Coping in Times of Uncertainty
Most of us have dealt with uncertainty at some time in our lives. But the COVID-19 pandemic created a long period of change that has made many of us feel uncertain much longer than we have before. Recommendations for workplaces and schools change suddenly, forcing us to work from home or supervise our kids’ online schooling. Maybe you’re afraid that your workplace will close and you’ll lose your job, a friend or family member has gotten sick, or a long-anticipated special event has cancelled. We miss our friends, our activities, our normal.
How does uncertainty affect us?
Everyone responds to uncertainty differently. Some of us can just “go with the flow,” while others might feel stressed, anxious, or even depressed. Some symptoms of these include:
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Sleep disruption
- Change in appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Pain or discomfort
- Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- Thoughts of self-harm
Why is uncertainty…uncomfortable?
People like to feel safe and secure. We plan for the future and need to feel in control of things. When something – like a pandemic – interferes with our sense of control, it makes us feel uncertain and stressed. And the longer the uncertainty goes on, the more we feel stressed. A recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association showed that 63% of people agreed that uncertainty about what the next few months will be like causes them stress, and 49% said that the pandemic has made planning for their future feel impossible. If you feel the same as those people, you might wonder how you can cope with this new uncertainty in your life.
Finding comfort in uncertain times
Chances are we’re going to be dealing with uncertainty for awhile. While no one can flip a switch and take us back to how things were before the pandemic, there are things you can do to reduce the stress you feel when dealing with uncertainty. Try some of these tips from the American Psychological Association and the AFSP:
- Be kind to yourself. Everyone has a different tolerance for uncertainty. Don’t compare yourself with someone else, and be patient with yourself.
- Reflect on past success. Think about times you successfully dealt with uncertainty or another stressful situation and focus on what you did that helped.
- Limit exposure to news. Compulsively checking the news can increase your stress level. Try to limit the amount of time you spend with the news or social media, especially close to bedtime.
- Don’t dwell on things you can’t control. It can be easy to spend too much time thinking of all the bad things that can happen. Don’t “doomscroll” in your own mind.
- Stay in the present. When you find yourself worrying about what might happen in the future, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Mindfulness – being in the present – can help you stay grounded when things feel out of control.
- Take your own advice. If a friend came to you with the same worry, what would you say?
- Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours), and exercising can improve your physical and mental health. Avoid things like tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Keeping up with your healthy habits will help you stay well, make you feel good, and improve your ability to deal with stress.
- Talk with caring friends. Many people isolate themselves when they’re stressed out. Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Control what you can. Focus on the things you can control, even if it’s something simple. Keep a regular daily schedule. And make sure the things you do are things that make you feel safe and secure. If going to a large social event doesn’t make you feel comfortable, don’t go.
- Consider professional support. If you’re having trouble managing stress and coping with uncertainty on your own, talk to a mental health professional.
Writer Cindy Maxim
Sources: APA, UMICH.EDU, AFSP
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Please always follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Programs and services are subject to change. Managed Health Network, LLC (MHN) is a subsidiary of Health Net, LLC. The MHN companies include Managed Health Network and MHN Services, LLC. Health Net and Managed Health Network are registered service marks of Health Net, LLC or its affiliates. All rights reserved