For most of us living through the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of fear and anxiety over health, finances, and the future is our new norm. We’re living through uncertain times.
These feelings of uncertainty for both ourselves and our loved ones impact everything we do. From the way we behave, to how we treat others, and even how we view the world. The only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. You can try to control your future, but sometimes all you can do is adapt and make the best of it. If you’re feeling anxious over COVID-19 or just life in general, we’ve put together a 13 step guide to help you deal with all of the uncertainty.
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Uncertainty and Anxiety
Uncertainty can make you distrust your ability to cope with stressful events that life throws your way. And most people tend to overestimate how bad things will be when anticipating future events, enter-anxiety. Human beings, by design, view uncertainty as a potential threat to our well-being. This triggers a fear response in our brain. For some people, this response can show up as difficulty sleeping or focusing. Others feel lonely and withdrawn, while some are hyper-focused on the news. Anxious people, in particular, have a low tolerance for uncertainty. When anxious people are exposed to a little bit of uncertainty, they also have a strong reaction. They worry and do everything they can think of to eliminate the uncertainty. This leads to lots of time-consuming behaviors, causing even more anxiety. But even those who’ve never dealt with anxiety before can experience it during times of uncertainty. Common behaviors when dealing with uncertainty
Some common behaviors in response to uncertainty include:
Seeking excessive reassurance from others
List-making, sometimes several lists every day
Double-checking on your loved ones repeatedly to make sure that they are okay
Refusing to delegate tasks or ask for help
Procrastination or avoidance
Keeping themselves “busy” all the time so as not to have the time to think about it
13 Steps for Dealing with Uncertainty
These 13 steps will help you get by in times of high-stress and uncertainty.
1. Identify unproductive worrying Unproductive worries can make you feel even more anxious and uncertain, leading to a vicious cycle. Try to differentiate between how much of your worrying is productive (like making sure you have enough food) versus unproductive (like going over worst-case scenarios). Tuning out worrisome thoughts isn’t easy, especially for an anxious person. But meditation can help.
2. Practice mindfulness Mindfulness is an intentional awareness. When faced with uncertainty, our minds, in an attempt to cling to certainty, will create a story. Good or bad, we tend to prefer anything to the unknowns of uncertainty. Mindfulness is seeing the stories we generate for what they really are- thoughts, not facts, happening in the present moment. This is incredibly important for your mental health, especially in times of uncertainty. Consider starting practicing mindfulness by following a guided meditation, to take time out of your day to really connect and center yourself.
3. Be grateful Gratitude can transform anxiety almost instantly. You can reframe your perspective by acknowledging unexpected upsides and being thankful for what you do have. Our brains have a natural negativity bias when faced with uncertainty. Try focusing on three things you’re grateful for right at this very minute. These can be anything at all, but try to make them specific. Pause and take time to really appreciate them (and maybe consider starting a gratitude journal). Just thinking about something your grateful for releases serotonin (which gives you a mood boost) and dopamine (which encourages your brain to keep looking for things to appreciate).
4. Accept what you can't change Acknowledging that we can’t control and change everything is incredibly powerful in times of uncertainty. Letting go of the things you can't control will help you focus on the things you can. Acceptance requires ongoing practice, but it’s a big step toward regaining peace of mind. Part of this practice is allowing yourself to feel your feelings, whatever they may be. Without judgment. Do you feel stressed? Are you anxious? Acknowledge this and give yourself permission to feel the difficult feelings.
5. Practice self-care
When we experience high amounts of stress, our bodies go into a response of fight-or-flight. This response is totally appropriate for the moments we need to act quickly in dangerous situations. But our bodies are not meant to sustain these stress responses over long periods of time. Acts of self-care help you address this chronic stress so that you aren’t compromising your immune system and your emotional and mental health.
6. Check-in with yourself
Take the time to get in touch with how you're feeling. Reflect on both the good and the bad that’s happening around you. You can journal these reflections, meditate on them, or talk them through with a friend. Check-in with yourself and take note of your feelings. Are there certain things that happened today that made you feel better? Worse? It doesn't matter how you reflect, it just matters that you find time to do it.
7. Lean on your people
Right now, as we isolate and practice social distancing, it can feel lonely. It’s so important to connect with people during this time, to help us remember that we’re not alone. Reach out to your bestie, co-worker, or mom. Now is the time to lean on the people in your life who lift you up and make you feel good. So call, video chat, or text with a friend.
8. Be kind Feelings of uncertainty can cause us to shut down and ruminate in our worries. It’s important to practice getting out of our heads and connecting with others through acts of kindness. Positive interactions with others make us happier because our brains release oxytocin when we do kind things, which makes us feel really good. It also helps us feel supported when we’re going through difficult or uncertain times.
9. Don’t over consume the news
Wanting to know and control everything fuels the stress of uncertainty. Keeping up with the news is important, especially now as we deal with the coronavirus. Stay informed, but don't read about the pandemic (or other negative news stories) all day, every day. Constantly refreshing your news and social media feeds is more likely to fuel your anxiety than to be helpful. Pick a few trusted sources and set aside a special time to read, watch, or scroll.
10. Know when to shut it down
Accept that some days, especially in times of crisis, you have only so much bandwidth. Some days are just about surviving and that’s ok. Allow yourself a time-out. Stay in bed and binge-watch that new series everyone is talking about. Order takeout or let the kids eat cereal for dinner. Whatever it takes to get through the day. Take it one step at a time and allow yourself the chance to just be.
11. Try to have fun
Right now, as we isolate and practice social distancing, it can feel lonely. It’s so important to connect with people during this time, to help us remember that we’re not alone. Reach out to your bestie. Or co-worker. Or mom. You get the point. Now is the time to lean on the people in your life who lift you up and make you feel good. So call, video chat, or text with a friend. Or go old-school and write a letter to someone you’ve been missing.
12. Take control of the things you can
Focus on the things in your daily routine that you can still do, or create a new routine that better fits your current situation. This will help you stay on track throughout the day, allowing you to continue moving toward your bigger life goals. Catch up on all the things you’ve been meaning to do and just haven’t gotten around to yet. Maybe it’s cleaning out your closet, learning to speak a new language, or reading that unopened novel sitting on your nightstand. Find new routines that make you happy, and seek out new stress management activities.
13. Don’t use escapist behaviors
It’s unhealthy to fill the void left by feelings of uncertainty with escapist behaviors like excessive drinking, using drugs, emotional eating, or denying what we’re all dealing with. These behaviors can be very hard to control, but acknowledging them is a step in the right direction.
Wrapping it all up...
Your well being and mental health is your number one priority in times of crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic. Uncertainty is anxiety-inducing for everyone, and for those who already struggle with anxiety, coping can be even harder. If you don’t address your stress and practice self-care, it will become increasingly hard to care for yourself and others. Try a different step every day for 13 days and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to deal with your uncertainty.