of the sound.
Navigating Uncertainty with SoundWell Music Therapy
Now that you have a greater understanding of how music therapy can help you work through these uncertain and difficult times, it’s time to put those tools into action!
If you’re looking to expand your therapy horizons and explore music therapy with me at SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, be sure to contact me. I offer a free 30-minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about what your needs are. You can schedule here.