The reality is, the past 20 months have been filled with waves of uncertainty. While the summer season largely provided some stability, the tides are turning in light of COVID-19 infection rates, changing public health guidelines, and students returning to school. It can feel incredibly difficult to stay focused and be our best selves when surrounded by uncertainty. Our brains are wired to identify patterns in an attempt to predict the future to save energy – as after all, the brain weighs less than 5% of our body weight, but consumes over 20% of our total energy. This cycle is our brain’s attempt of making sense of the world around us. However, there are many times that it is simply not possible to solve the equation of what lies ahead, and we have to focus our energy on accepting the fact that we don’t have all the answers.
With this in mind, here are seven ways to cope when things are certainly uncertain:
- Try not to resist. Attempting to avoid the uncertainties of a situation just makes it worse. The antidote: practicing acceptance. To be clear, this also means accepting your emotional reaction to a situation, whether that be frustration, sadness, or anything in-between. Doing so allows us to move through uncertainty, rather than being consumed by it.
- Invest in yourself. When we under-resource ourselves (don’t sleep enough, eat enough, watch enough cute cat videos, exercise enough, or whatever your form of self-care might be), we deplete ourselves. This is a key step in coping with uncertainty. Take the time to take care of yourself – turn the volume up on your self care, not down.
- Don’t believe everything you think. While it’s trying to protect us, our brains make many mistakes and overgeneralizations when dealing with uncertainty. Think about the last time you were anxious, and really consider some of the scenarios you played out in your head. Most likely, if you said them out loud to a friend, you’d both laugh. While dramatic mental re-enactments of worst-case scenarios can feel helpful in preparing for an unfavorable outcome, when we take a step back and reflect, those outcomes are often unlikely and impossible. Don’t fall into the trap of uncertainty bias.
- Pay attention and be mindful. Are you constantly looking for answers that you are not going to find? If so, find other ways to direct your attention. Sometimes a breathing exercise, a walk, or a workout can go a long way in re-focusing. While we can’t control the situation, we can choose where we focus our attention.
- Be your own hero. It’s common to look for someone to “save” us from an uncertain situation; however, the reality is that the only remedy is time. Use your support network, but be realistic in that no one can “cure” a state of uncertainty.
- Find healthy outlets. When we feel uncertain, our brain often tries to cope by engaging in rewarding/escape behaviors (i.e. alcohol or substances, binging on Netflix, etc.). In these times, we can be more susceptible to giving into our impulses, even at the expense of our health. Find ways to proactively implement self-care: go for a walk, catch-up with a friend, or cook a great meal.
- Try to find meaning in chaos. Try and find meaningful ways that you can use an uncertain situation to engage in self reflection to support your own personal growth, or find ways to support others. In all probability, you’re not the only one feeling this way and supporting a friend/family member can do just as much good for you as it does for them.
While it is certain that life is filled with uncertainties, there are ways to cope and stay ahead of it. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, revisit this list to get some relief.